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Morning Jay: Mitt Romney's Perfect Storm

6:00 AM, Nov 9, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Being president requires vigor and energy, so party elders really aren’t capable of running. It also requires experience, and with the exception of Barack Obama, it’s just not realistic to expect somebody who has been in the Senate for less than a full term to win the presidency. So, let’s just count the senators who are under 65 years old and have been there for at lest one full term. We get:

Richard Burr, of North Carolina
Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma
Susan Collins, of Maine
Mike Crapo, of Idaho
John Cornyn, of Texas
Jim DeMint, of South Carolina
Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina
Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska
Jeff Sessions, of Alabama
Olympia Snowe, of Maine
John Thune, of South Dakota
David Vitter, of Louisiana

Collins, Graham, Murkowski, Snowe, and Vitter are all obviously not of presidential timber. The first four are far too moderate for the party and Vitter has been marred by scandal. I’d also exclude Burr because he is a back-bencher whose home state popularity is limited. Coburn, Cornyn, Crapo, and Sessions aren't really known outside the Senate and their home states, either. So, that practically leaves DeMint and Thune.

What about governors? Outside of 1936, you do not see small state governors win the GOP nomination, so let’s just look at Republican governors who have served a full term in the last decade from states with 11 or more electoral votes. We get:

Jeb Bush, of Florida
Charlie Crist, of Florida
Mitch Daniels, of Indiana
George Pataki, of New York
Sonny Perdue, of Georgia
Rick Perry, of Texas
Mitt Romney, of Massachusetts
Arnold Schwarzenegger, of California
Bob Taft, of Ohio

Let’s pare this list down. Bush has the wrong last name, Crist is no longer a Republican, Perdue is too obscure and somewhat controversial, Schwarzenegger is ineligible, and Taft is marred by scandal. So, that leaves Daniels, Pataki, Perry, and Romney.

Take these Senate and gubernatorial batches together, and this is all we have:

Out of the tens of millions of Republicans nationwide, I’d say only these six fit the minimum qualifications of “presidential timber,” and I still might also exclude Pataki for lack of public interest. And of these five or six, only two have tossed their hats in the ring. We can tweak the requirements on the margins here and there -- separating out the "presidential timber" was admittedly subjective -- but we'd still only have Romney and Perry as the declared, high-profile candidates. The other Republicans running this time around are quite far from having the sort of resume that usually qualifies one for the nomination.


This explains why Romney is at the top of the heap. It is not because of some advantage the heirs of Rockefeller retain over the conservative grassroots. Instead, it's just dumb luck. Romney’s position here is akin to being dealt a 5 and a 7, but drawing a straight on the river in a game of Texas Hold ‘em. He lucked out because relatively few Republicans were in that top tier with him, he lucked out again when five of his six competitors chose not to run, then he lucked out one more time when Perry turned out to be a dud. It's not the inherent moderation of the party elite that explains his advantage, it's just a perfect storm.

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