Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate is supposed to get nasty, confirming that the party has finally abandoned Ronald Reagan’s self-serving Eleventh Commandment—“Thou Shalt Not Attack Another Republican”—and decided to go for the jugular.
We’ll see how rough things really get. Remember that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was supposed to use a June debate appearance to attack “Obamneycare,” in hopes of deposing the supposed frontrunner of that moment, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. It did not happen, Pawlenty is now a former candidate and Romney is a former front-runner.
If things do get rough, it appears that the contenders will be banging away at one another on the question of political careerism.
Romney got the fight started with a none-too-subtle dig at the new front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom the former front-runner lumped in with the “career politicians” who “got us into this mess, and…simply don’t know how to get us out.”
Perry is, to be sure, a career politician. He started running for elective office during Ronald Reagan’s first term and has never stopped. Since 1984, Perry has put his name on eighteen primary and general election ballots for legislative and state offices.
But Romney is going to have a hard time selling himself as a political neophyte. He has run for only three offices: a failed challenge to Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, a successful race for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and a bumbling campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. But he is the son of one of the leading Republican politicians of the 1960s, former Michigan Governor George Romney. Mitt Romney grew up around his dad’s campaigns for governor (1962 and 1966), as well as George Romney’s doomed 1968 run for the GOP presidential nod (which former Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes famously referred to as so painfully inept that “Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football”) and his mother’s unsuccessful race as the Republican nominee against Michigan Senator Phil Hart in 1970.
Few Americans grew up around more politics and have been groomed for more offices than Mitt Romney, who likes to talk up the time he spent in the private sector but who scrambled onto the political hustings as quickly as he could.
In fact, the stage at Wednesday night’s “Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation” debate in California was packed with members of the permanent political class.
Between them, Perry, Romney, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have mounted 110 separate primary and general election campaigns for offices ranging from a seat on the Stillwater, Minnesota, School Board (Bachmann in 1999: she lost) to president of the United States. Add on their current runs for Republican presidential nod and the total number of races goes to 118.
Three of the Republican contenders have sought the presidency before—Romney and Paul for the GOP nomination in 2008, Paul as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988 and in several states as an independent in 2008. Cain mounted an all-but-forgotten campaign for the 2000 Republican nod.
Two of the 2012 Republican contenders have run successful campaigns for the nominations of other parties. Perry was elected to the Texas legislature as a Democrat three times before switching in 1990. Paul secured that Libertarian nomination back in 1988.
Six of the Republicans (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Romney and Santorum) have run and lost campaigns. Only Cain has never won a race; his Georgia US Senate run in 2004 was a dismal failure that saw him finish second in a Republican primary; and his 2000 Republican presidential run fizzled even though Cain said that when compared to the man who beat him, George W. Bush, “I believe that I had a better message and I believe that I was the better messenger.”
Cain and Paul have lost Republican primary races for the US Senate. Both of them, and Romney, have lost Republican primary contests for the presidency.
Four of the Republican candidates (Paul, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum) had already run multiple campaigns before Barack Obama entered his first political race in 1996. (Obama won that race, a contest for an Illinois state Senate seat, and has won ten primary and general election races since. His one loss was a 2000 Democratic primary challenge to Congressman Bobby Rush, D-Illinois.)
Several of the Republicans, including both Romney and Perry, grew up in politically active families. Indeed, a year before Romney’s father was elected governor of Michigan in 1962, Perry attended the funeral of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, a Texas political icon, with his father.
So who is the most careerist of these career politicians?
That would be Paul, a regular candidate for the US House, the US Senate and the presidency since 1974, he has mounted thirty-three primary, runoff and general election campaigns.
Gingrich is close behind with twenty-six races.
Then comes Perry at eighteen, followed by Bachmann at twelve and Santorum at ten.
Romney, Huntsman and Cain have run five times or less. But Hunstman is an appointive careerist, having held posts in the Reagan administration (staff assistant), George H.W. Bush administration (deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for trade development, US ambassador to Singapore), the George W. Bush administration (deputy United States trade representative) and the Obama administration (ambassador to China). Cain has been engaged in something akin to a permanent campaign since 2000, either running or floating his name as a candidate for Georgia’s governorship, US Senate seats and the presidency. And Romney, the guy who complains about “career politicians,” began preparing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2006 and has never really stopped running since then.