Paul Ryan’s great genius has not merely been that he has united conservative Republicans around a single vision — several Republicans have done this before — but that he has simultaneously persuaded moderates that he shares their beliefs as well. That is how Ryan has pitched himself to America, not as a right-wing ideologue but as a thoughtful numbers guy. Literally every piece of evidence in Ryan’s career — from his formative infatuation with Ayn Rand to his indoctrination in the works of supply-siders to his mentorships under Jack Kemp and Sam Brownback to his entire voting record in public life — says that Ryan is a hard-core supply-sider whose overarching goal is to reduce tax rates on the rich, far more than it is to bring budget deficits to heel. Nevertheless, Ryan has managed to persuade legions of moderates and moderate conservatives — see James Stewart, Ruth Marcus, and Ross Douthat, to take a few examples — that he is secretly willing to raise tax revenue as part of some bipartisan agreement.
Ryan usually manages to elide the contradiction between the irreconcilable hopes placed in him by evading questioning, using weasel words, or just filibustering long enough to exhaust the topic. That’s what makes his talk Wednesday with Ezra Klein and other reporters so interesting. Ryan tried to evade the question, but Klein wouldn’t let him until Ryan had made it perfectly clear he would not accept higher revenue at all, under any conditions.