Why Everyone Is Running for President

It used to make sense to play coy about your ambitions, but not anymore.

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., talks to fellow Republicans at the Carroll County Lobster Bake, Sept. 7, 2013, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 12, 2013, 4:10 p.m.

Less than 24 hours after Rep. Peter King first sug­ges­ted he was in­ter­ested in run­ning for pres­id­ent in 2016, the out­spoken New York Re­pub­lic­an was mic’d up and star­ing in­to a morn­ing tele­vi­sion live shot.

King had wanted a big­ger plat­form for his hawk­ish take on for­eign policy — es­pe­cially as his ideo­lo­gic­al GOP rival, Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, garnered ever more at­ten­tion for his dovish and liber­tari­an pro­nounce­ments. For King, float­ing his own name as a pres­id­en­tial hope­ful turned out to be just the trick. “I’m not do­ing this just to stop Rand Paul, be­lieve me,” King says. “But I do be­lieve we need a strong na­tion­al de­fense policy.”

In the months be­fore his Ju­ly pres­id­en­tial mus­ings, King had av­er­aged few­er than one Sunday show ap­pear­ance a month. Af­ter­ward? He was a mag­net for TV book­ers, spin­ning through the stu­di­os of CNN, ABC, CBS, and Fox News on four straight Sundays — the last of which pit­ted King op­pos­ite Paul. He was on NBC’s Meet the Press last week.

The King me­dia boom­let is the latest proof that hav­ing your name in the pres­id­en­tial hop­per is one of the most valu­able cur­ren­cies in Amer­ic­an polit­ics. It cre­ates an in­flux of me­dia at­ten­tion and a po­ten­tial na­tion­al base for cam­paign cash. Be­ing asked “the ques­tion” is of value, even if you’ve planted the query your­self or answered it without be­ing asked in the first place. “There’s al­most no down­side to feed­ing the be­gin­ning of the be­gin­ning of the con­ver­sa­tion,” says vet­er­an Re­pub­lic­an strategist Mike Murphy. “When the me­dia switches in­to who-is-run­ning mode, like they are right now, it costs you noth­ing to throw one of your logs onto their bon­fire.”

It’s why so many politi­cians are test­ing the pres­id­en­tial wa­ters these days — with vis­its to the key early primary states of Iowa, New Hamp­shire, and South Car­o­lina. They get a na­tion­al mega­phone for the price of a plane tick­et and a press re­lease. Off went former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., tour­ing the Iowa State Fair­grounds, corn dog in hand, last month. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose 2012 GOP bid flopped badly, an­nounced he’s mulling 2016 and head­ing back to Iowa this fall. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, vis­ited this sum­mer and made a show of re­noun­cing his Ca­na­dian cit­izen­ship. He’s headed back again to head­line an Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party fun­draiser in Oc­to­ber. Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Min­nesota Demo­crat without any dis­cern­ible na­tion­al fol­low­ing, traveled to the leadoff-caucus state to speak to party loc­als this sum­mer. “It’s nice to be on the list,” said Klobuchar of the 2016 chat­ter dur­ing her Iowa vis­it, as if that wasn’t the point.

“You should nev­er say nev­er in this busi­ness,” failed 2004 Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Howard Dean told CNN this sum­mer. No sur­prise: He’s keep­ing the door ajar for 2016.

No House mem­ber has as­cen­ded dir­ectly to the White House since James Gar­field in 1880. But Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is non­ethe­less talk­ing up a pres­id­en­tial run, hav­ing vis­ited New Hamp­shire and South Car­o­lina this sum­mer. The tim­ing of his tri­al bal­loon co­in­cided nicely with his “Stop Am­nesty” tour — doub­ling up on cov­er­age.

The 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign gave Re­pub­lic­ans an un­usu­al in­cent­ive to run. Vir­tu­ally every de­clared GOP can­did­ate, from Rep. Michele Bach­mann to pizza mag­nate Her­man Cain to former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, graced the top of the polls at some point. And even the losers can end up win­ning: Gin­grich is the new co­host of CNN’s Cross­fire. The 2008 GOP run­ner-up, Mike Hucka­bee (who hasn’t “ruled it out” for 2016), got a show on Fox News.

