Has Paul Ryan got his eye on 2016 – or 2020?

Everything Ryan is doing adds up to someone who has already decided to run – in 2020.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

It looks like Paul Ryan is running for the post of Mr. Republican. Whether he hopes that involves winning the party’s presidential nomination – and when – is less clear. But he’s probably aiming at 2020, not 2016.

Those are our takeaways from Monday’s new chatter about the political future of the wunderkind speaker of the House, in any case.

The hallway talk we’re referring to is the result of a lengthy piece in Sunday’s New York Times that dubs Speaker Ryan the GOP’s “mirage candidate.” It doesn’t directly say that the Wisconsin member of Congress is positioning himself as a shiny savior for a deadlocked 2016 Republican National Convention. But it does imply that he’s aiming to market himself as the face of the party if Donald Trump or even Ted Cruz emerges as the Republican presidential nominee.

Ryan is drawing up a policy agenda that he’ll roll out prior to the convention as a sort of shadow party platform, according to the Times. That will allegedly include a health plan to replace Obamacare and a new antipoverty program.

As the chairman of the convention he’ll get a lot of airtime – and face time with delegates. If Trump emerges victorious he’ll provide alternative party leadership for elected officials looking to hold onto their seats.

“Mr. Ryan is creating a personality and policy alternative to run alongside the presidential effort – one that provides a foundation to rebuild if Republicans splinter and lose in the fall,” writes the Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer.

The key word there may be “lose.” Ryan, like many Republican lawmakers with ties to the donors, lobbyists and thinkfluencers who constitute the party elite, may well believe that 2016 is fast slipping away. If Mr. Trump wins the nomination, he’ll get clobbered. If he loses it, Ted Cruz – or whoever else inherits the prize – will get clobbered as well, because Trump will split the party. Just imagine Trump’s call-ins to "Fox & Friends" and the talk about “stealing.”

That’s why we discount the talk about Ryan stepping in as the party’s savior at a contested convention in Cleveland. First, Ryan knows the prize might be damaged. Second, that’s unrealistic – not just Trump, but Senator Cruz and even Ohio Gov. John Kasich would fight hard to keep someone who never ran in the primaries from being entered into nomination.

Third, that’s not Ryan’s plan anyway. He’s got a different date in mind. We agree with Paul Waldman at The Week: Everything Ryan is doing adds up to someone who has already decided to run in 2020 in the wake of an epic Trump disaster.

“Ryan is running for president. Just not this year,” writes Waldman.

That’s why Ryan just traveled to Israel for a high-profile visit to build his foreign policy credentials, even as he can’t get his own budget passed in the House at home. (The same conservatives that made John Boehner’s life a living heck are blocking the Ryan-promoted budget because they think it spends too much.)

That’s why he’s promoting a soon-to-arrive Obamacare replacement plan. Of course, he’s been promising that for years, and it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this time is the charm.

Or maybe we’re wrong, and Ryan is set to gavel in the convention, watch chaos unfold, and then deftly wrest the prize from Trump’s commodious hands. We’ve got a lobbyist friend who thinks we’re naive to believe Ryan has little chance this time around.

Hmm. A consummate insider who believes in immigration reform of some type and free trade pacts, winning the party nomination in a year when a majority of GOP voters have backed anti-immigration outsiders? Nope. Still don’t see it happening.

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