Ryan replies by noting that someone has to go first. “I really sincerely hoped that a few other people from both parties would start throwing their plans out there, and then we’d get into the business of debating these things. But unfortunately, we’re going to have to go through another round of turning these things into third rails and political weapons,” Ryan says in an interview in his office.

If Ryan is the most intellectually serious Republican at the moment, that’s no guarantee he’ll be successful. Only 13 GOP House members have endorsed his Roadmap. “Parts of it are well done,” House minority leader John Boehner says but then pauses. “Other parts I’ve got some doubts about, in terms of how good the policy is.” For now, it’s mostly Democrats who love Ryan. His plan, says Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, “is a gift. I totally respect Paul’s courage for putting this out there. But we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about how we’ll be fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare.” Ryan is philosophical about his predicament. “The appetite is much stronger outside the Beltway than inside,” he says. “The political class up here is in the old thinking, which is, This is such a political weapon, don’t touch it, don’t touch it, don’t touch it, you’ll die. Because they listen to the pollsters.”