Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

RANDOM THOUGHT....Old CW: Senators never win presidential races. They have too long a paper trail. New CW: The U.S. Senate, birthplace of presidents!

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Campaign finance 'reform' allowing Senate and House campaign warchests (not governor's) to be used for Presidential runs probably has a bit to do with this.

Posted by: Preston on February 8, 2008 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

We still may see Bloomberg and Nadar!

Then again, are we sure that the general election will go ahead as planned?

Don't we have a few reasons to be wary of the months ahead?

It's also possible that the SCOTUS will pick the next president.

That's never happened, has It?

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 8, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Each election is different. In this race the governors who jumped in Mitt Romney and Bill Richardson ran singularly bad campaigns. Mittens campaign was particularly laughable. The senators won because they didn't have much competition.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 8, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Old CW: Senators never win presidential races. They have too long a paper trail. New CW: The U.S. Senate, birthplace of presidents!

There are two strategies within the New CW:

(1) Nominate a senator who hasn't been in the senate very long, so that they don't have a long paper trail, but make sure that the paper trail they do have is good.

(2) Nominate a senator who hasn't been in the senate very long, but who was previously first lady and has experience at destroying hope of health care reform, and who has a paper trail that is really pretty bad (supporting Bush's war, praising the "surge" by adopting Bush's revised definition of success, endorsing torture, etc.), but then make sure her followers are willing to scream "misogyny!" or "the other guy is a cult leader!" or some such at the top of their lungs whenever that paper trail is brought up, or when someone brings up the way she'll help the GOP turn out the wingnut vote in spite of McCain being the GOP nominee, etc., etc.

Posted by: bobb on February 8, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Here's some evidence for Hillary supporters that political independents are misogynistic:


A newly released poll from Time magazine, conducted before Super Tuesday, shows Barack Obama to be the more electable Democrat against John McCain:

Obama (D) 48%, McCain (R) 41%
Clinton (D) 46%, McCain (R) 46%

According to the pollster's analysis, "independents tilt toward McCain when he is matched up against Clinton But they tilt toward Obama when he is matched up against the Illinois Senator."

Posted by: bobb on February 8, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

The old CW was always overly simplistic. It's not as if no senators have become president -- dozens of presidents have served in the Senate. There seems to be some CW rule that nobody can go directly from the Senate to the presidency, and that traditionally it's been done through the vice presidency. Why would this make a difference? It's not as Vice President's paper trail suddenly disappears when they leave the Senate, and it's not as if Vice Presidents aren't creatures of Washington.

Governors are hardly shoe-ins. Between 1945 and 1977, not a single ex-governor served as president. Four ex-senators did, three of them also ex-VP's, as did one former House minority leader (Ford) and one major general/NATO Commander (Ike).

Governors are always favored? Tell that to Presidents Hughes, Cox, Smith, Landon, Dewey, Stevenson, and Dukakis. Dukakis, in particular, exposes the lie that governors don't have long records -- every piece of legislation that passes a state legislature has to go over their desk, as do numerous other commutations, pardons, and special favors.

The real problem senators seem to have had is just being nominated. Only 6 sitting senators have been nominated since the beginning of the 20th century, of which two have won (Harding and Kennedy), one came close (Kerry) and three lost in landslides (Goldwater, McGovern and Dole). All three were running probably unwinnable races and the disasters that were the Goldwater and McGovern campaigns had everything to do with them being Goldwater and McGovern than with them being senators.

Posted by: Phil on February 8, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

How many in the media do you think will mention this?

Posted by: BernieO on February 8, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I was wondering about this. It seems like that it's in part because foreign-born governors have clogged up the channels a bit (Conan, Granholm), and partly that and it's a unusually foreign policy-heavy election.

Posted by: Boring Commenter on February 8, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of people don't seem to remember that GHW Bush was the first serving Veep to be elected president since 1836. I imagine this bit of CW will go by the wayside as well.

Posted by: Royko on February 8, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

So what's the surprise? The longer something goes on, the more likely it is to end. Yes, the Senate had a drought the last few decades. So what?

Posted by: tomeck on February 8, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I think this year will buck that trend...

