|John Kenneth White , professor, politics, was quoted in a Sept. 28 National Journal article about the unique situation the 2008 presidential election poses for both major political parties since no incumbent from the current administration is campaigning. See his comments in the story below.|
From: National Journal Date: Sept. 28, 2007 Author: Carl M. Cannon "Unbelievable!" gushed prominent Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, as he surveyed yet another sold-out Barack Obama fundraiser. It wasn't just the $3 million raised for Sen. Obama on a single glorious late-summer California afternoon that induced Giannoulias's swoon. It wasn't just the star-studded crowd of 1,500 that included Chris Rock, Stevie Wonder, and Sidney Poitier. It wasn't just the luminescent presence of Oprah Winfrey, who was hosting the event at her 42-acre Santa Barbara estate. It wasn't any one of those things. It was the totality of it, along with the bracing reality that Obama gets big crowds everywhere and has been raising heaps of money all over the country -- more than $58 million in the first half of this year alone, with another amazing bonanza expected when the current quarter ends this Sunday.
And he's not even the favorite in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Welcome to the wide-open 2008 campaign, the first in more than half a century without a sitting president or vice president in the running. This distinction is more than a mere historic anomaly. It is a fundamental fact that is already shaping the races for the Democratic and Republican nominations in significant ways -- and one that may determine the election's very outcome.
"The implications of this are that we have a very energized electorate," said Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University's elections and campaign management program. "It's quite unusual -- you have to go back to 1952 [to find a White House campaign in which neither the president nor vice president was a serious contender] -- and already we are seeing unprecedented levels of interest, enthusiasm, and contributing behavior."
Other unusual things are going on in this cycle, as well. In companion articles, National Journal explores a number of ways that the 2008 presidential election is different: the gap between the end of the nominations fights and the national conventions is likely to be the longest in history; the electoral map is turning bluer, and the Democrats could put at least three more states -- Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia -- in play; the early success of the first female front-runner is pushing voters to examine their attitudes about gender and politics (in a Q&A, first lady Laura Bush chimes in with her observations); and, finally, the next president will be the first since Richard Nixon to inherit an unpopular war.
Even as their war in Iraq hovers over the 2008 campaign, two national figures are conspicuously absent from it. The first is President Bush, who is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term and who, given his job-approval ratings, probably wouldn't want to seek one. The second is Vice President Cheney, who is no more popular than the president, has heart trouble, and had no real inclination to run on his own anyway. Seven summers ago, Bush chose the experienced, but charisma-challenged Cheney to lend gravitas to the Republican ticket. If events had worked out differently, perhaps Cheney's electoral ambitions would have emerged. Or maybe first brother Jeb Bush would be waiting in the wings, now that he's finished two terms as governor of Florida. They didn't, and he isn't.
This is both the good news and the bad news for the Republican candidates aiming to succeed Bush. "People assume that having an heir ready to carry on the legacy of a president is easy," said Kenneth Collier, a Stephen F. Austin State University associate professor in political science, who points out that if handing off the baton were easy, Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore would have become president and Nixon, not John Kennedy, would have won in 1960.
"Not that there's a long line to be the heir to George W. Bush," Collier added. "I think you'd have to go back to the French Revolution to find less interest in claiming the heir-apparent role."
Rites Of Succession From the beginning of the Republic, Americans faced a dilemma. Having fought a revolution to free themselves from a king, they weren't of a mind to accept inherited rulers. On the other hand, the idea of continuity in the important matter of political succession was a soothing concept. At first, it seemed simple enough: The vice presidency, which went to the presidential candidate who finished second in the Electoral College voting, was an obvious holding station. And George Washington was dutifully succeeded by his vice president, John Adams.
Trouble began fairly soon, though, with the formation of political parties. When Adams ran for re-election in 1800, he was challenged -- and beaten -- by his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson.
