Indiana congressman Mike Pence has gotten a lot of buzz as a potential GOP presidential candidate who could appeal to both establishment Republicans and Tea Partiers--social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.
While Pence has a plausible path to the GOP nomination, and the presidency, it would be a long, hard slog. On the other hand, he could take the governorship of Indiana in a walk. Not an easy choice. But if Pence ever wants to run for president, it's hard to see how there will be a better moment than now.
If Pence decides to run for governor, and the 2012 presidential GOP candidate loses, he'd likely face a dazzling, crowded field in 2016 filled with the likes of Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio. And by then Pence will have reached his expiration date as a presidential candidate, according to "Rauch's Rule."
As Jonathan Rauch noted in a 2003 piece in National Journal, "With only one exception since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, no one has been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president."
George W. Bush took six years. Bill Clinton, 14. George H.W. Bush, 14 (to the vice presidency). Ronald Reagan, 14. Jimmy Carter, six. Richard Nixon, six (to vice president). John Kennedy, 14. Dwight Eisenhower, zero. Harry Truman, 10 (to vice president). Franklin Roosevelt, four. Herbert Hoover, zero. Calvin Coolidge, four. Warren Harding, six. Woodrow Wilson, two. William Howard Taft, zero. Theodore Roosevelt, two (to vice president). The one exception: Lyndon Johnson's 23 years from his first House victory to the vice presidency.
Wait a minute: zero? Right. The rule is a maximum, not a minimum. Generals and other famous personages can go straight to the top. But if a politician first runs for some other major office, the 14-year clock starts ticking.
"Major office" means governorship, Congress, or the mayoralty of a big city: elective posts that, unlike offices such as lieutenant governor or state attorney general, can position their holder as national contender. Bill Clinton became Arkansas attorney general in 1976, but his clock began ticking when he won the governorship two years later. Had he not won the presidency in 1992, his national career would have been over.
Pence was first elected to Congress in 2000, so he'd run against "Rauch's Rule" or the "Law of 14" in 2016. That's just one more thing he might want to consider in the next 10 days, as he makes his final decision.