Who wants to be president?

Most know they haven’t got a shot at the Oval Office, but see the race as a path to job advancement.

June 16, 2011 00:10
4 minute read.
Douglas M. Bloomfield

Douglas M. Bloomfield 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Newt Gingrich last week became the first candidate ever fired by his staff, as one wag noted, and if that proves a lethal blow to his presidential campaign, no one will be more disappointed than his old friend Binyamin Netanyahu. The two worked together in the 1990s to thwart Clinton administration peace policies, and no doubt were looking forward to doing the same with President Barack Obama.

But they may not get the chance. In his first appearance after his staff quit en masse, Gingrich vowed to keep campaigning, and treated the Republican Jewish Coalition to a scathing attack on the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, promising to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on his first day in office (haven’t we heard that before?).

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Most political observers rate Gingrich’s chances of winning the nomination as hopeless, but he’s not quitting. Yet. Of course, lightning could always strike.

That is the undying hope of every presidential wannabe, from putative frontrunners like Mitt Romney to longshots like Jon Huntsman to no-shots like Buddy Roemer.

With “none of the above” running first in some polls, it could take another grueling year for a consensus candidate to emerge.

Why would anyone want to run for president? When John F. Kennedy was asked that question, he said, “Because that’s where the power is.”

Nearly 20 years later, when his kid brother Ted was asked the same question, he couldn’t think of an answer.

Some say it revealed that he really didn’t want to run, but was just doing what was expected of him.

Power isn't the only reason people run. Most know they haven’t got a shot at the Oval Office, but see the race as a path to job advancement. No one can openly seek the vice presidency, which is a coveted stepping stone to the presidency.

More common are those seeking cabinet posts or name recognition for other races. Getting on stage for the early debates gets attention back home for a run for senator or governor.

Even a politician who’s going nowhere can find his or her clout enhanced by a failed presidential bid.

Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) went from loquacious obscurity to household names even though they never had a chance of winning their parties’ nominations. In Paul’s case, it probably also helped his son, Rand Paul (RKY), win a Senate seat.

Some run to raise the level of awareness for pet issues, or to prepare for a real candidacy four years later.

Where JFK saw winning as the path to power, others see losing as the path to wealth.

Many political losers become financial winners, collecting six-figure speaking fees, book deals, consulting jobs and media contracts.

Does anyone really believe former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spent tens of thousands of (other people’s) dollars on a luxury bus so she could take her family on a vacation tour of historical sites where, by sheer coincidence, the Rolling Thunder motorcycle gathering was taking place, Mitt Romney happened to be announcing his candidacy or Donald Trump was having pizza? Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) is a no-shot, but his campaign might raise his profile for a more lucrative gig on returning to Fox News, where many Republican presidential wannabes hang their hat when it’s not in the ring, including Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich.

Prerequisites for running for president: a huge ego wrapped in a thick skin.

When I was a reporter on the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there was a lawyer in nearby Akron who ran in just about every Democratic primary. And he consistently lost. After he came in 10th in a 10-man field I asked how one person could handle so much rejection. “I can’t afford to win,” he explained, since (in those days) lawyers were not allowed to advertise, so this was his way of getting attention.

Every time he lost, business improved.

Some pols just like the attention, so they’ll leak the ‘news’ that they’re considering running for president. They’re part of what political writer Jack Germond called “an abundance of self-motivated candidates with no visible rationale for their ambitions.”

There’s not a governor, member of Congress or other ambitious pol who doesn’t look in the mirror each morning and see the person most deserving to lead the free world.

Some, like Mitt Romney, Steve Forbes or Ross Perot have the deep pockets to launch their own campaigns, but most rely on OPM (other people’s money), like Gingrich, fueled with funds from a small group of givers that includes Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson (also a major Netanyahu backer).

But they’re all looking for every dollar they can raise, and sooner or later you’ll hear from them. Warning: your contribution will guarantee you a friend for life, who will repeatedly assure you that success is just ahead, but can’t be reached without your help, so please give. And give. And give.


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