Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan don’t have a lot in common, save for their one vice-presidential debate against each other last year. But they do share one glaring similarity that could make or break them in 2016 – they are leveraging their insider status to play a significant role in the future of their parties.
Biden has been spending the new year talking up his role avoiding the fiscal cliff crisis, championed his activism for gay rights at the inaugural balls, and is now pushing his gun control initiatives to a skeptical Congress. He’s the insiders’ insider, an asset that’s paid off in spades as he’s courted New Hampshire and Iowa Democratic activists in celebrating President Obama’s inauguration. If he succeeds, he won’t only be securing the president’s legacy, but his own political future, as well.
As he told CNN’s Gloria Borger in an interview Wednesday: “If this administration is successful, whoever is running as a Democrat is better position to win.”
On the flip side, his nearly four decades in Washington are shaping up to be as much of a hindrance as his advanced age (he turns 74 in 2016), looking to run at a time when politics-as-usual is frowned upon.
"I don't think he wears that [insider] mantle. He's so personable when he's out and about," said New Hampshire Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen. "I remember him being in the driveway of my neighbor's house in, say, 1980. He has some close friends up here.”
"I think there's a general consensus that he's interested in running in 2016," she added. "We of course know him very well."
Biden’s embrace of being a seminal Washington insider is a trait shared with Ryan, whose status as a budget wonk obscures his influence behind the scenes. Ryan has lately played a pivotal role in pushing recalcitrant House Republicans to take a more pragmatic approach to dealing with President Obama on the budget.
He’s been the leading face of the GOP leadership's No Budget No Pay gambit, which passed the House Wednesday. The bill wraps a debt ceiling extension in legislative language that calls for freezing lawmakers' pay if the Senate doesn't pass a budget. Ryan persuaded conservative House Republicans of the importance of playing the long game in pitching the plan at the House Republican retreat, according to Politico’s behind-the-scenes account.
And he spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor Wednesday, and said at the same panel that the GOP has an opportunity to "help prevent a debt crisis."
"I think for Ryan, he's played it very smart. There's a vacuum that happens after a campaign. He's done a very good job dropping down, getting back to his real job, and immediately finding himself in an important place in the leadership and also as a sought-after spokesperson for conservatives in the conference," said a former GOP leadership aide.
But for Ryan, the question also remains whether the insider reputation will help his national standing in the wake of a possible run in 2016. Former GOP leadership aides said Ryan could be happier as a future House Ways and Means Committee chairman rather than president. After Romney lost the presidential race, GOP advisers publicly urged him to step aside from Congress, so he would avoid taking difficult votes that could hurt his standing with movement conservatives. Already his vote with Boehner on the fiscal cliff compromise upset some of his longstanding GOP backers.
That’s the gamble both future presidential contenders have taken: Win some challenging behind-the-scenes legislative victories, and hope voters will reward them for their hard work. It’s an inside-the-Beltway idea, but it’s an open question whether it’ll play with the average voter.