Newt Gingrich should have picked up the mantle, but he opted to triangulate against Ryan. Almost immediately, triangulation morphed into self-immolation.
Obviously, Gingrich's spontaneous human combustion had a lot to do with his own problems. If he had merely offered a modest dissent from the plan, he wouldn't have spent the last week walking back his statements with all the grace of the barnyard dog stepping on a field of garden rakes in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.
Still, the Gingrich spectacle confirms one of Ryan's original strategic aims: to "box in" the various presidential candidates on the issue of entitlement reform. But it also shows why they came up with all of those "third rail" metaphors in the first place.
So the question many are asking is, should Ryan ride to the rescue? If the election is going to be a referendum on his plan, maybe the one guy who can sell it should get in the race. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for Ryan to get in the race, saying, "Paul's about real leadership." Charles Krauthammer on Fox News' "Special Report" said he wouldn't just urge Ryan to run, he'd form a "posse."
If Ryan ran, he would probably drive the other candidates further away from his own plan while forcing them to come up with serious alternatives of their own. Many think that if he got the nomination, he would clean Obama's clock in the debates.
It's a lot to ask. He has three young kids and would have to get organized and funded from a cold start for a long-shot run. But politics is about moments, and this one is calling him. Unless someone suddenly rises to the challenge, the cries of "Help us, Paul Ryan, you're our only hope!" will only get louder.
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