Earlier this year, when I asked Rep. Phil English (R-Penn.) his favorite choice for a runningmate with John McCain. “Paul Ryan,” he replied, naming his Republican colleague from Wisconsin and fellow House Ways and Means Committee Member and, in the process, giving me a jolt.
Paul Ryan? At 38 and after a decade in Congress from Wisconisn’s 1st District (Janesville-Konosha), Ryan is not exactly a “household word.” A graduate of Miami Univeristy (Ohio), Ryan worked as speechwriter for Jack Kemp and William Bennett at their “Empower America” organization, and was then legislative director for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KA). Anticipating that incumbent Rep. Mark Neumann would run for the Senate in 1998, Ryan moved back to his hometown, mobilized a campaign in which he wouild easily win nomination and electon (57% of the vote) to Congress. As a Member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, he has been a force behind tax cuts and trimming discretionary spending. Ryan (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 93%) has also been a strong booster of gunowners’ right, pro-life legislation, and tougher measures on illegal immigration.
Impressive, all right, but the first impression is not ready for presidential politics. English disagrees. As he put it, “Paul is Catholic, from the Rustbelt, and has the economic credentials Sen. McCain needs.” Other Republican backbenchers agree, and talk of Ryan-for-Veep mushrooms in the House GOP Conference.
I, for one, agree with the first impression. (I also think Gizzi should have run this column through a spell-checker.) Ryan just doesn't enjoy the national prominence that one might expect out of a VP candidate; moreover, he lacks the executive experience that McCain is going to need in a running mate--given his age, President McCain's VP would have to be someone the country trusts to take over in the White House.
It should also be pointed out that, given the prevailing anti-Republican sentiment in the country, Ryan as McCain's running mate would almost certainly mean forfeiting his House seat to a Democrat, as happened to Mark Green's seat when Green ran for governor in 2006.
(Interestingly, quite a few of the early commenters on the Gizzi column argued for my own first choice for McCain's running mate: JC Watts.)