The money game, too, en­cour­ages seri­al pres­id­en­tial ex­plor­a­tions. Steve King, for in­stance, watched last cycle as Bach­mann’s cam­paign helped her leapfrog him as the go-to voice for angry tea parti­ers — and the re­cip­i­ent of their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. She raised more than $25 mil­lion last cycle; he raised $3.7 mil­lion.

In the age of su­per PACs, every can­did­ate is one rich pat­ron away from be­ing a con­tender. The 2012 GOP primary des­cen­ded at times in­to a proxy war between bil­lion­aire be­ne­fact­ors: Casino mag­nate Shel­don Ad­el­son and his wife poured $20 mil­lion in­to a pro-Gin­grich su­per PAC, while in­vestor Foster Friess spent $2 mil­lion on a group back­ing Rick San­tor­um (who re­cently vis­ited Iowa and, pre­dict­ably, is hint­ing about 2016). “I think 2012 set the ex­ample that, with one or two wealthy guys who want to fund you — why the heck not?” says Matt Strawn, chair­man of the Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party dur­ing the 2012 caucuses.

There is an al­most in­verse re­la­tion­ship between how hard a politi­cian works to be men­tioned for 2016 and how ser­i­ous a can­did­ate he or she is. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton will be asked “the ques­tion” no mat­ter what she does. Rand Paul doesn’t have to say he’s run­ning; it’s pre­sumed. Same for Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla. Brown, on the oth­er hand, ac­tu­ally had to show up in Iowa after he’d passed on more-win­nable Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al races in Mas­sachu­setts. For Peter King, hint­ing at high­er of­fice has be­come something of a pas­time. He toyed with Sen­ate bids in 2000, 2004, and 2010, and, briefly, a pres­id­en­tial run in 2012. He nev­er ran, but he al­ways got the pub­li­city.

The can­did­acy charade can go on only so long. Even­tu­ally politi­cians have to set up com­mit­tees, raise money, and hire polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives. Un­til then, it’s flirt­ing sea­son. “It’s like an eighth-grade kid say­ing he wants to be an as­tro­naut,” Murphy says. “Great! Let’s see who ac­tu­ally shows up at NASA for train­ing.”

What We're Following See More »
THE PLAN ALL ALONG?
Manchin Drops Objections, Clearing Way for Spending Deal
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate standstill over a stopgap spending bill appeared headed toward a resolution on Friday night. Senators who were holding up the measure said votes are expected later in the evening. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin had raised objections to the continuing resolution because it did not include a full year's extension of retired coal miners' health benefits," but Manchin "said he and other coal state Democrats agreed with Senate Democratic leaders during a caucus meeting Thursday that they would not block the continuing resolution, but rather use the shutdown threat as a way to highlight the health care and pension needs of the miners."

Source:
UNCLEAR WHAT CAUSED CHANGE OF HEART
Giuliani Out of Running For State
1 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump transition team announced Friday afternoon that top supporter Rudy Giuliani has taken himself out of the running to be in Trump's cabinet, though CNN previously reported that it was Trump who informed the former New York City mayor that he would not be receiving a slot. While the field had seemingly been narrowed last week, it appears to be wide open once again, with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson the current favorite.

Source:
ALSO VICE-CHAIR OF TRUMP’S TRANSITION TEAM
Trump Taps Rep. McMorris Rodgers for Interior Secretary
1 days ago
BREAKING
SHUTDOWN LOOMING
House Approves Spending Bill
2 days ago
BREAKING

The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.

HEADS TO OBAMA
Senate Approves Defense Bill
2 days ago
THE LATEST

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act today, sending the $618 billion measure to President Obama. The president vetoed the defense authorization bill a year ago, but both houses could override his disapproval this time around.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login