WASHINGTON – Paul Ryan is ready to move beyond last year’s failed presidential campaign and the budget committee chairmanship that has defined him to embark on an ambitious new project: Steering Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback and Hamburg congressman.
Since February, Ryan, R-Wis., has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods with another old Kemp ally, Bob Woodson, 76, the civil rights activist and anti-poverty crusader, to talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation.
Ryan’s staff, meanwhile, has been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the “bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” that Ryan blames for “wrecking families and communities” since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964.
Next year, for the 50th anniversary of that crusade, Ryan hopes to roll out an anti-poverty plan to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s Future in scope and ambition. He is also writing a book about what’s next for the GOP, recalling the 1979 tome that detailed Kemp’s vision under the subtitle, “The Brilliant Young Congressman’s Plan for a Return to Prosperity.”
Advisers say Ryan’s immediate goal is to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee when Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., steps down in 2015. That would give him an ideal perch to advance an expanded agenda.
But Ryan has not ruled out a run for president, according to his closest advisers. On Saturday, he delivered the keynote address at the annual birthday bash of GOP Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. And last week, he told the Des Moines Register that he will give the race a “hard look” after the 2014 midterms.
Ryan has tightly controlled his public statements since the election, and he declined to be interviewed for this story. However, four advisers who worked with him on the campaign said he was mortified by Mitt Romney’s “47-percent” remarks. Two of those advisers said Ryan, Romney’s 2012 running mate, spoke directly to him about it in mid-September 2012, soon after Mother Jones posted a video of the $50,000-a-plate Florida fundraiser where Romney seemed to write off nearly half the population as unreachable by Republicans.