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May 06, 2014 12:35 PM Friends Don’t Let Friends Run for President

By Ed Kilgore

Today’s most decidedly peculiar article is one by The Hill’s Alexander Burns reporting that Republican senators really hate the idea of Republican senators running for president in 2016.

Fearful of a third successive Democratic triumph, concerned Senate Republicans are turning against 2016 presidential bids by upstart hopefuls within their own ranks.

In forceful comments to The Hill, GOP senators made it plain that they would much prefer their party nominate a current or former governor over Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Rand Paul (Ky.).

Those senators have created a buzz among conservative activists, but their colleagues in the upper chamber are eager to support a nominee from outside Washington with a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats.
They worry that Washington has become so toxic that it could poison the chances of any nominee from Congress in 2016.

Now there are obviously multiple thoughts at play in this muddled indictment of senators by senators. Is the problem the particular “upstart” senators who are thinking about running (and is Establishment darling Rubio really an “upstart”?)? Are governors generally a better idea, or only those with “a record of attracting independents and centrist Democrats”? After all, senators run statewide just like governors do, and if you think about the GOP governors who may run in 2016, several (Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal) aren’t exactly famous for “attracting independents and centrist Democrats,” are they?

Interestingly, the most forceful senator on the record in this piece as deploring his peers as presidential candidates is Chuck Grassley, from a state that will have more than a bit of influence in culling the GOP field. Dean Heller is from another early state. But from reading Bolton’s piece, you’d think these worthies are speaking strictly from an abstract point of view.

Bolton offers the obligatory history lesson: Warren Harding was the last Republican to go straight from the Senate to the White House; the last three senators to win the GOP nomination (Goldwater, Dole and McCain) all got waxed. To read this account, you’d think maybe the GOP might have won in 2008 if the governor on the ticket had been the presidential nominee. Nor does the article’s “executives inherently do better” line tested against the reality that the 2012 cycle’s most spectacular flame-outs—Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry—were both governors.

In any event, the senators-say-don’t-run-a-senator meme strikes me as just a data point for opposing candidates you don’t like for other reasons. The way contemporary politics works, all the handicaps senators used to face—particularly the inability to stand out in a body of 100 bloviators—have pretty much been obliterated by different standards of media access, which is how Ted Cruz became presidential timber so very fast. So don’t tell me about Warren Harding or even Bob Dole: once a pol has been elevated by party and media elites and public opinion into someone being Seriously Mentioned for a presidential run, it’s not that clear his or her day job matters all that crucially, except as a scheduling problem.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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