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At the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, the keynote speaker was Dr. Ben Carson, a retired renowned neurosurgeon. In his address, Carson excoriated political correctness, supported health savings accounts, and advocated for the implementation of a federal flat tax. The oration occurred in an unorthodox non-partisan setting with President Barack Obama at the head table. The conservative intelligencia, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, sang his accolades before millions of fellow conservatives. Carson precipitously became a folk hero to some on the right. An attendant draft movement was established to urge a Carson candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Carson is a non-politician and only became a Republican in 2014. While in most fields someone with no experience would hardly be seen as a credible option for the top job, in politics being a non-politician can be an asset as Americans increasingly hold establishment politicians in low repute.

Should Carson seek the Republican nomination, he would not be the first non-politician to do so. In addition, Carson would not be the first recent convert to a political party to run for its nomination. However, as a former neurosurgeon, he would be entering uncharted waters. Most previous non-politicians who sought the presidency were either businessmen or military men.

Perhaps the candidate whose circumstances were most similar to Carson was Wendell Willkie. Willkie, a corporate lawyer and utilities executive, wowed Republicans with his 1938 debate performance against U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson on the issue of free enterprise. Willkie was a former Democrat who became a Republican in opposition to the domestic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, particularly with respect to public utilities. A draft movement began for Willkie to run for the 1940 GOP presidential nomination. The party was split among four candidates. Willkie pocketed the nomination on the sixth ballot at the convention. While most rank-and-file Republicans supported him in the general election, many were wary of a nominee who was not a politician and who had just recently joined the party. U.S. Senator James E. Watson (R-IN) quipped: “I don’t mind the Church converting a whore, but I don’t like her to lead the choir the first night.”

During the general election, Willkie often appeared to be uncomfortable with his new party affiliation. He would often refer to Republicans as: “You Republicans,” and appeared uncomfortable in the Republican Party. Willkie ran a respectable presidential campaign, but could not overcome the popular Roosevelt who won an unprecedented third term as president.

In 1992, billionaire industrialist H. Ross Perot issued a challenge to his supporters on the CNN program Larry King Live to get him on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His supporters rose to the occasion. At a time when Americans were disaffected with the partisan paralysis, Perot’s independent candidacy appealed to a widespread cross-section of constituencies. In addition to Independent voters, Perot’s economic nationalism appealed to voters who had supported Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Pat Buchanan in the presidential primaries. Perot’s focus on deficit reduction appealed to supporters of Democrat Paul Tsongas, who had made fiscal austerity his flagship issue during the primary. A June Gallup poll showed Perot actually leading in the popular vote at 39 percent. However, Perot soon abandoned his presidential candidacy, stating that he did not want to split the vote in the Electoral College, resulting in the election being thrown into the U.S. Congress. Perot later reentered the race, explaining that the real reason he had dropped out was that a Republican operative had threatened to sabotage his daughter’s wedding. Despite this erratic episode, Perot performed well in the presidential debates and won 18.9 percent of the vote. Perot ran again in 1996, but did not muster enough support to be invited into the debates. He garnered just 8.4 percent of the vote in that election.

In 1996, Morry Taylor, the CEO of Titan Tire Corporation, spent about $6 million in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, only to pull out of the race after garnering less than 1 percent of the vote. He tried to piggyback on Perot’s anti-politician message. Taylor ran a very candid and spirited campaign, maintaining that he would only serve one term. When asked if he would run for re-election, Taylor answered: “Why the Hell would I want to do that?”

The last non-politician to win the presidency was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1952, Eisenhower, who like Carson had been a lifelong Independent, became a Republican to run for the nomination. Eisenhower ran as a non-ideological pragmatist. His main opponent for the nomination was conservative U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH). The Republican Party had not held the presidency since 1933, and the party’s rank-and-file voters were willing to hold their noses and support the more moderate but popular Eisenhower over the ideologically impeccable Taft. Eisenhower won the GOP nomination and easily defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the general election.

