One story I've been following but haven't written about is the possibility that Paul Ryan might decide to run for president. When you have the power to set your party's vision of government for the next fifty years, and nobody in the party is allowed to disagree with you, or even dodge paying fealty to you, then you already are the party leader. Ryan's disavowals of interest never struck me as terribly strong. Now he's dropping even stronger hints:

On Thursday evening, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said yet again that he is not considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination. But when asked by Fox News' Neil Cavuto whether he would change course from past rejections of a presidential bid, Ryan hesitated before saying, "Look, I think I want to see how this field develops."
"I think there are going to be other people getting into the race," he continued. "You know I was hoping Mitch Daniels would get into the race. He obviously didn’t do that. But there's such a long way to go. Obviously I believe Republicans need to retake the White House."
At this point, Cavuto interrupted and asked whether Ryan was "holding out that possibility if the field doesn't develop to your liking."

The next clue from Ryan is a little more subtle, but also more telling, and requires a backstory. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has appointed himself unofficial head of the committee to persuade Paul Ryan to run for president. The current issue of the Standard has an editorial implicitly, and an article explicitly, advocating Ryan's candidacy. (The latter employs a hilariously convoluted electoral college-based explanation to arrive, as if by deduction, at the conclusion that geography dictates Ryan as the nominee.)

Yesterday, Ryan delivered a speech outlining his foreign policy vision, an important step for a candidate lacking foreign policy experience, and especially crucial to secure the support of Kristol, who cares deeply about foreign policy and approaches all other questions instrumentally. Ryan leaked his speech in advance to -- da dum -- the Weekly Standard. Ryan's leak carefully name-checked the Standard and stroked Kristol's ideological erogenous zones:

Crediting Charles Krauthammer's 2009 essay in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "Decline Is a Choice," Ryan will insist the United States maintain its leading role in the world by addressing the growing debt and entitlement spending crises...
The key question for American policymakers is whether we are competing with China for leadership of the international system or against them over the fundamental nature of that system. It is a debate in which we must demonstrate American strength – economic, military, and moral – to make clear our choice to reject decline and instead recommit to renewed strength and prosperity...
Today, some in this country relish the idea of America’s retreat from our role in the world. They say that it’s about time for other nations to take over; that we should turn inward; that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens.

Ryan's neoconservative vision contrasts in interesting ways with his domestic vision, which I'll get into soon. But, in the meantime, this strikes me as a clear signal that Ryan is at least considering a presidential run. And if he runs, I believe he would immediately become the front-runner, and perhaps even the runaway front runner. He is adored by party activists and elites in equal measure and is the embodiment of the party consensus.