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It used to be easy to predict who the next Republican presidential nominee would be. It was decided by primogeniture: The next oldest guy in line got to be the king.
Its not so easy looking to 2012, with former Vice President Dick Cheney out of the running and a woman, soon-to-be former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in.
And I do believe shes in damaged in her chances, maybe, but fully intending to make a run and very popular with the shrinking hard core of the GOP.
In the Democratic Party, primogeniture sometimes applies, as with Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and incumbent or former Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Al Gore in 2000.
But, just as often, a candidate will come from relative, or not-so-relative, obscurity and seize the nomination, such as John F. Kennedy in 1960, George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008.
In the Republican Party, however, theres a rigid history of follow the leader. When Dwight Eisenhowers second term was over in 1960, the nomination went to his vice president, Richard Nixon.
Nixon lost, of course, and didnt run in 1964. So two next-in-lines ran against each other, conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Goldwater won, then lost, disastrously.
Nixon was back in 1968. His Watergate-installed successor, Gerald Ford, survived a challenge from Ronald Reagan in 1976 to be the nominee. Then Reagan won in 1980, after which his vice president, George H.W. Bush, became king.
After Bush lost in 1992, Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.), Fords 1976 running mate, won the 1996 nomination. Arguably George W. Bushs ascendancy in 2000 was a break with primogeniture. But his name was Bush, after all.
Even in the 2008 election, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was the next-in-line guy, having run against Bush in 2000.
Palin, as McCains running mate, had every chance to have primogeniture working for her.
Even though she demonstrated an utter lack of qualification to be a heartbeat away from the presidency last year, all she had to do to become the partys clear frontrunner was knuckle down, pick smart advisers, study hard, travel abroad, make serious speeches and raise lots of money for the party.
Instead, shes become a running soap opera, what with disputes between her advisers, doubts about what events shell show up at, public spats with the teenage father of her out-of-wedlock grandchild and nonstop battles with the media and her other critics.
Has she been savaged? She has. Clearly Palin-hatred is rampant in the media, the left-wing blogosphere, the Democratic Party and parts of the McCain campaign staff.
But now comes her decision, not just to pass on running for re-election in 2010, but to quit the Alaska governorship with 18 months left in her first term.