Why does the Republican party like older candidates?

Ricochet’s John Domenech made an offhand prediction about the future of the Republican party.

Oblivious to all this, today McCain still wanders Capitol Hill wondering why people don’t want his advice. McCain is likely the last 70+ candidate to run for the presidency, and his tenure and heroism certainly deserve respect.

I’m not sure he’s correct. The Republicans have a tendency to nominate older presidential candidates, and it doesn’t seem like this is going to disappear. Reagan is the oldest man ever inaugurated President. McCain had a few years on him when he sought the presidency, but Dole was even older in ’96. George HW Bush was also the fourth oldest man ever inaugurated.

And this continues with Romney, who is actually older than Bush 41 was twenty years ago. It might not be as obvious, due to his health and his competition. He was younger than Ron Paul (whose age wasn’t that important because he had no chance of actually winning the nomination), Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. The fact that the so many other candidates in the primary were collecting social security emphasizes the trend of Republicans favoring older figures.

At this point, three of the last six Republican nominees sought to become the oldest President ever elected. Reagan was the only who succeeded. Five of the last six sought to be among the four oldest Presidents ever elected.

There are a few reasons for this that will continue to be a factor in future nominations. The party has a tendency to nominate also-rans. Reagan had sought the nomination in 1968 and 1976 before he became the party’s candidates in 1980. Papa Bush had sought the nomination two cycles before it was his turn. Dole got the nomination eight years after his most prominent bid for the White House, and sixteen years after his first attempt. McCain became the nominee eight years after his first attempt. These were all people who had amassed enough experience to be credible Presidential contenders for several political cycles.

The older nominees tend to fall into several categories, the first being prominent Senators. Democrats have traditionally rewarded newcomers (those with a decade of service or less) to the Upper House, as indicated by the nominations of JFK, McGovern and Obama, as well as credible bids by Gore in ’88, Edwards in ’04 and Hillary Clinton in ’08. But Republican Senators to have been in the office for some time. Even Rick Santorum had been elected to the Senate eighteen years earlier. A Senator’s tenure is usually longer than a Governor’s, so a sitting Senator tends to be older than a sitting Governor.

It currently seems unlikely that the party will nominate one of its elder legislators in the future, as no one’s talking about McConnell or Boehner as potential Presidents. Part of that is due to an anti-Washington mood. You could argue that this wasn’t the cycle for a Jon Kyl, though Kyl may have been kept from earlier White House bids which would have raised his name recognition for a 2012 bid by the stature of his state’s senior Senator. So if things had gone a little differently, the party might have nominated a 70+ Senator this time.

Republicans also like outsiders turned Governors. In order for that to happen, the individual needs to have built an impressive career, and that takes time. Reagan and Romney both became Governors at 55. George W Bush became Governor at a younger age, although it helped that his dad had been President.  That connection helped him become the owner of the Texas Rangers, a position he leveraged for his gubernatorial bid. He was also the only recent Republican candidate to get the Presidential nomination in his first attempt, the result of poor competition (the only other also-ran was Forbes) and the name recognition that came from being the son of a President.

The Presidential nominees favored top presidential appointees for their running mates, so if those guys run for President eight years later, they’re going to be rather ancient. Cheney had been the first Bush’s Secretary of Defense. Kemp had been HUD Secretary. Papa Bush had served under two Presidents as UN Ambassador, Ambassador to China and CIA Director. Cheney’s health problems prevented him from running in 2008, although Kemp would have been a more than plausible contender had Dole been elected to the White House. Bush got the presidential nomination eight years after he was chosen to be Reagan’s running mate, and that had been ten years after he was selected to be Nixon’s UN Ambassador. If Romney follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, and chooses Condoleeza Rice or David Petraeus as a running mate, the party could easily have another 65+ nominee in 2020.

Due to Republican victories in 2009 and 2010, there’s a lot of speculation about the 2016 field, which consists of younger, newly elected politicos. Much of that is due to the ass-kicking the party got in 2006 and 2008, which meant that George Allen and Bill Frist will probably not get to be the nominees in 2024.

Currently, newly elected Senators get a lot of media attention. Marco Rubio (41), Rand Paul (49) and Scott Brown (52) are all in the top ten when it comes to media mentions. Although McCain is on the top of the list. Younger Governors also get more of the spotlight, but it’s not entirely clear that Jindal and Christie are much more plausible 2016 contenders than Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, who would be another 65+ nominee.

The death of the 70+ presidential nominee is premature. The quality of life is improving for elderly Americans, which means that elderly politicians will continue to be healthier, and come to the conclusion that they can run for President after all. Perhaps John Thune will follow in Bob Dole’s footsteps with unsuccessful bids in 2016 and 2024, before finally clinching the nomination in 2032, at the age of 70. And then Marco Rubio will get the nomination in 2044, at the age of 73, beating Bob Dole’s record by two months.

Oddly enough, the Democrats currently have more older candidates in the pipeline.  The party is more supportive of seniority in congressional leadership positions. Their top figures also survived reelection, and there are a few potential candidates in the Obama cabinet. In the next cycle, the 2008 also-ran and current Secretary of State will be 68. As will Elizabeth Warren, the progressive favorite running for Senate in Massachusetts. Vice President Biden will be 74, and seems more interested in another go at the White House than Hillary.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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