Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Running to Lose

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Running to Lose

Article excerpt

FOR the office of US president, all but one person every four years lose. Loss for challengers in '92 approaches dead certainty. Is it better to run and lose than not to have run at all?

The elixir of presidential ambition does not clear the head. Once it is downed and a candidate is committed to running, there may be no graceful exit. An embarrassing slip or fundraising impotence takes a few candidates out early; outright defeat in a nomination caucus or primary, defeat at the summer convention, or defeat in November does in the others.

Some losers, like George Bush to Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1980, catch a caboose to victory. The 1980 GOP nomination night in Detroit was confused. Remember the dalliance with President Ford over the No. 2 spot? Reagan and Ford, formerly bitter rivals, were to ride off into the sunset together, in a kind of joint presidency. When that notion evaporated, Reagan had to accept Bush - precisely what some of Reagan's own people had hoped. From the vice presidency, Bush's starting block was set out ahead of everyone else's for 1988.

Since Bush says he will run again, health permitting, and since Bush's physical and political health are both sound these days, would-be challengers have to think hard about taking him on.

A challenge from within his own party? What for? To position for 1996? Is there another Ronald Reagan, who challenged Ford in 1976, in the wings? Today's dissident GOP base slumbers.

The natural heir to George Bush is Secretary of State James Baker, not Vice President Dan Quayle. Baker has been engineer, thinker, and doer behind Bush's national success. Dan Quayle, as vice president, is the nominal heir. How will this drama of institutional advantage and loyalty work out? Will Jack Kemp and the populist wing of the party, Reagan's roost, again attack the privileged set of Quayle, Baker, Ltd.?

Next, why should a Democrat take on such heavy odds? Might Bush self-destruct by November 1992? Should a Democrat position himself for '96? Reagan's loss to Ford in 1976 did not keep him from beating Carter four years later; the losing campaign taught his people much for later success. …

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