Similar to Eisenhower, two other military generals with no political experience were elected president: Whig Zachary Taylor in 1848 and Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1868. Grant had only voted once prior to his own election. In 1856 he voted for Democratic presidential nominee James Buchanan over Republican nominee James C. Freemont, who Grant viewed as an egotist. Grant said: “I voted for Buchanan because I didn’t know him and voted against Freemont because I did know him.” In Taylor’s case, he had not even registered to vote until he was 62 years old.

In contrast to Eisenhower, Taylor, and Grant, two other military men who were recent converts to a new political party saw their respective candidacies falter. In 1900, the Democrats recruited Admiral George Dewey to run for their party’s presidential nomination. On paper, Dewey was a dream candidate to challenge the popular Republican William McKinley. Dewey had become a national icon for his role in defeating the Spanish during the Spanish-American War at the critical Battle of Manila Bay. When Dewey returned home, parades were held in his honor.
However, Dewey did not seem to fathom that the American people had come to expect an activist president who serves as a leader, not a figurehead who is subservient to the prerogatives of the U.S. Congress. Rather than laying out his own ambitious agenda, Dewey asserted that as president he would: “execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors.” In addition, Dewey came across as supercilious by suggesting that the presidency would not be a difficult job: “I am convinced that the office of the President is not such a very difficult one to fill.” Dewey never recovered from these gaffes and consequently abandoned his candidacy. To add insult to injury, and proving that he was not really much of a Democrat, Dewey endorsed Republican McKinley over the eventual Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan.

Similarly, in 2003, the Democrats who opposed U.S. involvement in the Iraq War looked for a candidate who could neutralize the advantage that the Republican president had at the time on national security issues. General Wesley Clark fit the bill, leading to a draft movement for the former General. Clark had commanded allied forces during the successful NATO air campaign over Kosovo. In addition, General Clark had been the valedictorian of his graduating class at West Point, and looked like a president created from Central Casting.

However, like Dewey, Clark proved a better candidate on paper than in reality. His opponents questioned why Clark, a life-long Independent, had become a Democrat. A tape surfaced where Clark had praised Bush in a speech before the Pulaski County Republican Party in Arkansas in 2001. Moreover, Clark said of the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq: “On balance, I probably would have voted for it.” Clark spent much of the campaign elucidating what he meant; confusingly saying that he “never would have voted for war.” Clark lost the nomination, despite respectable showings in some primaries, including a victory in Oklahoma.

Dr. Ben Carson is a former neurosurgeon who has never served in political office. Should he seek the Republican presidential nomination, he would be entering a whole new political frontier. While he is charismatic and has cultivated support on the right, his lack of political experience as in the case of other non-politicians who sought the presidency, could result in political gaffes, which would take him off-message while trying to explain what he actually meant to say. In addition, being a recent convert to the Republican Party may not sit well with some party elders who may wonder if Carson is a true Republican or just a partisan opportunist. Dr. Carson is an unconventional candidate. In an era where conventional candidates who hold elective office are often scorned, for many Republicans, Carson might be just what the doctor ordered.


Rand Paul May Hedge His Electoral Bets in 2016

by Rich Rubino on January 6, 2015

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently announced his candidacy for re-election in 2016. Paul is also seriously considering a bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. However, Kentucky law only allows a candidate’s name to appear on the ballot once in an election. Ironically, Paul could in fact run for both offices in Kentucky without violating Kentucky election law by running for re-election to the Senate and at the same time running in the presidential primary in every state except Kentucky. Although he would never be able to have his name listed on the ballot more than once, this tactic would enable him time to assess his chances in the presidential derby. If it becomes evident that he will not win the presidential primary, he could drop out of the presidential sweepstakes before the May 17th Kentucky Republican presidential primary and seek only re-election to the U.S. Senate.

American political history is littered with examples of politicians who ran for their current office as well as another office in the same election. Politicians who do this usually hail from a state where his/her party is electorally hegemonic, and where the candidates get re-elected without personally campaigning.

Paul is not the first Kentuckian or even the first member of his family to seek re-election to his current post concomitantly seeking the presidency or vice presidency. In 1824, Whig Henry Clay was re-elected to his U.S. House seat while losing the presidential election. Rand Paul’s father, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), sought re-election to both the House and the Republican Presidential nomination under the “LBJ law.” Although he lost the presidential nomination, Ron Paul won re-election to the House.

