As the Republican presidentialcontest begins to sort out who is running and who isnt running, public anxiety over who can actually be a viable candidate to run against President Obama, mounts. At the moment, there is a great deal of chatter about how the G.O.P. has no one who can mount a credible challenge to President Obama in 2012. Such an assertion is ludicrous, but natural. Without any single name to naturally gravitate towards as the logical leader and face of the opposition to the President, it is easy to believe that misconception. But it is important to remember that recent history shows us that the existence of an undeniably obvious nominee for the Party opposing an incumbent President is rare.
While there are always names that may seem to have the inside track for the nomination, at this early stage in the game, you usually do not have a name that is the clear frontrunner and logical candidate to lineup behind.That’s the case for republicans right now.And it is that sentiment which has forced many who are opposed to a second term for President Obama,to goon the hunt for the perfect candidate. Such pre-primary activity is a natural manifestation of the desire to insure that the incumbent President is not reelected. History has been laced with efforts to draft popular figures to run for the Oval Office.
Perhaps the most famous and one of the only truly successful draft efforts in American electoral history was that of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. That effort actually began in 1948 when Democrats believed that President Harry S. Truman had no chance of getting elected. An active duty General, Ike had believed in being non-partisan when it came to politics, so for Democrats, having him carry their mantle was quite possible. And when it seemed as though Republicans might nominate General Douglas MacArthur as their candidate for President, Harry Truman himself offered to run as Eisenhowers vice presidential running mate if he would accept the Democrat Partys nomination.
Four years later Republicans who had not held the White House in twenty years and Democrats who had noincumbent to run for reelection for the first time in 16 years, clamored for a nominee who could easily win the presidency in 1952. Republican standard-bearerThomas Dewy had been the Partys nominee twice and twice he was defeated. As a result, Dewey was not inclined to run for a third time and Republicans were not inclined to let him run as their nominee again. But Governor Dewey and Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge worked to persuade Eisenhower to run for the Republican presidential nomination through an organization called “National Citizens for Eisenhower”. Up till then, the closest name that Republicans had to a frontrunner was Robert Taft.
Senator Robert Taft
Taft was the establishment’s choice, but a schism between isolationist Republicans, represented by Taft, and internationalist Republicans who wanted someone else, gave the draft Eisenhower movement much momentum. At the same time, the spread of Communism was an issue of most importance and it was the one issue most responsible for Eisenhowers willingness to accept a run for the White House.
Ike believed in the use of diplomacy to contain the red menace in Europe. But Taft had a McCarthy-like belief in weeding out subversion at home. Things finally came to a head behind closed doors when Eisenhower told Taft that he would absolutely refuse to run if Taft agreed to collective security of Europe. But Senator Taft refused and so Ike allowed the draft movement to proceed. He also decided that if he would accept any nomination it would be the Republican nomination. This he determined when he realized that he was not in synch with the Democrats big, central government, liberty eroding approach to all the issues facing the nation.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
By early January of 1952, Eisenhower made it clear that if he was offered the Republican presidential nomination, he would accept it. And so without Eisenhower even knowing, Henry Cabot Lodge placed Eisenhowers name on the New Hampshire Republican Primary ballot. But Eisenhower still did not campaign. In fact he told people that he did not believe that support for him was a popular as many tried to claim.
Then in February, a Draft Eisenhower for President rally was held in New Yorks Madison Square Garden. The event was expected to draw a whopping 16,000 people to it. But those projections were wrong. An overwhelming 25,000 people showed up. A month later, General Eisenhower won every single delegate in the New Hampshire primary as he defeated Robert Taft by 50% to 38%. The rest is history.
The next closest example of a draft effort, came in 1964. The effort itself though, actually began in 1961.
With the defeat of Nixon in 1960, the Republican Party began its long, contemporary evolution towards the right. The leaders of the Republican Eastern establishment seemed to have exhausted its hold on to the type of influence it had been wielding. And at the same time a growing number of conservatives were beginning to organize. These numbers first took root within the ranks of the National and State Young Republican organizations. but while all this was happening, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater began serving as the Chairman of the Republican Senate Re-elect Committee. In this position he traveled thousands of miles, spoke before tens of thousands of people and quickly became the most popular face of the growing conservative movement.
