There’s a profile in Politico about Jason Kander, former Secretary of State in Missouri, who lost a close race for Senate. Some people in a political forum I frequent want him to run for President for a strength of that. There isn’t much modern precedent for that, although it has happened in the past. Tom Dewey was a prosecutor who almost became the Republican nominee for President in 1936 on the strength of a close bid for Governor of New York in 1934. William Jennings Bryan was a three time nominee for President after serving in Congress for two terms, and losing a bid to be Senator of Nebraska. In 1860, the Republicans nominated a former one term Congressman to be their presidential nominee on the strength of his campaign for Senate in the previous midterms. His face is now on the penny.
This gets me thinking about precedent and who becomes presidential nominees. Often it’s someone who fits the profile of earlier candidates. If the Democrats nominate Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar or Kristen Gilibrand, it would fit the profile of Senators who have gotten the presidential nomination in the past. If Cuomo gets it, he’ll follow in the footsteps of many big-state Governors.
However, it’s entirely possible they’ll go with someone unprecedented. With the benefit of hindsight there are things that are obvious to us now that weren’t obvious years ago.
It makes sense that a young African-American senator from the big state next to Iowa with an activist background could be a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, but people didn’t see that twelve years ago. The Audacity of Hope didn’t come out until October 2006, and that book tour helped get him presidential buzz.
Trump’s the elephant in the room when it comes to precedent, and it could very well be that he got the White House as the result of weird flukes. On the other hand, we could now see that the political parties have become vulnerable to people running third party campaigns in presidential primaries. Ross Perot got 19,743,821 votes in the 1992 presidential election, and that wasn’t enough for a single electoral vote. Donald Trump gets five and a half million less votes in the Republican presidential primary, and that gets him the institutional support of one of the major political parties.
A trap that we can fall into (and I’m not exception) is to look at everything through the lens of what’s happened in the past. Sometimes it works (IE- Republicans nominate the next in line, so Mitt Romney was the favorite in 2012.) Sometimes it doesn’t.
No small state Governor was elected President. Until Bill Clinton did it. The nomination of a President’s son seemed like a pre-Civil War relic, until George W Bush did it. The presidential campaigns had obviously become too lengthy for people just elected to office, until Obama fought for the nomination. You had to serve in some kind of public office to be President, until Trump.
It’s possible that there’s someone planning a presidential bid right now who doesn’t fit the profile of a candidate. And four years from now, we might look at the ways in which it all makes sense in retrospect why Jason Kander, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, or Disney CEO Bob Iger ended up becoming President.