The genesis of the LBJ law dates back to 1959. In 1960, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) was up for re-election to the Senate. With the possibility that Johnson might seek the presidency the following year, the sympathetic Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed legislation allowing a politician to run for two political offices simultaneously. This benefited Johnson in 1960 as he sought both re-election to the U.S. Senate and the presidency. After failing to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson secured the vice presidential nomination. He subsequently won both the vice presidency and re-election to the U.S. Senate. Johnson then resigned from the Senate. Democratic Governor Price Daniels subsequently appointed former U.S. Senator William Blakley to fill the seat before a Special Election was held.

Other Texas officials have used the LBJ law to run for two offices concomitantly. U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) actually used the law twice. In 1976, Bentsen ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, declaring his bid in February of 1975. While he proved a voracious and efficacious fundraiser, he garnered less than two percent of the popular vote and even lost the Lone Star State Primary. However, Bentsen won re-election to the Senate by defeating U.S. Representative Alan Steelman (R-TX). Steelman tried to use Bentsen’s primary loss in the state to show that he was unpopular in Texas. To his credit, Steelman maintained that Texans’ feelings for the Senator “run from ambivalent to negative.” Steelman, with very little money, ran a formidable race, garnering a respectable 43 percent of the vote against Bentsen.

In 1988, Bentsen was in the midst of a re-election campaign against U.S. Representative Beau Butler when Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis asked Bentsen to serve as his vice presidential runningmate. Bentsen was faced with the task of running for re-election in Texas, a conservative state, while seeking the vice presidency with the more liberal Dukakis.

After, Bentsen accepted Dukakis’ offer to become his runningmate, he spent much time in Texas campaigning for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket, while rarely mentioning his Senate re-election bid. However, his re-election campaign ran television advertisements highlighting Bentsen’s local accomplishments. San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros “quipped at a rally, “We have a very special opportunity, as Texans we get to vote for Lloyd Bentsen twice. We win, and the country wins and Lloyd Bentsen wins in 1988.”

Beau Boulter tried to tether Bentsen to Dukakis, saying of the pairing with the Massachusetts Governor: “It saved us a lot of money. People in Texas now realize that Lloyd Bentsen stands for the things that Michael Dukakis stands for.” In addition, Boulter tried to exploit the fact that Bentsen was running for two offices, remarking: “Bentsen is an old-timey, elitist politician from the past. I think this is a power grab.” In the end, the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost Texas by over twelve percentage points, while Bentsen was re-elected to the Senate by almost twenty points.

In 1996, U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) used the LBJ rule to run for the Republican presidential nomination and for re-election. Failing to meet expectations, Gramm dropped out of the presidential race. Gramm had suffered an embarrassing loss in the Louisiana Primary. When asked if there was any resentment from Texas voters that he had initially tried to run for two offices, Gramm responded, citing past precedent: “Naaaaw, they weren’t angry with Lloyd Bentsen when he did it twice. They weren’t angry with Lyndon Johnson. They still elected them.” Gramm was securely re-elected to the Senate.

In 2000, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) took some grief from his Senate colleagues for his failure to halt his Senate candidacy after being selected by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore as his vice presidential runningmate. Had Lieberman dropped out of the Senate race, the party could have nominated someone else. However, had Lieberman won both the vice presidency and re-election to the Senate, his Senate successor would have been appointed by a Republican governor, John Rowland. Instead, Lieberman handily won re-election to the Senate. Interestingly, after the 2000 Senate election, the new Senate would be tied: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Had the Gore-Lieberman team won the Presidential election, Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat and Rowland would have likely appointed a Republican, giving the Republicans one more seat, which would have granted them control of the Chamber.

More recently, in 2012, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by his party’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney as his runningmate. Ryan ran for both re-election to the House and the vice presidency. Ryan did not actively campaign for re-election or debate his Congressional opponent, Democrat Ron Zerban. Zerban tried to get political mileage by appearing in Danville, Kentucky the day a vice presidential debate between Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden was scheduled to be held. Though Zerban could not shame Ryan into debating him, his Danville appearances resulted in Zerban accruing lots of free local and national media attention and effectuated a cash infusion to Zerban’s coffers. In fact, Zerban raised $2.1 million. Zerban held Ryan to just 54.9 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any of Ryan’s eight Congressional races.

