- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015


As John Sears prepared to wing his way west for a 1975 meeting with former California Gov. Ronald Reagan at which he intended to convince Reagan to hire his team to run Reagan’s 1976 campaign against President Gerald R. Ford, I asked him what made him think that Reagan would turn things over to him. Mr. Sear’s answer proved prophetic. He said, “because he’s had a hundred people tell him that he ought to be president, but I’ll be the first to tell him how to do it.”

The politically ambitious only need two or three people to whisper in their ear that they ought to be president to conclude not only that they ought to, but that they can win. That may explain why a dozen Republican presidential wannabes are mulling over their chances of winning their party’s nomination in Cleveland and running against Hillary Rodham Clinton or whomever the Democrats nominate should she stumble or decide not to run.

Most are running not because they want to do something, but simply because they want to be president. None of the Republicans like the direction President Obama’s Democrats have taken the country, but few have a real vision they can articulate and take on the road. Even fewer seem to have given much thought to how they are going to get from where they are to the White House.

In 2000, Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, an able, conservative and accomplished legislator, ran for the Republican nomination for a few weeks. I asked him as he prepared to launch his campaign how he planned to get from “Point A” to “Point B” with the latter representing his party’s nomination. There were seven or eight fellow Republicans in the race, but it was already clear that it was boiling down to a two-man race between George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain. Mr.. Hatch wasn’t one of Mr. McCain’s biggest fans and told me he didn’t believe either Mr. McCain or Mr. Bush would make it. When they faltered, he said, “lightning has to strike one of the other candidates,” and he hoped it would be him.

He may not have gotten much beyond that hope in his planning and realized as much within a few weeks. The amazing thing is that many and perhaps most wannabes put just about that much thought into their strategy before launching their campaigns. A well-thought-out strategy ably executed can fail, but a candidate without either a strategy, a team capable of executing it or the funds to fight off other candidates is usually embarking on a short trip to oblivion. Lightning does strike, but not, as Sen. Hatch discovered in 2000, often enough to base one’s hopes upon it.

Candidates do run for other reasons. Some are issue-driven and want to force a discussion of issues they believe should receive more focus, or to move their party and the major contenders to embrace positions they might otherwise ignore. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren may enter her party’s primaries to move Mrs. Clinton to the left; former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton is contemplating a run for the GOP nomination to force others to address national security issues in more detail than might otherwise happen.

Others might run believing they can do well enough to either improve their future prospects for a later nomination struggle or to enhance their stature. Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson could impress enough even in defeat to end up in the winner’s Cabinet. Former Rep. Bob Dornan told me he ran in 1996 because he was leaving Congress anyway, and that it was one thing to bounce your grandson on your knee while telling him that you once served in Congress — but far more impressive if you could tell him you’d run for president.

Serious candidates, however, need a strategy that will pass the giggle test with party professionals, potential donors, the media and the voters whose support they covet. Some will back a surefire loser out of personal, geographical or ideological loyalty, but in today’s world, even a candidate’s friends want to know they’re signing on to a fight that can be won.

It’s one thing to enjoy the performance of a wannabe at a cattle call, but even the best performers eventually learn that they have to convince potential supporters that they are following a realistic path that could take them from Iowa to Cleveland and on to the White House.

David A. Keene is Opinion Editor of The Washington Times.

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