This time is different.

Photographer: John Gress/Getty Images

Ryan Drops Out, Romney Ramps Up

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

Earlier today, I said we would know whether Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are monopolizing Republican resources if other possible candidates started dropping out. A few hours later, Paul Ryan did just that. But I’m not going to interpret the Wisconsin Republican's move as evidence that party leaders have already decided on Bush or Romney.

Ryan has been the least active of the possible Republican contenders over the last couple of years. I've included his name on these lists because his status in the party meant he could wait longer than Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to jump in. But candidates for the presidency don’t, as a rule, take on new responsibilities that will keep them off the campaign trail, as Ryan did by becoming head of the House Ways and Means Committee. Or, as many remarked, they don't show up on the first day of a new Congress with a beard.

I usually interpret these "I have decided not to run" announcements as at least partial defeats rather than accept the excuses from departing candidates; John Thune and Haley Barbour were unsuccessful candidates in 2012, not politicians who thought about it and decided not to run.

This time, however, I buy the idea that Ryan intended to stay in the House all along. Leaving it ambiguous for the last two years may have been more of a tactic to raise his national clout than send out feelers for a presidential run. At most, it seems he was sticking around just in case no big names entered and he wound up winning by acclamation. 

Meanwhile, Romney's effort is reportedly getting pretty serious. It still could be shadowboxing, as I speculated earlier, in the sense that he may believe it’s worth a try to bluff all the serious candidates out, and if that fails he’ll drop out after all. If so, it’s an increasingly impressive bluff. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net