Pete Seat: Inevitability and the 2016 presidential race
Thursday, December 04, 2014 9:45 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – With the 2014 midterm elections now behind us, it’s time to take a look at the 2016 presidential contest. So let’s catch up on the latest.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio won’t run for president if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush does. But Bush, the brother of a former president and son of another, might not run if 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney does. Then there’s a decent chance 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, recently selected to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, won’t run if either Bush or Romney runs. Another Wisconsinite, Scott Walker, the governor who has found himself on the ballot three times in four years (and prevailed each time), seems poised to run himself. But his decision might hold off other Midwestern governors from doing the same.
Oh, the speculative chess match of presidential politics. In addition to the required discussions with family and supporters about what a campaign may look like lies the political calculation about whether there exists a “path to the nomination” and a real chance at victory in November 2016. It’s a conversation anyone considering a campaign for the highest office in the land must face. And while I can hardly claim to possess inside knowledge of the intimate deliberations that are surely taking place at this very moment at many gubernatorial and senatorial kitchen tables, those non-family political calculations evade the larger point: If someone wants to be president, they should just run for president.
How each candidate enters the race and the circumstances surrounding that decision are a real test of leadership. They won’t have the luxury of a “wait-and-see” approach regarding Russia, China or Iran, so why make their decision based on who else may or may not also be on the debate stage come next summer? If a candidate believes deep down that they are the best person for the most important job in the world, and their family signs off, it shouldn’t matter who the other candidates are.
What would have happened if Barack Obama had come to the same conclusion as everyone else that Hillary Clinton was “inevitable” in 2008? What would have been if George W. Bush said, “You know what, Lamar Alexander has the education space wrapped up,” and passed on a bid in 2000? How would the world of politics be different if Bill Clinton had let his “never heard of him” standing in early polls keep him home in 1992?
The people who ultimately win do it against all odds. Obama had no business winning the presidency. He has said as much himself. “A skinny kid with a funny name,” wasn’t exactly what we have come to know as presidential material. Bush was in a different boat altogether considering his family’s pedigree, but he rightfully ignored concerns that “another Bush” was destined for failure just eight years after his father, George H. W. Bush, lost re-election. Clinton, a national laughing stock on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson after a, well, lengthy keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, stood up, dusted himself off, and prevailed in winning two campaigns and potentially charted the way for his wife to follow in his footsteps.
The approximately 13,000 (give or take) candidates considering whether to mount a bid in the coming months should take these examples into account when making their decision. Demurring to others or whispering to the press that the field is weak as a rationale for running doesn’t speak so highly of one’s qualifications.
I want someone who runs strong out of the gate with a rock-solid case for why their candidacy is worth paying attention to and why they should be president. That inaugural introduction to the American people, that first day on the campaign trail, can mean everything if handled properly. Do we really want to see the announcement riddled with sentences about how someone is running only because another someone decided not to take the plunge rather than what they plan to do while in office?
That’s why I give a lot of credit to Jim Webb. His Democratic Party is already coalescing around another “inevitable” Hillary Clinton candidacy but that didn’t stop the former senator from Virginia from announcing an exploratory committee last week. He wants to be president, so he’s running for president.
Some Republicans should look at his example and follow the leader.
Pete Seat is senior project manager at the Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies. He was previously a spokesman for President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and the Indiana Republican Party.