Since reluctantly trading his “dream job” leading the powerful but low-key Ways and Means Committee for leadership of Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan has triggered seemingly endless speculation — which he has repeatedly denied — that he took his new gig as a stepping stone to the White House.
His activities this week alone, however, made it easier to see where the speculation is coming from, even if it might not become a reality for at least another four years.
On Monday, Ryan dropped his second highly polished, campaign-style video vowing to fix the country with a new Republican agenda he’s promised to unveil in the coming weeks. By Tuesday, the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee had reiterated the message on TV, appearing on four of the seven broadcast and cable news networks, capping the day with an appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
And on Wednesday, Ryan held a livestreamed forum with students at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, arguing that — current Republican presidential candidates aside — young people should vote GOP if they want to preserve their future.
“Do you want to go down the same path we’re on” with Democrats presiding over a nation in rapid decline, “or do you want to go in a different direction?” Ryan said during a question-and-answer session.
Vote for Democrats, the speaker said, and “you will receive an inferior future. You will receive a mountain of debt” because President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress aren’t dealing with the federal deficit.
“We think we have better ideas for fixing poverty,” making college affordable, securing the nation and creating a better future for the next generation, Ryan said. Compared to Democrats, he added, “we win the ideas contest.”
Ryan’s high visibility is a sharp turn from last fall, when embattled former House Speaker John Boehner abruptly resigned amid party infighting. Looking for a replacement who would appeal to tea party conservatives as well as mainstream House members, the party approached Ryan, who took the job after extracting some concessions from leadership.
His election in October was a clear departure from Boehner and other old-school predecessors, including Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Hastert or Newt Gingrich — all of whom were firmly in middle age when they took possession of the speaker’s gavel.
Ryan’s worked hard to accentuate the departure, projecting an image as a youthful, millennial-friendly politician. His current media blitz arguably demonstrates he’s willing to use a message as much as his power to push a conservative agenda.
But that publicity set tongues wagging about Ryan’s ambitions, particularly during the Republicans’ heated presidential primary — and the party’s attempts to undermine Donald Trump, who has the inside track to the presidential nomination. Some saw Ryan as a possible white knight to save the party from itself, but Ryan said he’s not interested in running for president this campaign cycle.
At Georgetown, Ryan argued for his party’s case before a respectful, appreciative audience, tracing his rise from a college student and would-be ski bum to perhaps the nation’s youngest House speaker. In a 15-minute speech, Ryan said he tries every day to find common ground, but the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, “who are good people and love their country,” makes it difficult in a polarized political environment.
“This is the difference: We do not believe we should be governed by our betters — that elites in Washington should make all the big decisions, that they should pick winners and losers. That’s a recipe for a closed economy — for cronyism,” Ryan said. Republicans, he said, “want an open economy where there’s equal opportunity for all” and individuals rise on their talents with little government help.
In a Q&A session afterward, Ryan touched on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to student debt, making his case for GOP solutions. Asked about the Trump phenomenon, Ryan, who as speaker is the chairman of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July, remained neutral but said young people should look past the candidates and focus on the GOP platform, including his soon-to-be-released agenda.
“Look at what it is we’re presenting to the country later this summer,” Ryan said, declaring the Democrats don’t have answers for national security problems, a weak economy or spiralling national debt.
By emphasizing smaller government, lower taxes, emphasizing opportunity over government control and giving people more control over their money, “I think we can make a very successful case for this philosophy,” Ryan said. “Small government doesn’t mean no government, but we want government to be effective in what it does.”
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Still Not Running for President: After TV Blitz, Ryan Holds Town Hall at Georgetown originally appeared on usnews.com