By the time 1961 approached, with no clear choice for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination, Conservatives itching to take the Party over from the liberal establishment, began to organize and think about who their candidate for President would be. Among a small group of political insiders, the consensus was Barry Goldwater. But Goldwater refused to run. He did not believe that he could win and he did not want his family exposed to the rigors of such a national campaign.
Then in June of 1961 Time magazine placed Goldwaters picture on their cover and did a story on his growing national popularity. They wrote;
“Goldwater is the hottest political figure this side of Jack Kennedy…. No Republican is more in demand. Since March, Goldwater’s Washington office has received more than 650 written invitations for the Senator to put in an appearance, plus hundreds of telephone requests. Goldwater’s mail runs to a remarkable 800 pieces a day…[and] visitors crowd around Barry Goldwater’s fourth floor suite in the Old Senate Office Building hoping to earn a passing hand clasp or a hastily scrawled autograph.”
This added to the motivation that a small group of activists already had. F. Clifton White, William A. Rusher, and Ohio Congressman John M. Ashbrook, began a process that combined tens of thousands of conservative contacts and began to organize a process that would get them in to Republican Party leadership positions. The most important of these positions were those of delegates to the 1964 Republican National Convention. This behind the scenes, group of three, eventually became a group of 22 and continued to grow from there. Soon it became known as the Suite 3505 Committee. 3505 being the address number of its New York City office.
Congressman John Ashbrook
After intense networking of Young Republicans, women s groups, and conservative oriented voters of all kinds, the expanded executive committee of this group concluded that Barry Goldwater was their only real choice for President in 64. But Goldwater still rejected the notion. So the committee quickly became an official draft organization that would seek to force Goldwater to run. It expanded and created state committees and between petitions, publicity and aggressive persuasion, Barry Goldwater decided on November 20, 1963 to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Two days later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This changed everything. Kennedy was a friend of Goldwater and the two had come to look forward to a sincere campaign that would test their ideologies. Goldwater also knew that with President Johnson now as his opponent, his own Southern base would be undermined. Two weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated, Goldwater announced that he would not be a candidate. However, The draft movement that had been in place never stopped and on December 11th, 1964, with polls showing Goldwater to be the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he reentered the race.
Both of these draft movements teach us lessons that are relevant to todays approaching presidential election.
The draft efforts of 1952 and 1964 were both successful in getting the person they intended nominated. But both campaigns involved figures who had some sort ofundeniablyobviouspopularity. For Eisenhower it was popularity among the general population. For Goldwater, it was popularity among a growing movement within the population. Each provided momentum but equally as important, each had a candidate that was at some point in time willing to run. So the question is, can a successful draft effort be waged for the 2012 election?
It is clear that the G.O.P. is not in a position to use 1952 as a model. There is no single figure who is as popular among both Democrats and Republicans as Eisenhower was. But there are some parallels to 2012 that can be drawn from the 1964 draft Goldwater effort. Here we have a comparison that can be made between the emergence of the Conservative wing of the G.O.P. in the 60s, and the rise of the TEA Party movement of the past two years.
But there are two important distinguishing factors that come with this comparison.
The organization of the Conservatives movement in the 1960s involved coordination from within the political establishment, four years before the next presidential election. This allowed for an expedited path to organizing the movements ability to takeover the Party from within and, to elect Party officials and delegates to the National Convention. The TEA Party began on the outside of the establishment and even though it now has a few of its own on the inside, they have much less time to organize than did the effort of 1960. But perhaps the most important of all differences is that unlike the case with Conservatives in 64, the TEA movement has no one person that it is solidly behind. In 64 the Conservative movement had Barry Goldwater as their clear favorite, the consensus candidate. The Taxed Enough Already movement lacks that clear consensus choice. Is it Sarah Palin? Is it Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Allen West, Marco Rubio, or someone else?
Sarah Palin is the one contender with whom a draft movement could possibly be most successful. But even if all the right pieces were to fall into place and a successful 1964-like Barry Goldwater draft effort helped make Sarah Palin the Republican presidential nominee, that draft model failed to win the general election.