After the 12th Amendment changed the way we choose vice presidents, a new trend emerged. The office of secretary of State became the holding station. James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all held that job before becoming president. John Quincy, the son of John Adams, was another kind of heir. Not until George W. Bush's presidency was this father/son feat repeated. Perhaps as a sign of how uncomfortable it makes Americans, both times it occurred -- in 1824 and 2000 -- it took the strange machinations of the Electoral College to make it happen.
Unlike his (future) fellow Tennessean Al Gore, Andrew Jackson, the loser in 1824, wanted a rematch four years later with the man he believed had stolen the election. Jackson won. And when he was thwarted in his attempts to install Martin Van Buren as his secretary of State, Jackson simply put Van Buren on the ticket in his successful re-election campaign of 1832. Four years later, Van Buren managed to succeed Jackson. It was the last time a vice president was the heir to his party's nomination until Nixon tried to succeed Dwight Eisenhower in 1960. Since then, however, it has happened three times among Democrats (Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984, and Gore in 2000) and once among Republicans (George H.W. Bush in 1988). And Nixon ran again in 1968 as a former vice president.
Leaving aside the eight vice presidents who assumed the presidency upon the death of the president (and a ninth, Gerald Ford, who did so after Nixon's resignation in 1974), the easiest route to the presidency -- and a presidential nomination -- is incumbency. Eighteen U.S. presidents have succeeded themselves; another nine have run for re-election and lost. Of the nine not re-elected, two were named Adams, and one is named Bush. Does that mean Americans don't like dynasties? The evidence is mixed. Cousins Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt won five terms between them. George Washington and three other Virginians -- Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe -- served 32 of the first 36 years the office existed. If Hillary Rodham Clinton wins in 2008, American schoolchildren will have little trouble remembering the lineup of presidents who bridge the 20th and 21st centuries: Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.
"That may not be the end of it," complains veteran Republican operative Roger Stone. "The Clintons are the First Family of the Democratic Party, but don't forget the royalist mentality of the Republican Party. I'm convinced the Bushes see Mitt Romney as a holding action for Jeb Bush: Hillary wins, and four years from now 'Bush fatigue' is over and ... "
If the grousing of Republican activists is any guide, it may take longer than four years. A highly placed California Republican recently told Democrat George Mitrovich, "I just want him gone!" Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego, believes that Bush's unpopularity will drag down the GOP nominee, heir or no heir. "Romney is the best hope the GOP has, but he will be weighed down by the excess baggage of the Bush years," he said. "Among the electorate there is anger, frustration, and uncertainty. And it will crush the Republicans next year."
Conservatives know that voters harbor considerable ill will toward the Bush-Cheney administration. The silver lining they see is that the public's antipathy extends to the rest of Washington and Democrats, and that a wide-open presidential election offers the GOP a shot at keeping the White House.
"This election gives us a chance for a new clean slate," said former Reagan administration aide Ken Adelman. "And after the incompetence of this administration, we sure need a clean slate."
Influential Colorado Republican Walt Klein is taking heart from polling in his state that shows Sen. Clinton with a 52 percent unfavorable rating. "I know she does better in many other states, but she is such a polarizing figure that I really like the potential matchup of a 'fresh-face' Republican running against Clinton," he said. "Bush, by the way, was also upside down here, 35 percent [favorable] to 65 percent [unfavorable]. But, thank goodness, he is not running!
"Voters are in a very sour mood -- about Bush, about Congress, and I think about political 'dynasties,' " Klein added. "I'm not sure voters really know what they are looking for, but whatever it is, they are not seeing it in the White House or in Congress. In my view, it's not a good cycle for an 'heir apparent' in either party."
Perhaps these Republicans are extrapolating from their own party's traditions. Clinton may well end up being her party's nominee, but the Democratic candidate who led at this point in the cycle four years ago was Howard Dean. In fact, during the past generation, the only nonincumbent Democrat who led at this point and went on to win the nomination was Mondale in 1984.