Posted by: Chris on February 8, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

In my American Government classes, I talk about the decline of political parties and the rise of individualism in the Congress, especially the U.S. Senate. This year's crop of presidential contenders really makes that reality clear.

Though Phil is also correct in that the CW explanation misses a whole lot of the nuances.

Posted by: Stacy on February 8, 2008 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK
….There are two strategies within the New CW…: bobb at 12:30 PM

What would you be without your good ol' talking points
…."the way to hump a cow is not
to push and then to pull
but practicing the art of swot
to preach the golden rull

to vote for me(all decent mem
and wonens will allows
which if they don't to hell with them)
is hows to hump a cows"

ee cummings

Posted by: Mike on February 8, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

CW = crappa-wappa?

Posted by: Swan on February 8, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

The CW: The WC, though in reverse direction.

Posted by: Swan on February 8, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Well it's a good thing that Inkblot uses a litter box. He doesn't have a paper trail.

Yes, another Inkblot inanity from Weenie

Posted by: optical weenie on February 8, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I don't think that's valid. The two Democratic Senators have basically not been in real real long (Obama, hardly at all). And the issue I think is less that the Senate gives you a paper trail -- I mean, so does governance, and any other political history, and frankly in the Internet age anybody running for office is going to have a hell of a paper trail -- as that the Senate makes you into a windbag. Well, McCain has his flaws but that's not one of 'em. Obama hasn't been in the Seante long and he strikes me -- and mind you I like like like the guy -- as the kind of guy who the Senate does, in fact, eventually make into a windbag: good that he's getting out now. And Clinton, well, she's managed through her past experience to sort of loom larger on the US political scene than as "just" a Senator, so she's a weird case. Look at Biden and Dodd to see the usual fate of brilliant Senators.

Posted by: Sanjay on February 8, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Still, there remains sufficient reason for a Constitutional amendment forbidding Southern governors from occupying the White House.

Posted by: trollhattan on February 8, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Old CW: Senators never win presidential races."

Which is why, regardless of which party's Senator wins, it's more than likely that the next Administration will be a debacle. On what and how many levels remains to be seen.

Still, being a conservative, I can sit out the upcoming election, secure in the knowledge that the country won't be too badly damaged by the incoming ineptness of our next President. :-)

Posted by: Chicounsel on February 8, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

phil @ 12:39PM "...Presidents Hughes, Cox, Smith, Landon, Dewey, Stevenson and Dukakis."
Hughes - 1916, lost to Pres. Wilson (former Gov. of New Jersey).
Smith - 1924, lost to Pres. Coolidge (Harding's VP; former Gov. Massachusetts).
Landon - 1936, lost to FDR (former Gov. of New York).
Dewey - 1944, lost to FDR (see Landon).
According to this, CW should say that a Governor/former Governor should not attempt a presidential run against a president who is also a former Governor. A corollary might be: the odds favor a former Governor running against a non-former Governor (see DDE/AES 1953/56 for exclusion).
CW = Compleat Waste (of time)

Posted by: Doug on February 8, 2008 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

The word "wisdom" does not apply in any discussion of modern American politics.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 8, 2008 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

The Old CW somehow overlooks the fact that both LBJ and Nixon were Senators, albeit not incumbent when elected President. As for the "paper trail" hypothesis, Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 trailed clouds of paper. The failure of sitting Senators to win the Presidency since 1960 is pretty much just a coincidence.

Posted by: Tim Morris on February 9, 2008 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

If the modern rules about how delegates are determined (i.e. mainly through popular primary vote and not by party insiders) had been in effect in 1968, Sen. Gene McCarthy (D-MN) would have walked away with the Democratic nomination, and the presidency, in a landslide.

If the media had treated Watergate as a big scandal from day one (members of the Committee to Re-elect the President found bugging Democratic headquarters) instead of waiting until the Senate Watergate Committee started investigating, Sen. George McGovern (D-SD) would have beat Richard Nixon. I am not just blowing smoke; it wasn't too long after the 1972 election that opinion polls asking "If the election of 1972 were held today, whom would you vote for" showed that McGovern would have won.

So I think that the idea that governors make better candidates that senators is a kind of sampling happenstance, and doesn't represent a real historical trend.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on February 10, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK



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