Fresh from the campaign trail and mulling his options for the future, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will play a pivotal role in negotiations over the fiscal cliff and faces a choice of two paths.

The Wisconsin congressman, known for his zeal for budget cutting, could opt for ideological purity and emerge as a leading voice urging his fellow Republicans to resist tax increases and demand steep cuts in entitlement spending.

Or he could use his role as House Budget Committee chairman to push for the best deal possible for Republicans but then demonstrate bipartisanship by getting behind a compromise.

Either path holds perils for the Republican lawmaker, who became an instant focus of speculation as a potential 2016 White House contender following his failed vice presidential bid. If he insists on too hard a line in the budget talks, he could potentially open a rift with other leaders in his party and get blamed for scuttling a deal. On the other hand, any compromise could leave Ryan open to criticism from the Republican base and vulnerable to a challenger from the right in 2016.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said Ryan has an incentive to work toward an agreement.

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