August 15, 2022

Who's Next?

By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 15, 2022

Let's assume, regardless of what happens in 2024, Joe Biden is not the future of the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump is not the future of the Republican Party. Let's further assume neither Biden nor Trump will be their party's nominee in 2024, age having discouraged the former, and the fear of a second loss having discouraged the latter. 

So, who's next, and from whence will they emerge? We've had senators, governors, generals, and one Speaker of the House (James K. Polk, in 1845) who became presidents, but there is no clear path for anyone.

There have been 17 former senators who ultimately became president — Barack Obama and Joe Biden being the latest. But only three of those moved directly from the Senate to the White House without other stops in between. (Andrew Johnson, who was impeached and avoided conviction by a single vote, is the only president to make the reverse trip, going from the White House to the Senate.)

So senators running for president have a limited chance to be elected via that route. Governors fare a bit better.

Some 19 former governors have been elected president, and nine went directly from the governor's mansion to the White House. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were the most recent presidents to also have served as governor. Some presidential historians believe the administrative experience gained as governor is a better foundation for the presidency, but voters don't always agree. 

Being vice president is no guarantee of advancing to the top job either. Only 15 vice presidents have gone on to be president, and eight of those inherited the job after the boss died or, in the case of Richard Nixon, resigned. (Michigan's Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon, is the only person to serve as both vice president and president without having been elected to either.)    

Five presidents have served without benefit of ever having been elected to any public office: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower were all generals; Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce, and Donald Trump was a developer.

The road to the White House is further complicated by a murderous primary election system now preferred by both major parties. The first such primary didn't even occur until 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt and Robert LaFollette took on Republican President William Howard Taft. The idea of the primary system is to determine which candidate has the strength and stamina to withstand dozens of elections over a period of months. It is not clear if such a system is beneficial or self-destructive, but both parties seem intent on even further condensing the state primaries into a cannibalistic circus. And there will be many willing victims quite convinced they are The Next Big Thing ready to soar to the top. 

There are not many Democrats with a national profile sufficient to generate much presidential interest, much less the ability to raise a billion or so dollars. Senator Bernie Sanders has the most loyal and fervent followers but not nearly enough of them, as his twice failed presidential campaigns have proven. Senator Elizabeth Warren generated even less support so she's unlikely to make another foray. 

Who does that leave? Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota didn't last long in 2020, nor did Corey Booker of New Jersey, another senator. Pete Buttigieg, currently serving as Secretary of Transportation, is younger and smarter than the other wannabes and did a bit better for a bit longer in 2020. His moment may yet arrive but perhaps not in 2024. 

Which leaves Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been uninspiring in her current role. That she — or at least her staff — seems so surprised that she is receiving difficult assignments — immigration, for example — makes one wonder what she thought the job would be. Call the White House every morning to see if the president is all right and then take on unpleasant tasks; that is the job. 

The Republican side is awash with Trump imitators, and that might not be the best strategy. The ovine fealty of Trump supporters is unlikely to be duplicated by any other politician.

Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Kristi Noem of North Dakota are all doing their best impersonations but don't generate the necessary fervor. And Trump loyalists are absolutists, so the slightest variance from the Trump playbook can be a death knell for presidential aspirations. The best examples of that are Doug Ducey in Arizona and Brian Kemp in Georgia, two Trump-loyal Republican governors who followed the law and their state constitutions, refused to toss legitimate election results, and are now both persona non grata in Trump World.  

So, who's next? A Biden/Trump rematch or a surprise on either side? The unseemly posturing and positioning has already begun at every level. The 2022 midterm primary elections are in seven months. 


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