Is Paul Ryan thinking of running for president? I caught up with the House Budget Committee Chairman last night when he spoke at the Washington chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks north of the White House. Interestingly, Ryan spoke largely about foreign affairs. He began by noting our “unsustainable trajectory of government spending” and segued to foreign policy, citing Charles Krauthammer’s 2009 warning that “decline is a choice” and a choice we don’t have to and should not make. He embraced American exceptionalism and argued that our values are universally applicable. “We have to be consistent and clear in the promotion of our principles,” he said, “while recognizing that different situations will require different tools for achieving that end.” It's a thoughtful and intelligent speech. You can find a good summary and a full transcript in Michael Warren’s Weekly Standard blogpost.
One question hung over the meeting, and was briefly mentioned by National Review editor Rich Lowry in his 20-minute colloquy with Ryan after the speech: Will Paul Ryan run for president? Before the talk began I asked Ryan if he had read Paul Rahe’s ricochet.com blogpost entitled “Paul Ryan: A Duty to Serve.” Ryan has said that one reason he is not interested in running for president is that he would have to spend time away from his family, including three young children. Rahe, referencing Jennifer Rubin’s reflections in her Washington Post Right Turn blog on how Navy sailors and officers spend months away from their families, argues that Ryan has a duty to serve. His final paragraph is pretty strong stuff. It reads:
“I do not know Paul Ryan. I am not acquainted with him. I have never even met the man. If I knew him at all well, I would walk into his office and slap down on his desk Jennifer Rubin’s post. As she points out, lots of Americans in uniform have answered their country’s call. Here is the question I would ask Ryan: ‘In this crisis, how can you of all people justify not doing what those soldiers have done?’ And here is the argument that I would make: ‘You have the preparation; you have the training; you have the temperament; you have the knowledge; you have the persuasive capacity. We now face a great crisis, and you understand what has to be done better than anyone else. Your country needs you. In the circumstances, what possible excuse could trump that? You have a duty to serve.’”
Before the speech I asked Ryan if he was aware of Rahe’s piece. He said someone on his staff had mentioned it. I asked whether he was going to run for president. He said (this is not quite an exact quote, I’m going to stay where I am. It’s easier. He added that he really thought Mitch Daniels was going to run and had gained that impression when talking to him three or four times before he made his decision not to. I asked him, What is the filing deadline for running for reelection in Wisconsin? He said it was in July. Which means, of course, that he could run for president and if not successful in the Republican nomination process could still run for reelection to the House.
After the speech and colloquy I handed Ryan a paper copy of Rahe’s post and urged him to read it. He said he would. My guess is that Paul Ryan is giving serious consideration to running for president, and that something like Paul Rahe’s call to duty rather than any crass political calculation is likely to persuade him to do so. I note that over at the Huffington Post Jon Ward seems to be drawing a similar conclusion, citing Ryan’s statement to Fox Business News’s Neil Cavuto that “I want to see how the field develops.”
By the way, how often do House Budget Committee chairmen give speeches about foreign policy?