Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Condition For Winning The Presidency You’re Not Supposed To Talk About

Now that the contest for the 2012 Republican nomination for president is more or less underway, and we know almost all the possible candidates, what chance does the eventual GOP choice from this roster have against the Democratic incumbent?

I have been repeatedly stating that when the full roster is known, and it is likely to be a large number initially, the race will nonetheless quickly narrow to a few candidates after the initial primaries.

The GOP roster for this cycle is not only large, it has a number of potential candidates who could mount a truly serious challenge to President Barack Obama, including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty.. It also has well-known potential candidates who possibly could be nominated, but would be less likely to win in November, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Haley Barbour. It further has less well-known potential candidates who are unlikely to make it to the finish line in Tampa next year, including John Thune, Rick Santourum, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson and Herman Cain. There are, as well, vanity candidates who are well-known, but have no chance such as Donald Trump.

I think it would be presumptuous to make a prediction from this roster at this time, although when I was younger, I did so anyway. (I did make some successful early predictions in those days, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and I was among the first to predict the national emergence of Gary Hart (in 1982) and Joe Biden (in 1985!) But I also made some predictions that were downright political lemons, and eventually I withdrew from the presidential prediction business.

This year I want to discuss a condition no one usually talks about in the presidential contest. This is because it is ultimately mysterious, unmeasurable, and can’t be polled. I am talking about luck.

Yes, most of the men (and in the future, the women) who win the Oval Office have, or will have, “what it takes” to be president, including communication skills, experience, intelligence and charm, but a great many American politicians have had these qualities, and did not win the presidency.

In more modern times, I am thinking of Harold Stassen (not nominated), Thomas Dewey (nominated twice), Robet Taft (not nominated), Adlai Stevenson (nominated twice), Hubert Humphrey (nominated), Averill Harriman (not nominated), George Romney (not nominated), Bob Dole (nominated), Mario Cuomo (not nominated), Jack Kemp (not nominated), Bruce Babbitt (not nominated), John McCain (nominated) and Hillary Clinton (not nominated). This is only my list, and a partial one. The reader my well have his or her own that differs from mine.

Regardless of who is on or not on the list, however, there is at least one element the aforementioned have in common. They were not “lucky.” I am not at all suggesting that was the only reason they did not make it to the White House, but I am suggesting that any of them could have been president, and possibly in other, luckier, circumstances might have made it.

Now what do I mean by luck?

It’s an elusive quality, and in presidential politics, it can involve how a candidate looks (Dewey), running against a popular incumbent (Stevenson, Harriman, Dole), what a candidate says (George Romney and Robert Taft), potential opponents who decide not to run (Cuomo), running against an unexpectedly strong opponent (Humphrey, Babbitt, Hillary Clinton). It can also involve that all-important element in politics — timing. Another week, many political scientists say, and Hubert Humphrey] would have overtaken Nixon in 1968. When the mortgage banking bubble broke late in the 2008 campaign, McCain was some points ahead of Obama. If Hubert Humphrey had been healthy in 1976, he might well have defeated Jimmy Carter for his party’s nomination. And so forth.

This subject calls for much more detail and more examples, but I wanted to raise it because the Republican list of potential nominees is large, many on the list are clearly capable of being president, but only one will win the nomination and have the chance to win the White House prize.

We could list characteristics, resumes of political and business positions held, issues each candidate favors and opposes, communication skills, geographical origins and the like, but which Republican candidate also has luck on his or her side?

Events soon to come will answer that question. I am not being mystical. It is an element always present in a presidential election cycle.. It is by no means usually the biggest element. After all, it was that way-off Broadway playwright who long ago said, “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

More likely, the next GOP nominee will be someone who, by great craft and perseverance, will prevail in September and take their case to the voters in November. There is an old saying that luck is not all just chance, but also what a person makes of themselves.

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