Paul Ryan Checks A Presidential Box With New Book
"The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea" has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign manifesto.
The odds are that Rep. Paul Ryan won't run for president in 2016 – his kids are young, he has a fancy new job in the House waiting for him next year, and hiscongressional buddies just don't think he wants to do it.
But that conventional wisdom may change with the publication Tuesday of Ryan's new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea, which has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign manifesto.
For starters, there's the heart-pounding inside story of his claim to fame: Ryan's selection by Mitt Romney as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.
When the day finally came, I changed out of my suit, threw on a camouflage shirt and hat, and slipped out the back.
I actually spent the last stretch of the drive under a blanket in the back seat of the car. I was told not to emerge until we pulled into the garage and closed the door."
Then there's the homespun tale of his middle-class upbringing, with deeply-felt passages on the death of his father and a focus more on the struggle than the privilege.
Later in the book, Ryan, 44, makes sure to include prerequisites for any conservative memoir – criticism of the contemporary Republican Party and a tribute to the inspiration of Ronald Reagan.
The House GOP budget chief delivers a carefully-worded takedown of George W. Bush, writing that while the 43rd president was "understandably preoccupied with national security" after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the GOP had gone "adrift" on fiscal policy under his leadership.
At the beginning of the Bush years, I had been excited at what we could accomplish in the majority. By 2006, I was deeply disappointed."
Ryan heaps praise on Romney, but he gently criticizes the campaign he ran for focusing too much on criticizing President Obama in 2012 and not enough on presenting a clear policy choice for voters.
The Republican Party has to speak to every American. We need to address practical problems and offer a meaningful choice. That means we can't just talk about what we're against. We need to start talking more about the policies we're offering and how they can make a difference."
From a policy standpoint, the book contains a complete campaign agenda and a handy slogan for reforming government that you could easily envision on a yard sign: "Simpler, Smaller, Smarter."
The proposals are mostly familiar, from his famous (or infamous to Democrats) call for partially privatizing Medicare and Medicaid to his more recent push to overhaul federal anti-poverty programs. Ryan doesn't deviate from the party line on repealing ObamaCare and gutting the tax code, and he comes down on the side of more hawkish Republicans who oppose significant cuts to defense spending.
On immigration, the book was clearly completed before the migrant crisis at the border exploded into the news. Ryan stands by his advocacy of a broad immigration reform plan, including a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and a faster legalization process for children brought to the U.S. by their parents.
And finally, Ryan drops just enough clues to leave the impression that he is clearly considering his own run for the presidency. He makes sure to recall former President Bush telling him that the White House "is actually pretty nice for a family." While explaining his decision not to start traveling to early primary states in preparation for a 2016 bid, he inserts the word "immediately" to suggest that he's open to barnstorming as the election draws closer.
Ryan has said he will decide on a presidential run after the midterm elections in November, but he has made no secret of the fact that after four years as chairman of the House Budget Committee, he is looking forward to his likely promotion to an even more powerful, policy-heavy post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
The closing pages of The Way Forward leave little doubt that Ryan wants to stay as top leader in the GOP.
When I'm on the other side of life and my grandchildren ask me about this moment, I don't want to tell them that America lost its way. I don't want to say, 'Don't blame me. I didn't vote for any of it.' I don't want to complain about the opportunities we missed or the chances we squandered.
I want to tell them the great story of how America came back. I want to tell them of the courage it took to make the tough choices and the noble vision that saw us through. I want to pass them a country made stronger by the struggle, a future that's brighter, and a world that's safer and more secure."
The only question Ryan doesn't answer is, from which end of Pennsylvania Avenue does he want to lead?
Here are a few other highlights from the book:
The Boehner Smoking Scale
It's well-known that John Boehner (R-Ohio) smokes like a chimney, but Ryan said the Speaker's habit can provide key clues as to how dire a particular situation is, as shown by a meeting he convened just before the government shut down in 2013.
You can generally tell how things are going by how long it takes him to light up his cigarette. If it's a good meeting, he might go without one. If things are tense or frustrating, he'll start about halfway through. On this night, he was already smoking when we got there.
Blame Republicans for the Shutdown
Ryan strongly sided with Boehner and against some ardent conservatives on the question of which party caused the government shutdown. Boehner went on The Tonight Show and blamed the GOP, and Ryan said as much in his book.
The shutdown wasn't a disagreement over principles, or even policies. Rather, it is proof of what happens to a party when it's defined by what it opposes, instead of by its ideas."
Barney Frank, Sage
Ryan shares almost nothing in common with Rep. Barney Frank, the outspoken, disheveled liberal who wrote the Wall Street reform law that conservatives revile. But he said it was Frank who gave him the most memorable advice when he was just starting out in Congress. He warned Ryan to pick a couple of key areas and dominate them, rather than seek to be a "generalist" and risk spreading himself too thing. "It ended up being the best advice I got," wrote the man who is now the GOP's undisputed leader on budgetary policy.
Cheney Swats Him Down
As a young congressman in 2001, Ryan got little respect from Vice President Dick Cheney. He writes that when he pitched Cheney on his plan to overhaul Social Security, the vice president rejected him out of hand.
As soon as I finished my pitch, Vice President Cheney said, 'Yeah, we're not going to do that.'
His terse reply was the verbal equivalent of someone swatting an annoying mosquito from his face."
The Bush-Cheney administration ended up making their own failed Social Security push in 2005.