There was one instance where a candidate’s simultaneous presidential run likely cost him his seat. In 1995, U.S. Representative Bob Dornan (R-CA) launched a quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Dornan’s district was rapidly becoming more Democratic because of the influx of Latino voters. Dornan lost the Congressional race by just 984 votes to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Dornan alienated many of his Democratic constituents by his inflammatory polemics during the presidential campaign, calling Bill Clinton a “pathological liar” a “triple draft dodger” and a “criminal.” In addition to losing the Congressional race, Dornan pocketed less than one percent of the vote in the presidential election.

Paul, like the aforementioned examples, does not want to launch an all-or-nothing presidential bid. Paul is likely calculating that voters in his conservative home state will not view it as supercilious to run for two offices concomitantly. Should he falter in the early presidential primaries, Paul can drop out of the presidential race and focus instead on his re-election bid. Should he win the vice presidential nomination and lose in the general election, Paul likely believes the Blue Grass State will return him to the Senate in the next election. Paul’s move is certainly with precedent.


When Considering a Presidential Bid, When Does ‘No’ Mean ‘Yes’?

November 26, 2014

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) insists that she “is not running for President” and maintains: “I pledge to serve out my term.” Yet few political observers take her comments seriously. In fact, a grassroots movement “Ready for Warren” is forging full-steam ahead to encourage her to run for President. In American politics, it is kosher […]

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The Art of Gamesmanship in Political Debates: A Few Interesting Examples

October 30, 2014

The recent incident where Florida Governor Rick Scott refused to make his way to the debate stage for seven minutes because his opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist, had an alleged illegal cooling fan below the debate lectern is emblematic of the political debate culture today. Rather than dissecting and analyzing the policy prescriptions put forth […]

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Political Exaggerations: Stretching the Truth Is a Tradition in American Politics

October 9, 2014

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) said: “Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.” Politicians have apparently taken Galbraith’s words to heart. Through advertisements and meetings with voters, they are quick to trumpet a litany of accomplishments and virtues. Most recently, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, David Perdue, told Morehouse College students that his father, […]

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Contrary to “Progressive Belief,” Obama Has Not Departed From his Campaign Rhetoric

September 9, 2014

There is disenchantment on the left with Barack Obama. Many progressives agree with sentiment recently expressed by Professor Cornell West, a professor at the Union Theological Seminary, who recently told Salon Magazine: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street Presidency, a drone Presidency.” Despite […]

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Rand Paul’s Potential ‘Brian Schweitzer Problem’

September 9, 2014

In referring to the reasons for the September 11 hijackings, Republican U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) stated in a 2007 South Carolina Republican presidential debate “They attack us because we’ve been over there.” He was referring to the nation’s interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Paul later pointed out that by meddling in the […]

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In the Political Arena an Underdog Challenger Must Be Creative to Force an Incumbent to a Debate

August 5, 2014

In every election cycle, voters witness the spectacle of an underdog candidate challenging an incumbent elected official to participate in a series of debates. This is usually a starting bid, with the underdog hoping the incumbent will engage in at least one debate. A debate is an opportunity for a challenger to share the same […]

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When a Political Gaffe Torpedoes a Political Candidate

July 15, 2014

With another election season upon us, it is close to certainty that we will see political candidates make major gaffes, including answering a question honestly, when political correctness would be the prudent tactic. Candidates sometimes misspeak, like in 1968 when Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey told Playboy magazine: “No sane person in the country likes […]

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Eric Cantor Is Not the First National Political Figure to Lose His Congressional Seat

June 17, 2014

No matter what else he accomplishes in life, David Brat’s obituary may well read “Giant Killer” or something to that effect. The fact that the formerly obscure Randolph-Macon College Economics Professor defeated U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in his bid for renomination to his congressional seat sent shockwaves through the body politic. The […]

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