Friday, July 22, 2011

Recycled Milk Cartons : The Law of 14 in 2012

Recycled Milk Cartons : The Law of 14 in 2012

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):

PresidentFirst Major OfficeYearShelf life
ObamaSenate20044
Bush 43Governor19946
ClintonGovernor197814
Bush 41House196614 (to VP)
ReaganGovernor196614
CarterGovernor19706
NixonHouse19466 (to VP)
KennedyHouse194614
JohnsonHouse193723 (to VP)
EisenhowerPresident19520
TrumanSenator193410 (to VP)
RooseveltGovernor19284
HooverCabinet19218
CoolidgeGovernor19182 (to VP)
HardingSenator19146
WilsonGovernor19102
TaftCabinet19044
T. RooseveltGovernor18982 (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.

LoserFirst Major OfficeYearShelf life
McCainHouse198226
KerrySenate198420
GoreHouse197616
DoleHouse196026
DukakisGovernor197414
MondaleSenate196412 (to VP)
FordHouse194827 (to VP)
McGovernHouse195616
HumphreySenate194816 (to VP)
Mayor194519 (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.)

CandidateFirst Major OfficeYearShelf life
Cainnone-0
Kargernone-0
Moorenone-0
PalinGovernor20066½ ½ ½
BachmannHouse20066
HuntsmanGovernor20048
RomneyGovernor200210
PawlentyGovernor200210
McCotterHouse200210
PerryGovernor200012
JohnsonGovernor199418
GiulianiMayor199319
SantorumHouse199022
RoemerHouse198032
GingrichHouse197834
PaulHouse197636

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.

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