If Ryan was running for president in 2016 — or if Republicans even thought he might run for president in 2016 — they would assume his work at Ways and Means was really preparatory work on behalf of Ryan 2016. Worse, his fellow potential candidates would have to distance themselves from Ryan’s ideas, as he would be a threat to them. But now Ryan can work to shape all their agendas simultaneously, and they will have to compete for his favor — they’ll want both his endorsement and, if they win, his help.
Ryan has been better at understanding how much power ideas can have in American politics than pretty much any member of Congress in recent years. This shows that he’s got a clear-eyed view of how much power congressional process holds, too. If he was running for president in such a crowded field, odds are that he probably wouldn’t win — and, thus, neither would his ideas. But now that he’s forsworn any interest in the presidency while making clear he’s going to really use the power of the House Ways and Means Committee, no Republican will be able to win and govern without adopting Ryan’s ideas.
Reihan has mixed feelings about Ryan’s absence from the race:
He would have been the candidate of ideas and would have pressed his Republican rivals to think seriously about upward mobility and the need to modernize America’s safety net, among other issues conservatives tend to neglect.
Yet there is a silver lining in Ryan’s decision not to run, which is highlighted by the sweeping tax overhaul just proposed by House Democrats. Though Ryan is more open-minded and intellectually serious than we have any right to expect from an elected official, on tax policy, at least, he’s failed to come to terms with how the country has changed. A supply-sider to the bitter end, Ryan has made it clear that his first priority in reforming the tax code is to lower tax rates for everyone, including high-earners. In a conversation this summer with John McCormack of the Weekly Standard, Ryan insisted that “the best way to help the economy is to reduce rates across the board” and that “if you want faster growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation,” lower tax rates are “the secret sauce.” Well, this is a secret sauce that is past its expiration date.