After yesterday’s impressive victory in the Florida presidential primary, Mitt Romney will be the Republican party’s candidate for President, barring career-ending scandal or sudden infirmity. Neither Gingrich or Santorum will prevent him from getting 50% of the delegates, and it’s increasingly unlikely that a last-minute candidate will be in any position to do the same.
Mitt Romney’s impending nomination reinforces the idea that the Republican party ultimately supports the next in line. He’ll be the fifth of six consecutive Republican presidential candidates to become the nominee after finishing second in the previous contest. The one exception was George W Bush, who was the Governor of the most populated state with a Republican executive, the son of a former President and faced weak also-rans (Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes.) If Romney’s elected to the White House, his Vice President will probably be the frontrunner in the next open primary. However, if President Obama wins reelection, it’s not clear who will be considered the next in line. In the event that no one’s supporters can claim its their turn, who gets the institutional benefits typically afforded also-rans?
There aren’t many data points available, so it’s possible that the “next in line” thing is an overrated myth, possibly reinforced by coincidences. Mitt Romney faced weak primary opponents. George HW Bush was chosen as Reagan’s running mate, so when he was nominated for the #1 spot, he was the sitting Vice-President. But there are certainly advantages to having run before, in terms of name-recognition, fundraising ability, experience with the rigors of a presidential campaign and psychological edge. Amplifying the consensus that one candidate is a frontrunner is one way to intimidate other potential candidates and their donors.
One problem for anyone planning to run in 2016 is that there are many impressive Republicans who were elected to statewide office in 2009 or 2010, including Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Then there are the Republicans who chose not to run in 2012 who will probably be in a position to do so in 2016 (Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, etc). You could also add Representative Mike Pence, who is very likely to be elected Governor of Indiana in the coming election.
So, it won’t be enough to just be the runner-up, considering the impressive competition. Newt Gingrich has been out of office since 1999 and he’ll be 69 years old in Election Day 2012. He might be in a position to claim the mantle of 2012’s best also-ran, but this was his only remaining shot to be elected President. The “next in line” doesn’t have to be the prohibitive front-runner, but it should be someone who enters the race as a top-tier candidate.
But by voting for Santorum, the group largely undercut more serious efforts waged by Gingrich to stop Romney and, even more troubling if Romney is the nominee and loses, potentially sets up a claim by Rick Santorum, a man who will have been out of office a decade by then, to be the 2016 front runner.
In a year when we could possibly see Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others, the evangelical movement might have just sown the first seeds of division for 2016 — seeds that, like in 2008 and 2012, prevented evangelicals from getting one of their own the nomination.
I doubt that Santorum could win Iowa, or any primary in a field with much more impressive “proven conservative” candidates, especially since he hasn’t been a Senator in 2006. He might run for President again, but it probably won’t matter. It might be slightly different if he’s elected to the Senate again. He still wouldn’t be seen as a top-tier candidate in 2016.
Despite the way things ended, former Perry aides seem excited about the future. Carney, for example, sounded optimistic about the possibility Perry might run for president again in the future. “If he runs again, he’ll be better prepared,” he said.
Others agree. “I wouldn’t be surprised by that at all,” said Franklin.
“Look at the successful candidates who run. Ronald Reagan ran twice … you know, George Herbert Walker Bush ran twice … McCain had run before. Dole had run a number of times,” Carney said.
“Romney’s benefitting from having run before,” added Carney.
Asked directly if Perry is hoping to run again, Carney said: “I know he wants to keep his options open and see what happens. But his top political priority would be to make sure we don’t have four more years of Obama.”
Rick Perry was diminished by running for President in 2012. Despite leading in the polls in late summer, he barely got ten percent in Iowa with his fifth-place finish, and became a punchline for late-night comics. If he runs again, he might be in a position to avoid the mistakes he made this time, but I would imagine that he would start any future presidential primary as a second-tier candidate. The only advantage to having run before would be a greater understandings of his shortcomings as a potential Presidential candidate.
Huntsman might be in the best position of the also-rans to claim the mantle. At least he finished in third place in New Hampshire. Should Romney lose, it’s unlikely that primary voters will decide that their problem was that they didn’t try hard enough to appeal to the center. But Huntsman will be different from his likely 2012 opponents, and will get some free media. If Obama is widely considered a good President, Huntsman will also have an argument for leading the Republican party in a new direction. I doubt that he would top fifty percent on Intrade at any point in 2015, but he might enter the primary as a top-tier candidate, which is more than could be said for the other 2012 also-rans.
Another possibility would be Mike Huckabee, who can argue that he was the runner-up from the 2008 cycle, as the winner of the Iowa caucuses. He also won more delegates than Romney, although that was largely because he stayed in the primary, even when a loss was certain. He hasn’t held office for some time, but thanks to his TV show, various media appearances and involvement in conservative causes, he could still seem relevant to Republican primary voters.
Given the limited competition, someone who considered a run in 2012, but chose otherwise could gain the institutional advantages of the next in line. It might be Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out early, or Chris Christie, the potential candidate who seemed to be the most in-demand. As Romney supporters, they’re in a position to inherit some of his donors and advisers.
Jeb Bush would also have many of George W Bush’s advantages from the 2000 cycle. Although he’ll have been out of office for ten years, he may have needed the time to get voters to forget about his brother. Presidents tend to get better approval ratings the longer they’ve been out of office, and as much as Republicans will be loathe to nominate three Bushes, there’s an element of superstition that could help, similar to arguments for Hillary Clinton circa 2007 that Clintons win elections.
Speaking of political legacies, Rand Paul will probably inherit his father’s organization, and he’s already more prominent than most Senators. Though Ron Paul wasn’t doing as well in the early primaries as some were expecting, with fourth place finishes in Florida and South Carolina.
The next in line might be Romney’s running mate, whoever it may be. They’ll have the advantage of name recognition and organization. Though it’s possible that the veep nominee will be diminished by the campaign, or that Romney will choose someone unlikely to get the presidential nomination in the future (Condoleeza Rice, Joe Lieberman.) It’s also possible that Romney will choose someone who can already make a nebulous claim that 2016 is their turn (Christie, Huckabee, Pawlenty, etc) so their role as his partner will only amplify that.
Being the next in line doesn’t mean the nomination’s won. Just ask Steve Forbes. But it’s a title that a few candidates will try to claim, no matter how tenuously. Though it’s possible that someone could use the affirmation as well as Romney did in this cycle.