His friends tell us the most obvious route — a run for the White House in 2016 — holds less appeal to him with each passing day. “He has no interest in the sheer grind of campaigning,” said a conservative who recently spent time with Ryan. “It’s hard to see him having ‘what it takes.’”

Instead, Ryan seems increasingly intrigued with the prospect of amassing more power within Congress, using his juice in the House leadership to promote his trademark Medicare plan and engineer spending cuts. The friends say this path could ultimately lead him to an eventual run for House GOP leader, or even speaker, an option they surmise he has warmed to since the election.

Ryan associates say he has been surprised at how central his governing role has been among House Republicans since returning from his failed run for vice president. He was instrumental in cooking up the GOP’s new debt ceiling strategy and will craft a budget plan that sets the direction for the GOP caucus on virtually every consequential issue. With this in mind, he now calculates that naked national ambitions would only dilute his growing power as Speaker John Boehner’s unofficial wing man.