When I was growing up in the era of three TV stations, summer was rerun season. And political cycles have a season-like symmetry. So I'll dust off one of my pet pieces from four years ago and give it an update.
In 2003, writing in Reason, Jonathan Rausch proposed the "Law of 14":
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.
Rausch defines "major office" as a Congressional seat, governor, or big city mayor. "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."
Foreign service officers and the higher ranks of the military have "up or out" rules: you either get promoted in a certain time frame or you're done. Maybe that's an unwritten political rule as well. Four years ago, Joe Biden was touting his "ears of experience," but they turned out to be cartons of milk that had long since expired.
The Rule of 14 doesn't keep you from getting nominated, it just keeps you from getting elected. Look first at the elected presidents (each milk carton is two years):
|President||First Major Office||Year||Shelf life|
|Bush 41||House||1966||14 (to VP)|
|Nixon||House||1946||6 (to VP)|
|Johnson||House||1937||23 (to VP)|
|Truman||Senator||1934||10 (to VP)|
|Coolidge||Governor||1918||2 (to VP)|
|T. Roosevelt||Governor||1898||2 (to VP)|
(In a variation on Rausch's rule, I included cabinet posts for Taft and Hoover. Their first elected office was the Presidency. Either way they're under 14.)
Even the one exception reinforces the rule. LBJ lost the 1960 nomination to fresher face JFK, then got the vice presidency as a consolation prize because they needed to win Texas really, really bad.
Where's Gerald Ford on our roll call? The Rule of 14 is about getting elected president, not about becoming president. So Ford's on the list of losers.
|Loser||First Major Office||Year||Shelf life|
|Mondale||Senate||1964||12 (to VP)|
|Ford||House||1948||27 (to VP)|
|Humphrey||Senate||1948||16 (to VP)|
|Mayor||1945||19 (to VP)|
How does this play out for the 2012 GOP field, announced and potential? We've got two never-electeds, Herman Cain and Fred Karger. Rausch would probably exclude Alabama Supreme Court as a "major" office, but if you want to count it, Roy Moore won that election in 2000. Most of the leading contenders are in the 6 to 12 year range (though Thaddeus McCotter is kind of a ringer in that group.)
|Candidate||First Major Office||Year||Shelf life|
|Palin||Governor||2006||6||½ ½ ½|
Despite his relatively young age (53), Rick Santorum has been around forever, winning his first of two house terms in 1990 before moving to the Senate in 1994. Buddy Roemer hasn't won an election since 1987, when he was a Democrat. And for all the anti-government rhetoric, Ron Paul has been on the political scene longer than any of them. His three non-consecutive stints in the House date back to a 1976 special election win.
The question of how to count Rick Perry is a test of the theory. He was first elected governor in 2002, but he became governor in late 2000 when he took over for Bush 43. If you date his freshness from when he became governor, this is his last shot and he's stale by 2016.