He-man Ryan-hater’s club?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The Hill’s Christian Heinze tackled the question of whether or not Paul Ryan’s vice presidential run helped or hurt him — and AEI’s James Pethokoukis, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, and I, were asked to weigh in.

There are pros and cons to his Veep endeavor, of course, but I took the contrarian view that being Romney’s running mate doesn’t help Ryan (at least, not if we’re operating under the assumption that it could serve as a stepping stone toward a future presidential bid).

You certainly can’t blame Ryan for Romney’s loss, but he is now inexorably associated with Romney — and that is marginally bad for him.

What is more, Ryan couldn’t help the ticket win his home state of Wisconsin (had he done so, that would at least be a silver lining.) What is more, he gave a last-minute boost to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson — the most moderate Republican running in the senate primary. And Thompson also lost the general election.

My comments to the Hill, of course, did not sit will with some of my conservative friends.

Rather than debating the merits, The DC Examiner’s Conn Carroll sought to dismiss my quotes — and presumably undermine my argument — by insisting that I’m just a “Ryan-hater”:

“Hate” is a terribly strong word. I don’t hate Ryan. But I certainly am skeptical of politicians — even those who are lionized by the conservative intelligentsia.

The notion that I’m a “Ryan-hater” no doubt comes from a column I wrote some years back, in which I noted that — despite his free market rhetoric — Ryan actually voted for TARP, the auto bailout, and a confiscatory tax on CEO bonuses. (If I was wrong about that, please let me know.)

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Aside from having been Romney’s running mate — and failing to help win his home state — Ryan also faces additional challenges that do not confront his likely primary rivals.

For years, Ryan has deftly positioned himself as a conservative outsider, while simultaneously enjoying the perks that come with being an establishment insider. He recently signed onto a deficit letter that would raise revenue by $800 billion, and chairs a committee where two conservative Members were purged. One can only walk such a line for so many years. Sooner or later, this is bound to come unhinged.

Lastly, I’m concerned that Ryan has branded himself the “austerity” candidate. This is ironic, inasmuch as Ryan’s mentor, Jack Kemp, helped Ronald Reagan get elected by introducing him to a more optimistic economic philosophy.

It very well may be that Ryan is a Cassandra. Certainly, Americans don’t take our debt crisis seriously enough. But my guess is that Americans want to hear an optimistic conservative. There’s a reason they call it the Club for Growth, not the Club for Cuts.

As I told the Hill, “Ryan’s communication skills are more persuasive when preaching to the choir … but his rhetorical style is less persuasive or inspirational than, say, Marco Rubio’s ability to talk about the American Dream.”

I’m not a hater. Ryan is young, smart, and charming — so you can’t count him out. Regardless of his presidential ambitions, there is little doubt he will continue playing a leading role in the House. But on my list, he comes in at least behind Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal as the most likely nominee.