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As the dust settles on the 2012 election cycle, few questions remain when discussing the political future of the cycle’s top candidates.

President Barack Obama will never again run for political office and unless he looks at a bid for Governor or the Senate (which is highly unlikely), we can assume that Mitt Romney’s career in politics is kaput.  There remains some intrigue that Vice President Joe Biden would consider dipping his toes in the 2016 waters, but his age makes it slightly unlikely.

Then there is Paul Ryan.

Ryan, for one thing, beat his Democratic opponent Rob Zerban with just under 55 percent of the vote which was actually the lowest vote total for Ryan since he first joined Congress in 1998.  While it appears that, just like Eric Cantor in Virginia, his seat may never be in perilous shape; it does show that his popularity in his home district has slightly waned when up against a mildly competitive challenger.

Ryan has always been ambitious and he skyrocketed to political fame in the 2010 election cycle as he became the face of the Republican budget.  Ryan’s passion appears to be in numbers and though he’s a staunch conservative, he’s not as widely known for his stance on gay marriage, in which he called it “not a universal human value”.

Naturally though, Paul Ryan is the most likely of the 2012 contenders to make the plunge in 2016—or beyond.  Ryan’s youth, 42, makes him a prime contender to be a Presidential choice for as long as he’s politically relevant.  He is a darling amongst the right-wing who would be unlikely to immediately gravitate to say, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie and is nationally known.

Yet, losing contenders on a Presidential ticket, usually don’t make it very far when it comes to future national bids.  Joe Lieberman, VP selection of 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore, flamed out in his 2004 bid for the Presidency (while not even gaining the endorsement of Gore).  John Edwards, VP selection of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, was the third-place finisher in the 2008 primaries but has completely evaporated from the political scene due to his extramarital affair and trial.  Sarah Palin retired from her post as Alaska Governor in 2010, and has yet to make a run following her loss with John McCain in 2008.

But all of those cases were a bit more different than Ryan’s.  Lieberman lacked charisma, popularity and was a bit of a pariah on the left for his support of the Iraq War.    Edwards was popular and almost a front-runner but just couldn’t outweigh the historic movements behind both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Palin infamously went “rogue” and tarnished her reputation amongst moderates, independents, liberals and non-evangelical conservatives while not even making a run in 2012.

Paul Ryan, though, is the closest thing the Republican establishment has to a popular, truly conservative firebrand who remains fairly boring.  He know has a national name to non-political followers as well, which plays exceptionally well into his future.

Still though, Paul Ryan is now known.  If 2016 truly begins in earnest today, he’s more than likely already at his ceiling.  There is very little that we will know about Paul Ryan in the years to come that we didn’t know already.  In fact, one could say, there is nowhere for Ryan to go but down in favorability.  Even though Ryan is only 42, politicians like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are fresher than the seven-term Congressman.

Now that could play into Ryan’s favor like it did to Mitt Romney in 2012, but Ryan will likely be facing a field with political heavyweights such as Bush, Christie and potentially Mike Huckabee.  Ryan, providing he even makes an exploratory committee, won’t be dealing with a Speaker of the House from the 90s and an ex-Senator from Pennslyvania who was trounced in his re-election bid as top political adversaries.

After flirting with the national scene, it’ll be hard for Ryan to probably handle being just one of 435 representatives.  With Scott Walker and Ron Johnson both likely to run for Governor and Senator again, Paul Ryan’s next shot to run for a new office would be in 2018 against Tammy Baldwin for Senate.

But again, Ryan seems to be content with being the Chairman of the Committee on the Budget.  Maybe he one day looks at a Speaker of the House look, but it’s fair to assume, that he would’ve been there if he wanted to be there.

The future of Paul Ryan is only now just beginning, but I’m sure we are going to hear a lot about him in the coming years.

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