"The GOP has traditionally been the party of political primogeniture," conservative Linda Chavez wrote recently. "From Ronald Reagan to George Herbert Walker Bush to Bob Dole to George W. Bush, Republicans have nominated the man who could best lay claim to being the natural heir, either by virtue of service to the party or his ability to ring up early endorsements and financial backing from the party faithful. In George W. Bush's case, he literally was the eldest son of the last Republican president and inherited much of the support his father had amassed over the decades."
Given the crowd at the top of the current Republican field, are the two parties switching historic roles? "This could be the first time since 1940 that the Republican Party does not nominate its front-runner in a nonincumbent year," said Craig Shirley, a conservative political consultant and the author of a book about the 1976 Reagan campaign. "If the Democrats do it, I suppose hell would freeze over the next day."
The notion of switching historical roles tends to freak out both parties' activists, especially Republicans, for one basic reason. "The president's party has no obvious successor," explains John White, a professor of politics at Catholic University. "This was true in 1952 for the Democrats. Truman had [Vice President] Alben Barkley, but he was not an obvious choice due to age." Barkley was in the race only briefly. The Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson, who went on to lose to Eisenhower twice.
"What all this means is that we could have a very exciting and unexpected outcome," said Texas-Democrat-turned-Bush-Republican Mark McKinnon, who is now working for John McCain's campaign. "We may not even have all the contestants in the race yet. Newt Gingrich may yet get in and stir the pot. Al Gore could grab a Nobel and jump in. How about a four- or five-way finish in Iowa?"
Such fantastic scenarios -- along with brokered conventions -- reflect the whimsical hopes of political scientists (and political writers), but they never seem to come true. And the front-loaded nature of the 2008 process seems to militate against a drawn-out struggle.
"It is conceivable that it won't be settled by February 6, although my dream of witnessing a brokered convention in my professional lifetime is likely to be thwarted once again," said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California (San Diego). Nonetheless, the incumbent-less election "makes things much more interesting and explains why there are nine Democratic and 11 Republican candidates," he added.
Conceivably, such an environment could prove more liberating than the heavily scripted campaigns of recent years. "Wide-open races mean there are no established conventions that must be followed," said Mike McCurry, who was press secretary to President Clinton. "With no natural successions in place, both parties get a chance to walk on the wild side if they want to. The GOP going for a gun-controlling, abortion-supporting, gay-rights-lovin' former mayor of New York? The Democrats gravitating to a young, inspirational leader of the post-Boom generation who tells all the Baby Boom leaders to get lost? Open races without natural successors give parties and their voters a new chance to experiment. Maybe they will try some new formulas and break some sacrosanct orthodoxies. That would not hurt American politics one bit."
Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College, believes that this election also frees the candidates from the necessity of campaigning negatively. They literally do not have to run against an incumbent.
"The 2008 election is a window of opportunity for both parties to frame new goals and create new agendas," she said. "For the first time in 50 years, the candidates are not beholden to building off their own administration or attacking an existing administration. If we can get past the negative politics of modern campaigns, this could be a bellwether year that allows both the Republican and Democratic candidates to put forth bold new ideas and think outside of the box."
The proven formula for becoming a presidential candidate is being someone who can retain the fealty of "the base" while generating crossover appeal. Leaving out the anomalous election of 1964, which came less than a year after the assassination of a popular president, the best examples of such candidates in modern American history are Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
George W. Bush, apparently taking his desire to be compared to Harry Truman to its ultimate conclusion, has recently begun privately comparing Hillary Clinton to Eisenhower. If one buys the Truman comparison, a certain logic does appear: Eisenhower succeeded Truman, inheriting the Korean War in the process, and Bush will be leaving the next president with an unpopular and unfinished war halfway around the world. Movement conservatives have groused privately that Hillary Clinton has less in common with Ike than with Lurleen Wallace, who succeeded her husband, George, as governor of Alabama. But historical analogies are tricky. In 1952, Eisenhower was not the establishment candidate; he was the maverick. The GOP establishment candidate was Robert Taft. Hillary, despite the gender-pioneering nature of her candidacy, may well turn out to be Taft.
In a few months, we'll know. Until then, we can argue about it all -- one more advantage of an election without an heir apparent.