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Paul Ryan is not running for president—in 2016.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Paul Ryan is not running for president, he’s just visiting Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Paul Ryan is not running for president, he’s just making presidential ads. But according to a New York Times piece published on Sunday, Ryan is running for president, sort of: He’s “creating a personality and policy alternative to run alongside the presidential effort—one that provides a foundation to rebuild if Republicans splinter and lose in the fall.” 

Ryan, in other words, is gearing up for a catastrophic November. There are pragmatic reasons for this—there will be a reckoning if Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz) loses badly in the presidential election, especially so if it causes the Republicans to lose Congress, or even just the Senate. Republicans will need someone to rally around and Ryan is working publicly and privately to be that person. That work seems partly based on a bet that failure from an anti-establishment candidate like Trump or Cruz will lead the rank and file back toward an establishment figure—and Ryan, in temperament, at least, is the anti-Trump. Ryan is hoping, in part, to avert the kind of existential crisis many predict a catastrophic loss would force the Republicans to undergo—instead, Ryan would present himself as a kind of reset button. 

So Paul Ryan is not running for president—he’s running for the role of savior. And then, after he wins that role, he’s running for president.