2012 also-rans: In it not to win it
2012 also-rans: In it not to win it
Gary Johnson isn’t going to be the next president. He’s not going to be the next Republican nominee.
He’s running to be the next Ron Paul.
He made that plain at Thursday’s debate with a web video he sent out before the event linking himself to Paul and saying on stage he’d pick the Texas congressman as running mate as he laid his claim to the libertarian mantle.
“This is a movement that needs to grow significantly beyond where Dr. Paul has taken it,” Johnson told POLITICO afterward. “That’s the goal here.”
Now’s the moment in the presidential cycle when things get serious: on the trail and at the debates, the people who might actually be president are introducing themselves and their positions to voters. The also-rans, never-weres and not-going-to-bes are cluttering up the stage, leaving many people scratching their heads about what these people are doing up there with the real contenders.
It’s a fairly large bottom tier compared to past cycles, and a significantly weaker one. They’re far short of either party’s field from four years ago, and even shorter than the famous “seven dwarves” of the 1988 Democratic field — a group of significant party players which included two future vice presidents.
And though Johnson, Paul, Buddy Roemer, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain all gleefully point to the 2008 cycle, when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson seemed like locks, none of the current crop are quite John McCain, who was poised to step in when the frontrunners faltered.
Forget about odds of winning: for Santorum and Gingrich, a good showing in the next few months can rebuild their reputations. For Cain, it could position him as a GOP party elder. For Paul, it paves the way even more for his son.
And for Roemer, who acknowledged that he’s unlikely to get his best case scenario of scoring a “third or fourth” finish in the Granite State that he believes could propel his campaign to the other states, it’s about two pet peeves he’s been steaming about for years. The former Louisiana governor and congressman who’s still holding out hope of at least getting his own debate moment, wants to talk China trade policy and eliminating big-money donors to political candidates. He’s already taken his case to the sidewalk in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, where he held a protest press conference several weeks ago, and to the sets of Comedy Central, where he’s appeared on the “Daily Show” and the “Colbert Report.”
“I’d like to be on [television] either as president or as someone who tried to be president,” Roemer said. “These two issues will not go away.”
Santorum has been getting some attention for his debate performances and has a fourth place finish in Ames to brag about. He insisted to POLITICO this week that his confidence about actually winning the race wasn’t delusion — “I’ll do a blood test and pee in a cup,” he said — and according to a longtime close adviser and friend, has never discussed a campaign end-game.
But that end game’s already started to take shape: Santorum’s performance at the debates has helped him start repairing a reputation at home and nationally that was damaged by his bruising 2006 loss to Bob Casey in his race for a third term. He doesn’t have the persona of a Mike Huckabee that would allow him to translate his social conservative appeal in quite the same way, even if he does pull in a respectable delegate count, but at the very least, he’s being talked about differently for a future in politics or other activity.
“There will be a reward,” said Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, who is a Santorum contributor but hasn’t endorsed. “I’m not exactly sure what it is. For a guy who has seven children, if he is not the president of the United States, then he’ll need a job. He’s the type of individual who is exposing himself to a lot of different people, and a lot of different people will want him to work for them.”
Three of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s congressional supporters independently said they have regular conversations with the former speaker and that he has never mentioned an exit scenario or game plan, either. He’s taken a more relaxed approach to stumping and fundraising, but according to those people close to his campaign, that’s because he’s not interested in simply expanding his fame — he’s in the race to be in the debates.
“Newt has always believed that he can change the dynamic and the discussion in the debate process as it goes forward,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). “He clearly views that as his great strength.”
There’s also the task of repairing his standing among conservatives, which fell after his mangled campaign rollout and attack on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
“From an economic opportunity future, he’s got to fix his brand,” a former aide said. “He did damage himself.” So long as Gingrich does well in debates, “people will forget why they’re mad at him,” the ex-aide said.
After failing to capitalize on early buzz and momentum, Herman Cain’s end-game is less clear. The political future of the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO — and only African-American candidate in the field — might simply boil down to securing a spot as a party elder, said his campaign’s Iowa director, Larry Tuel.
“He brings an element that I don’t think the party’s had before,” said Tuel, who stressed that he hopes Cain’s future in the party is as its nominee.
Even Ron Paul, who said on Thursday night that he was hoping that he’d continue to climb in the polls until he got into the top tier of candidates, is running a campaign that’s about something other than Inauguration Day 2013 in the minds of some supporters. They’ve got their eyes on incremental gains for his libertarian movement before his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, takes the reins.
“He’s pretty motivated to win now,” said Paul’s New Hampshire campaign chairman, state senator Jim Forsythe. “But I know a lot of people in the movement are looking at Rand Paul further down the road.”
That’s a mantle for which Johnson’s team is willing to battle.
While Johnson said he has “no intention” to run for president again, his senior adviser, Evan Twede, who’s worked with Johnson since his surprise victory in the 1994 New Mexico governor’s race, stressed that the 58-year-old triathlete is hoping to turn himself into the libertarian banner carrier for the long run.
“Ron Paul is 76 years old, this is wearing him out,” Twede said. “A lot of people will see that Ron is a fantastic prophet and he’ll need an Aaron at some point. I think that’s the way it’s going to go.”
Of course, both Moses and his brother Aaron died in the desert before their people reached the Promised Land.
Dan Hirschhorn contributed to this report.