Would a "Candidate Paul Ryan" be the second-coming of Goldwater, or a "black swan" President?

This isn’t so much an analytical post first, but an invitation to a conversation. Paul Ryan’s supporters have been making waves the last few days by raising the possibility that he might run for President. So, let’s talk about it, both here and on Twitter.

Conventional wisdom portrays entitlements as the “third rail” of American politics. Entitlement reform is a notoriously risky political minefield, and so most politicians usually don’t bother trying. Yet despite the CW, Paul Ryan has rolled out a plan to address this very issue, and one that has garnered considerable support from his partymates.

But where is he leading them, and where would he lead the party in 2012? To put the headline another way, which is the more likely scenario if Ryan ran for President, and why?

  1. Ryan becomes an ideological hero-candidate doomed to a spectacular defeat in a general election; – OR –
  2. a dark horse Ryan candidacy marches to victory, fundamentally changes government, and later both events are justified as obvious and expected outcomes?

For those unfamiliar with what a “black swan” is, Wikipedia has a handy three-part definition for what factors constitute such an event, so I’ll reproduce that here:

  1. The event is a surprise (to the observer).
  2. The event has a major impact.
  3. After its first recording, the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected (e.g., the relevant data were available but not accounted for).

“Black swans” are generally more about events than people — ex. World War II, the Internet, etc. — but I think a Presidency that would make an overhaul of entitlements central to its platform would, in the narrow context of the American political landscape, be an event of magnitude great enough to be termed this way. A run of this nature would directly contradict long-standing CW. And because the effect would be so great, I can’t imagine an election where Ryan would kinda sorta lose, or kinda sorta win. Seems to me it’d either be a blow-out, our a massive sea change.

But what do you think? Would a Ryan run be an “epic win” or an electoral disaster? Or something in between? I look forward to your thoughts.