It’s hard to win when your motto is ‘It’s my turn’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

Once upon a time there was a pres­i­dent, wa­ver­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. He was deemed by some po­lit­i­cal pun­dits as “highly beat­able.” He had just done his whole thing with health care, which left vot­ers fum­ing, and two years be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Repub­li­cans picked up a slew of seats in the House, tak­ing con­trol.

But then, the Repub­li­can Party did the un­think­able: It gave the nom­i­na­tion to a guy be­cause it was es­sen­tially “his turn,” and the can­di­date got shel­lacked by the in­cum­bent Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.

That pres­i­dent was Bill Clin­ton; the “It’s His Turn” can­di­date was Bob Dole; the year, 1996. And 2012 is shap­ing up to be an aw­ful lot like that elec­tion.

In 1994, Mr. Clin­ton had just tried to jam uni­ver­sal health care down Amer­ica’s throat. He had cruised to of­fice two years ear­lier, de­feat­ing an un­pop­u­lar Repub­li­can, and had been on top of the world un­til the midterms.

Repub­li­cans picked up a shock­ing 54 House seats and took the cham­ber for the first time since 1954. In the Se­nate, they picked up nine seats, tak­ing over that cham­ber for the first time in eight years. The Amer­i­can voter was an­gry, and the GOP cap­i­tal­ized im­me­di­ately, led by a then-young con­gress­man, Newt Gingrich, who helped craft the Con­tract With Amer­ica.

Fast for­ward to 2010. A Demo­crat had again cruised to of­fice, beat­ing an un­pop­u­lar (even within his own party) can­di­date. This time, the pres­i­dent was able to shove a health-care over­haul through a Congress so flush with Democrats that they held a su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate. But the pres­i­dent had over­reached, and vot­ers once again be­came frus­trated, pour­ing into town halls to vent their anger.

In the midterm, Repub­li­cans picked up a whop­ping 63 seats in the House, tak­ing con­trol, and six in the Se­nate.

But back to 1996. That year, with the Repub­li­cans still glowing from the midterms, the very best can­di­dates, one by one, de- cided to take a pass. The party was abuzz with word that for­mer Gen. Colin Pow­ell would jump in, but he bailed. For­mer Sec­re­tary of De­fense and fu­ture Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney toyed with the idea, but de­cided against a run, as did then-for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld.

But the mutts were plen­ti­ful. Sens. Richard G. Lu­gar, Phil Gramm and Arlen Specter jumped in, as did colum­nist Pat Buchanan, and for­mer Govs. La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee and Pete Wil­son of Cal­i­for­nia.

And, oh yeah, Mr. Dole. He won the nom­i­na­tion but got shel­lacked by 8 mil­lion votes, lost 49.2 per­cent to 40.7 per­cent, and the elec­toral col­lege gap was huge, 379-159. Worse, he got just 39.1 mil­lion votes; when Ron­ald Rea­gan was re-elected in 1984, he pulled in 54.4 mil­lion.

Once again, skip ahead to 2012 (and keep in mind that Obama got 69.5 mil­lion votes in 2008). Two for­mer gov­er­nors, Mitch Daniels and Mike Huck­abee, and one in­cum­bent gov­er­nor, Ha­ley Bar­bour, have all bailed. Even The Don­ald (Trump) de­cided to pass. Ris­ing stars in the party also have said “no go”: New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin. Like ’96, the field is lit­tered with dim stars: Mr. Gingrich, for­mer Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty, busi­ness­man Her­man Cain, plus mul­ti­time loser Rep. Ron Paul of Texas

And, oh yeah, for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, who couldn’t even de­feat a weak Sen. John McCain for the nom­i­na­tion in 2008 and who has a health­care prob­lem the size of Texas (strik­ing, too, how he’s also from the same state where an­other nom­i­nee, Demo­crat John F. Kerry, hailed, and he lost badly to a vul­ner­a­ble pres­i­dent in 2004).

De­spite Rush Lim­baugh’s “once more into the breach” bravado that Mr. Obama is beat­able (which he’s said, at last count, 9,647 times), the best can­di­dates have walked. And don’t ex­pect Sarah Palin to take one for the team: Her chances are far bet­ter in 2016, and any day now, she’ll also an­nounce that she’s go­ing to sit this one out.

Which means it’s 1996 all over again for the Repub­li­cans. They’ll nom­i­nate Mr. Rom­ney - Motto: “Eh, It’s His Turn” - and he’ll lose in a land­slide. And there doesn’t look like there’s any­thing - or more im­por­tantly, any­one - who can stop it.

Joseph Curl cov­ered the White House and pol­i­tics for a decade for The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at jcurl@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

Es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics at its worst: Bob Dole in 1996

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