People have already started pondering who will run for president in 2016. And why not? It’s a great parlor game. But any game needs rules; and in this case, history has provided us with a lot ton of precedent to determine who actually has a legitimate shot at becoming the next commander-in-chief, and who is just a much-ballyhooed pretender. So what are those rules?
Rule #1: You don’t become president if you’ve completed a full term in the senate. Only one man has ever done it: LBJ, and he had to become Vice President, and then only became president because JFK was assassinated. A few have served less than a full term: Obama and JFK most recently. But complete that first term, and you’re done for. Many, many, many have tried. None have succeeded. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Rob Portman will all be finishing up their first term in 2016; if any of them actually wins election, they will be the longest serving Senator to ever be directly elected from the Senate to the presidency, although only by a couple of years so it’s not completely out of the question. Still, it’s doubtful. This rule also casts serious doubt on both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden on the Democratic side: both have completed full terms, but one could argue that since both have more recently served in the administration that perhaps they are more like LBJ than John McCain, John Kerry or Bob Dole, just to name the last three senators to win their party nomination and lose the presidency. Of course, serving in the administration didn’t help Walter Mondale in 1984, so I wouldn’t bet the house on either of them.
Rule #2: It’s good to be from a Big State, or a Democrat from the South. Obama is from the 5th most populous state (Illinois). The Bushes were from Texas, which moved from third to second during W.’s tenure, as was LBJ. Clinton and Carter were the Southern Democrats (and LBJ, of course). Reagan and Nixon were from California, the most populous state. Ford was from Michigan, which was a top 5 most populous state at the time. You have to go all the way back to JFK to find an exception to this rule. This rule favors people like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and anyone that the Democrats can find with a southern accent.
Rule #3: Don’t nominate people from Massachusetts or Minnesota. People from Massachusetts or Minnesota who won the nomination but lost the election since JFK: Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey. And that’s not counting the many people from both of those states who never made it through the primary process (including Ted Kennedy and Tim Pawlenty). None of the current contenders are from either of those states, but I thought it bore repeating.
Rule #4: It’s good to be governor or Vice President. Obama came from the Senate. Before him? George W. was Governor of Texas. Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Bush the Elder was VP. Reagan was Governor of California. Carter was Governor of Georgia. Ford was VP. Nixon was VP. LBJ was VP. JFK was Senator. Truman was VP. FDR was Governor of New York. You get the idea. (Yes, I skipped Eisenhower: if you win a World War, you get to be president without being governor or Vice President.) The list of surviving former VPs seems a little thin: Joe Biden might want the job; Dick Cheney is about about as popular a root canal; Al Gore seems out of politics for good, and Dan Quayle… uh, yeah, right. So if I were a betting man, I’d start looking around at the governor’s offices for our next president. Or maybe former governors.
Put it all together? Of all the candidates people have talked about, there’s only one that I can think of who fits all of the rules: a former governor from a big state that isn’t Massachusetts or Minnesota and he’s never served a day in the Senate. That would be Jeb Bush of Florida. At least until someone else comes along.