As Kevin McCarthy cruises towards occupying Eric Cantor’s leadership chair, inquiring minds want to know why the most famous GOP House Member of them all, Paul Ryan, isn’t big-footing his way into the leadership. The WaPo power duo of Robert Costa and Karen Tumulty look into it, and if you put aside as unverifiable the usual pious stuff about his desire to spend time with his family, the real answer is pretty clear:

[H]is ambitions lie elsewhere. In the short term, he wants to become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the coming year. Over the longer haul, he may well make another bid for national office, perhaps for the top of the ticket in 2016.

So why enter the abattoir of the Republican leadership when you can control the most important committee and keep your fences mended for a presidential run? Ways & Means is a guaranteed source of future campaign dollars and favors to distribute to acolytes. If Republicans take the Senate, he can probably churn out a tax plan that will be rubber stamped and then vetoed by the president, making Ryan a rival to Barack Obama rather than Nancy Pelosi. And a bit further down the road, if Boehner retires and Kevin McCarthy (not a favorite of conservatives) crashes and burns, it’s not like Ryan won’t have the option of taking over the Speakership then.

Ryan already has very high name ID, activist adulation as the author of the budget that implements their dreams, and thanks to the Ryan-Murray gambit that took another spending fight off the table until after the midterms, the eternal gratitude of the Republican Establishment and the K Street crowd. He’s sitting pretty, and doesn’t need to grab the perilously greasy gavel right now.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.