Manoeuvring for position

Jeb BushAdlai Stevenson was Democratic candidate for president in two successive elections and lost rather badly on both occasions. He couldn’t even hold the ‘solid South’ losing Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida on the first occasion and adding Kentucky, West Virginia and Louisiana to the list on the second. Aside from Missouri, which he won in his second race only, he lost every state outside the south both times.

If we expand the search to non-consecutive elections then Richard Nixon, who lost in 1960, went on to win in 1968 and 1972. But there is little recent experience of presidential losers getting a second chance. People who lose in primaries often get a second go, but candidates who win the nomination and lose the election hardly ever do.

If it is unusual for presidential losers to get a second chance it is even more unusual for America to turn repeatedly to the same family for its presidents. The sixth president was the son of the second and the 23rd was the grandson of the ninth. The 26th and 32nd presidents were distant cousins sharing the same rather distinctive family name. But the recent experience of electing two presidents Bush with only one intervening president is an historic anomaly. If a third were to be elected this would be unprecedented. That’s not to say it would be a bad thing.

Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are undoubtedly very capable people. Romney’s record in business was outstanding. Bush not only delivered legislation on school choice and tort reform, he politically transformed, Florida, once solidly Democratic at the state level,  into one that is solidly Republican.

But it will not sit well with voters to elect a third president Bush so soon after the second and within the lifetime of the first. Such feelings would be only slightly mitigated if Bush’s general election opponent were named ‘Clinton’. Another Clinton would not grate as much with voters for three reasons: she would be the second, not the third; it is a longer gap since the previous Clinton; and her husband left office more popular than Jeb’s brother or father did.

So why is this talk even arising? Well, the presidency has tended to switch parties every eight years, so 2016 looks like a hopeful year for Republicans. The Republican field is wide and deep, with a considerable number of talented individuals, but none has dominated it at this point. Any candidate with strong name recognition can swiftly jump to a leading position in the polls: though you only need support in the teens to be leading this fractured field.

Bush was gathering momentum, and establishment hopes were beginning to settle on him. Romney wanted to make sure the big donors in the Northeast did not commit themselves just yet, so he hinted that he might well be in the mood for one more race.

Bush seems fairly committed to running. We can say with some confidence that it is his present intention to be a candidate. Romney is more hesitant. He may not be a candidate, but has decided to keep his options open.

There are very talented communicators (Christie, Huckabee, Rubio), candidates with strong records of achievement (Walker, Pence) or dedicated bands of followers (Cruz, Paul). This race has not even begun.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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