Published on TheHill.com on April 29, 2014
Of the last eight people who have won the Republican nomination for president, six ran for the office and lost before they eventually got their party’s nod. To win as a Republican, it would seem you first must lose.
Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon all lost before they won. Only George W. Bush and Gerald Ford won the nomination without first having lost. (And Ford inherited his incumbency and blew it).
Not so in the Democratic Party. Of the last seven nominees, only Al Gore first lost before he eventually got the nomination 12 years later.
The Republican Party is, at heart, a monarchic and legitimist institution. Party leadership is handed down in orderly succession. Rebels and insurgents are typically given short shrift.
In the beginning, Thomas Dewey begat Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower begat Nixon. Nixon begat Ford. Reagan lost to Ford and then, it was his turn. Then Reagan begat Bush-41. Dole had lost to Bush-41 and then, it was his turn to try. Bush-41, literally, begat Bush-43. McCain lost to Bush-43 and then, it was his turn. Romney lost to McCain, and then, his turn came.
What does this predict for 2016? Of the defeated candidates left over from 2012, Rick Santorum is probably too focused on social issues to win. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann can be dismissed as flashes in the pan and the problems that knocked them out of contention have not gone away. Romney probably won’t get a third chance — even Nixon only got two. Newt Gingrich inflicted too many wounds on others and on himself.
That leaves Rick Perry. He’s acceptable to Latinos, based on his Texas record. He draws strong Tea Party support without being defined by it. A Southerner, he is clearly ready to play on the national stage. A big state governor, his record on jobs has only gotten better. Perry can’t be dismissed.
Will his debate brainlock disqualify him? Not if he doesn’t repeat it. Bill Clinton recovered from a disastrous 1988 convention speech. He’s probably had enough time to recover from his dismissal of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” in his book.
But Perry has to develop a truly national perspective to win. He can’t forever be repeating “in the state of Texas” before each line.
He needs to know more about issues other than energy. In 2012, he showed the same lack of depth and laziness in issue preparation as Sarah Palin did in 2008, but he wasn’t caught as easily because he’s a man.
In competing for the center of the Republican Party, Perry would face Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan.
Bush, the former Florida governor, sure doesn’t sound like he’s running. If he did, he could win. People would blanch at a Bush-Clinton race, but if the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary, the Republicans shouldn’t feel bad about tapping Jeb. But Bush sure doesn’t seem to have the heart for it.
Christie thinks we will all forgive his virtual endorsement of President Obama in the last days of the 2012 contest, but we won’t.
And he’s going to have a hard time surviving his Bridgegate and Port Authority corruption scandals.
Ryan underwhelmed in 2012 as the vice presidential candidate, only breaking even in the Biden debate, and has scarred himself by becoming the poster boy for Medicare vouchers.
Who are the other options? Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will lock up the Tea Party and the libertarian wings in the early going, but the Republican Party does not usually cotton to insurgents. Marco Rubio has the potential to move to the establishment center and compete, but he has disappointed at crucial times to date.
Scott Walker, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley and some others might emerge as national candidates. Walker, in particular, is interesting because he has been, hands down, the best Republican governor in recent years. He slew the teachers union, freed the schools, funded education, cut taxes, created jobs and survived repeated political assassination attempts. He has the courage, fiber and vision it would take.
But look through the lens of history. Republicans don’t like to take chances. They want their candidates to have served their apprenticeship as losers. The Republican voters are agoraphobic, fearful of new situations and people. It takes them a while to get used to new candidates, so those who have run once and learned their lessons have great appeal.
So keep your eye on Perry.
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