To commemorate the release of Paul Ryan’s third budget, I will continue my series of reviewing potential 2016 presidential contenders with the Congressman from Wisconsin’s First District. As the Republican candidate for Vice President in 2012, Mr. Ryan will certainly be discussed as a potential candidate for the presidency in 2016. I argue, however, that in the case of Mr. Ryan, not unlike Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the hype is bigger than the reality. Below are five reasons that contribute to this logic:
1. House members rarely win presidential elections. Remember the last person to be elected president directly from the House? Probably not, seeing as it was Ohio Congressman James Garfield (R-OH) in 1880. The only other sitting member of the House to win a major party nomination was Congressman Henry Clay (W-KY) in 1824. There is a reason that House members rarely win presidential nominations: House members must appeal to narrow, parochial interests in their districts while presidential candidates must appeal to broad interests in order to win the country as a whole in a presidential election (or at least enough of the country to lock up 270 electoral votes). In addition, House members have a clear record to attack, but lack the prestige and gravitas of a senator. While Mr. Ryan has started to appeal to a more national audience with the release of his budgets and selection as the vice presidential candidate in 2012, those two things create their own problems (as I will describe below).
2. Failed VP nominees rarely succeed in future elections. Sarah Palin, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Jack Kemp. What do these failed VP nominees have in common? None of them had particularly successful political careers after failing to win the vice presidency. Mr. Kemp and Ms. Palin did not again seek elective office after losing the vice presidency and Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Edwards did not even place in the top two for the Democratic nomination in (respectively) 2004 and 2008. One potential reason as to why the vice presidential nomination is not a springboard to a future presidential nomination may be a desire from the losing party to disassociate itself with the losing team from the previous election. Whatever the reason, it is clear that a failed VP nomination does not offer clear benefit in the next presidential election.
3. He’s too liberal (on immigration). With his announcement that he would support Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) immigration plan, Ryan has staked out a perilous position for running in the Iowa caucuses. As I previously wrote when discussing Mr. Rubio’s prospects for 2016, being seen as “soft on immigration” is a problematic when running in the Iowa caucuses. With Jeb Bush’s recent pivot on immigration and likely candidacies from conservative individuals such as Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Ryan’s position on immigration will likely prove an easy target from these other candidates. Although Mr. Rubio, as a leader on this issue, is likely to face the majority of attacks from other candidates on this issue, Mr. Ryan’s position will (at the least) prove unhelpful in the Iowa Caucuses.
4. His budget provides an easy target. This reason applies more to the general election than the primaries, but it illustrates why congressmen (as well as senators) have such difficulty getting elected president. By having staking out specific positions on issues, members of Congress open themselves open to attacks from other candidates in presidential campaigns. As chairman of the Budget Committee, Ryan has gotten extremely specific in his budgets. As such, Ryan has put forward a number of proposals that (even beyond his famous Medicare plan) prove quite controversial.
5. He’s too conservative to win a general election. With a DW-Nominate Score of 0.574 . Mr. Ryan is even slightly to the right of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). As I discussed a month ago, Mr. Rubio would be the most ideological nominee since 1964 nominee “Mr. Conservative” Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). For the reasons I discussed in my Rubio post, Mr. Ryan is too conservative to win a general election. As a result, Mr. Ryan would face an uphill battle to win a general election despite the fact that the country may be ready to turn to a Republican Commander in Chief in 2016 after 8 years of Barack Obama.
[Note: The title of this post is based on Chris Wallace’s response to Mr. Ryan that his budget proposal assumes a repeal of “Obamacare.” Mr. Wallace was not rating Mr. Ryan's prospects for 2016 in these comments.]