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Has Paul Ryan hurt his 2016 presidential prospects? (+video)

Rep. Paul Ryan is one of the architects of a budget deal that the tea party appears to hate. Perhaps he's hurt his conservative credentials for 2016, but he had a lot of goodwill built up.

By Staff writer / December 12, 2013

Is Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin (r.) looking over House Speaker John Boehner's shoulder in more ways than one?

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Has Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin just lowered his chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? That’s what some pundits are saying now that Representative Ryan, House Budget Committee chairman, has co-authored a modest compromise budget deal with his counterpart Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Budget negotiators in the Congress have reached an agreement on Tuesday that, if approved by the House and Senate, could restore some order to the nation's chaotic budget process and avoid another government shutdown on January 15. The chief negotiators, Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan, announced details at a news conference. While not a big deal in terms of deficit reduction, enactment of the funding measure - by no means a certainty - would be a departure from the political showdowns of recent years that have rattled markets, threatened the country's economic recovery and lowered the standing of the U.S. Congress to all-time lows in the eyes of voters.

Their argument goes like this: Tea party conservatives hate the deal, in part because it lifts some sequester budget cuts in return for future trims in entitlement programs – reductions which may or may not come to pass. Serious contenders for the GOP crown need strong support from the tea party faction, since its supporters make up a disproportionately large percentage of primary voters. Thus Ryan’s competitors for conservative votes, such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, may benefit from the Ryan/Murray deal, since they oppose it.

“Mr. Ryan is taking a risk he has previously shied away from, putting what party leaders see as a crucial need – ending the debilitating budget wars in Washington that have crippled the Republican brand – over his own self-interests with the conservative activists that dominate the early Republican presidential primaries,” writes Jonathan Weisman, summing up this line of thought in The New York Times.

We’re skeptical. We think there are reasons why the budget deal per se won’t hurt Ryan much in terms of 2016, if it all.

The first is that many grass-roots conservatives appear inclined to cut Ryan some slack. His long advocacy for deep budget cuts and turning Medicare into a voucher program have earned him some goodwill on the right. Plus, he’s reached out to tea party groups since their beginning. As former National Review reporter Robert Costa tweeted on Wednesday, conservative talk radio hosts – a power in the party – are unlikely to hit Ryan hard in personal terms.

Second, Ryan has enough of a cushion of support to be able to withstand some deterioration in his position with tea party groups and still be a top 2016 contender.

A Pew Research poll from earlier this year found Ryan rated as the favorite candidate of GOP voters overall, with a favorable/unfavorable split of 65 to 15 percent. Among self-described tea party Republicans his support was even stronger, with an 81 to 7 favorable/unfavorable ratio.

Senator Paul was second among tea party favorites in this survey, with 70 percent of group members seeing him positively and 12 percent negatively. Senator Rubio lagged in third with comparable numbers of 59 to 23. It’s possible the Florida lawmaker has been hurt on the right by his past advocacy of comprehensive immigration legislation.

Finally, 2016 is a long way away in political terms. Yes, that’s obvious. But it’s easy to forget amid the blaring trumpets of the daily news. Remember a few weeks ago, when the government shutdown meant Democrats were going to retake the House. Gee, what’s happened to that scenario?

We do have one final question here, though. Does Ryan want to run in the first place? As Beth Reinhard points out in National Journal, this budget deal might be just one symbol of a larger problem. It’s hard to run for president when you’ve got a day job as a Washington legislator.

“Just ask Bob Dole, who resigned at the peak of his power in the Senate in 1996 to focus on his presidential campaign,” Ms. Reinhard writes.

But maybe Ryan wants another job. Rep. John Boehner has had a pretty draining few years. Now he (Boehner) is the one who's getting hammered by Heritage Action and other conservative groups over the budget deal.

Is it possible Ryan, with his well of conservative support, is waiting patiently in the background for his chance to replace Boehner as speaker of the House?

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