Draft efforts that are based only upon movements within a particular segment of society are able to influence the smaller electorate of partisan politics, but they have less of a chance to influence the vast majority of the larger electorate as a whole. This is not to say that the TEA Party movement cant influence the nomination of a Republican candidate that can win the presidential election. They can. But that influence can not come through a draft effort that labels the nominee as the TEA Party candidate. Just as it did not work when Goldwater was labeled the Conservatives candidate. Being a conservative candidate and being the Conservatives candidate create two vastly differently images. The latter is a direct negative connotation implying that one is owned by a particular group. The former indicates ones own sense of conviction. It may be shared with others, but it is not owned by others.
Probably one of the most successful draft campaigns that Republicans could run is one which seeks to make General David Petraeus our nominee. Like Eisenhower he is not seen as particularly partisan, he is not viewed as being owned by any Party or movement, and at a time when our nation is waging one war, possibly getting involved in another, and winding another one down, the choice of a General as our nations leader carries a certain populist logic.
Then again, the sense of the electorate is that our economy and the national budget are our most immediate top priorities. Who would be a natural candidate to draft given that consideration?
If Donald Trump were not such a dangerously fowl mouthed, often irrational and egomaniacal, loose cannon, he could have been a strong draft pick. Were it not for RomneyCare, Mitt Romney with his private sector, managerial, and business experience, would have been another perfect fit for solving economic problems. But we all knew that Romneyhas beenrunning for a long time now, so a draft effort was never even needed for him. In factfor all intents and purposes, he should be the frontrunner without a draft effort.
Governor Mitch Daniels
The person perfectly suited for a successful draft campaign based on the economy would be Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. As a former budget director he earned the nickname The Blade” and his leadership inIndiana, particularly on the state budget, is unmatched. Indiana is one of the most solvent state’s in the nation and its economy has been one of the strongest of all during the current economic malaise. Of course for Mitch Daniels, there is already a very active draft effort underway.
Students For Daniels has aired commercials in Iowa, organized college campuses on state levels, created an active and effective website and maintained a degree of pressure that is all good. But Mitch Daniels seems reluctant to make a decision to run and as such, the draft effort begun by Students for Daniels would need to quickly expand beyond students if it is to achieve its goal. But even then one must ask, could a person like Mitch Daniels attract a crowd of 25,000 to Madison Square Garden as the draft effort for Eisenhower did in 1952? Its unlikely.
Truly successful drafts are rare and at this stage in the game, it is unlikely that such an effort would be very productive. Although there are a handful of names that I believe are worthy of draft efforts and have an ability to generate popular support, many of those names are clearly unwilling to run. Two personal favorites of mine include Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. But with 17 months or so to go, it may not be possible to coordinate the type of effort that could generate the national euphoria for their candidacies that would be necessary for them to accept the nomination. Paul Ryan is quite satisfied with the extraordinary power that he wields as Chairman of the House Budget Committee and while Marco Rubio is a sort of new phenomenon, he clearly intends to pace himself. Rubio does not want to be a flash in the pan.
That is why, all things considered, the Republican Party is probably best left to a process that involves the unforced participation fo candidates. We will be best suited by a contest that allows the eventual nominee to have to earn his or her popularity based on their ability to demonstrate the courage of leadership, their innovative solutions to our problems and the capacity to translateconservatism into the practical application of government. A contest that allows for suchabilities to be publicly tested through a hard fought campaign, can truly make those who currently believe that a viable candidate is not on the horizon, begin to believe that the right person has been right in front of eyes all this time.
Political campaigns have a way of producing heroes. Some quickly fade when the campaign ends, others linger on as trusted elder statesmen. But either way, the winner of those campaigns earn themselves at least a temporarydevout following and the 2012 primary process will be no different.
In the mean time, we the people, still seek that perfect candidate. And that search has produced no lack of current draft efforts. Here are just some that can be found:
2012 Draft Sarah Committee
Draft Jim DeMint for President in 2012
Draft Paul Ryan for President
Chris Christie for President
We Need Michele
Draft Cain 2012
Draft Allen West for President 2012
Jeb Bush 2012
Draft Rudy Giuliani for President
Students for Daniels
Draft Rand Paul for President
Draft General David Petraeus for President
Draft Michael Bloomberg 2012
Draft Lou Dobbs for President
Should Trump Run
Draft Gates 2012
Draft Mike Huckabee for President 2012
Draft Jesse Ventura
Draft Dick Cheney for President
Draft Marco Rubio for President 2012
Judge Andrew Napolitano for President
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