As Alana noted, Paul Ryan’s announcement that he will not run for president this cycle has disappointed many conservatives. But I think that disappointment is misplaced, and not just because I think Ryan made the right choice not to run.
There was a lot of excitement about the prospect of either a Ryan or Chris Christie candidacy–Christie being the stronger candidate of the two because of his executive experience, toughness, and lack of connection to Ryan’s controversial Medicare reform. And it’s possible either man would make a great president. But the clamoring for one of them to abandon his crucial post for a quixotic run at the presidency is more evidence that many conservatives have accepted what Gene Healy warned against–the cult of the presidency:
Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive with an important, but limited job….
Few Americans find anything amiss in the notion that it is the president’s duty to solve all large national problems and to unite us all in the service of a higher calling. The vision of the president as national guardian and redeemer is so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed.
Yes, the current economic challenges facing the country are immense, and the lack of seriousness by policymakers about our national debt is foolish and self-serving. But so far, Christie and Ryan have been two politicians to seriously confront the issue. Liberals don’t like Ryan’s plan–fair enough. But ever since the CBO director admitted Obamacare was incompatible with a sustainable budget–“Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path would almost certainly require a significant reduction in the growth of federal health spending relative to current law (including this year’s health legislation),” he pointed out–Ryan’s been the only one to put forth a serious plan on the national level. (And Democrats responded by making a video depicting Ryan throwing an old lady off a cliff.)
Christie has been doing this on the state level, cutting costs and reforming entitlement spending. In fact, Christie’s win in New Jersey was seen as a public rebuke to the president’s policies and priorities–as were Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts and Bob McDonnell’s landslide victory in Virginia. And they are by no means the only of their class. Should they all run for president? On the contrary, they all just got there, and they are all in the midst of important work with national implications.
Conservatives should remember Christie is a socially conservative, budget-cutting, corruption-busting reformer who was elected governor in New Jersey. And it happens to be a comparatively powerful office, so real reform is possible. But not if he walks out on the state halfway through his first term. Ryan’s work is also critical to the narrative conservatives have been trying to build–namely, that the movement is full of young, intelligent, hard-working, charismatic reformers who are attempting to steer the country onto a more fiscally responsible course. But both the beauty and the challenge of keeping a republic require recognition that it’s not all about the presidency, nor should it be.