Paul Ryan Is the Odds-On Favorite to Win the Republican Nomination in 2016

| Thu Feb. 6, 2014 1:04 AM EST

There's been a lot of blathering about who the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is, and so far I've resisted taking part. But I guess I'm kind of curious: Is there much of a case to be made for anyone other than Paul Ryan?

On the substantive side, Ryan sure seems like he's setting himself up for a run. There's his steady series of "unheralded" anti-poverty outreach trips that always manage to be just heralded enough to get sympathetic press coverage. He brokered a budget deal with Patty Murray that was businesslike and low-drama but didn't alienate the tea party crowd too badly. Today, in a hearing about the CBO's report on Obamacare, he acknowledged that the report didn't say that employers would be cutting jobs—points for intellectual honesty!—while also calling Obamacare a "poverty trap"—points for demagoguery! This is all stuff that seems very delicately calculated to stay in the good graces of the tea party base while building up plenty of policy substance cred that will keep him attractive to moderate voters.

On the flip side, who are his big competitors? Chris Christie is toast. Marco Rubio is inexperienced to begin with, and then muffed his chance for statesmanlike glory when he staked his reputation on immigration reform and came up empty. Jeb Bush can't even get his mother's endorsement. Scott Walker is getting buzz, but he strikes me as having too much baggage. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are novelty candidates, not to be taken seriously. And although I used to think Bobby Jindal might have a chance, he's had a rough past couple of years.

Maybe I'm dismissing all these guys a little too glibly. Walker and Bush are certainly serious possibilities. And I admit that Ryan doesn't always give off a vibe that says he's running for president. And of course, we're still a couple of years away from 2016, anything can happen, blah blah blah.

Still, ol' blue eyes sure looks like the favorite to me right now. Anyone want to make a case for one of the others?

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