Running for No Good Reason

While the Iowa Caucus is more than 26 months away, a lot of energy is being spent by political pundits trying to handicap the 2016 presidential campaign. History has proven, however, that speculation this far out is worth very little. At this point in the last cycle, a CNN poll had Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee combining for 32 percent of the vote for the GOP nomination. That same poll had whomever the Republicans would nominate beating President Obama by a 50–45 percent margin.

In 2006, a Siena College poll found that both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain would defeat Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2008. It would be another three months before Illinois freshman senator Barack Obama declared that he might be open to the possibility of running. At that point, Charles Krauthammer wrote a column declaring that the best thing then-Senator Obama could do was run in 2008 — and lose.

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to recognize the real takeaway from presidential polls conducted this far out. It is not to predict who the eventual nominee will be. Rather, it is to gauge where the party stands on the issues most associated with those politicians.

For example, take Chris Christie and Rand Paul. The New Jersey governor and Kentucky senator have been feuding over the NSA program and whether its current iteration is either constitutional or wise. So when a Rasmussen survey taken after this high-profile spat shows Christie at 21 percent and Paul at 15 percent, with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush sandwiched in between at 18 and 16 percent respectively, it’s fair to say that a larger percentage of Republicans side with the governor.

While at this point most of the “race” is issue-and-personality politics, there is an aspect of this that translates to the actual race as well. President Obama won in 2008 largely on the strength of his personality, and every race seems littered with candidates who are running “issue campaigns.” These campaigns aren’t run to win, but to bring that candidate’s pet issue more exposure.

One of the most extreme examples of this kind of campaign was the one run in 1965 for New York City mayor by conservative legend William F. Buckley. When liberal Republican John Lindsay (who would later become a Democrat) ran for mayor, Buckley, as a means of protesting the liberal takeover of the Republican Party, declared his candidacy on the newly created “Conservative” line. At the press conference, Buckley, with his trademark wit, said that he had no chance of winning, had never considered whether he even wanted to be mayor, and that he expected to get one vote — his secretary’s. He would finish with a mere 13.4 percent of the vote, though many of the ideas he campaigned on have been brought to fruition years later by politicians from both parties.

The potential candidacy of New York Representative Peter King is one such candidacy. King, who Sunday told The Hill that he is “serious” about running in 2016, left very little room for doubt as to why he might run. King has a reputation for being a big-government Republican and a foreign policy hawk and an interventionist. He said that “… [t]his has nothing to do with Rand Paul personally, but I definitely want to keep the party from going the route of what I call the ‘Rand Paul isolationist wing’ of the party.”

There are many problems, however, with the King candidacy. Chief among them is the fact that to run a successful campaign, the candidate himself should not be flawed. As soon as King would get into an actual campaign, a few facts would be exploited by his opponents, which would blunt his ability to get his message across. First off would be the comments he made after Hurricane Sandy, when he declared that “…anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds,” and that his “…relationship with [Republicans in] Congress will never be the same again.” While public criticism of one’s own party can be explained away as acting in the interests of one’s state, like Chris Christie, such pronouncements cross a line that not even the bombastic New Jersey governor would cross. King advocated something that would cause actual damage to the party, and claimed to have a rift that would never be healed.

Furthermore, King’s record on just about everything else just won’t hold up in a Republican primary. In both of the last two sessions of Congress, King’s “conservative score” from the Heritage Foundation was worse than Democrat Jim Matheson of Utah, with two more Democrats passing him this past year. King’s run might be understandable, even despite these handicaps, if he were the only one carrying the “anti-isolationist” banner he is claiming as the reason for thinking about getting into the race. It would only make sense if he were all alone in his thinking in the party, and he felt the need to be, as Bill Buckley wrote about National Review, “…[standing] athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

But as evidenced by the aforementioned Rasmussen poll, Christie, Rubio, and Bush — all three vocal anti-isolationists themselves — are all polling ahead of the isolationist standard-bearer, Rand Paul. All told, at least 55 percent of those surveyed do not agree with Paul’s isolationist views, as they support one of those three.

Which begs the question: What could really be motivating Peter King to run for President? Unless there’s an answer to that question, it’s a safe bet to make that this is all about the hype surrounding a “potential” run, but the actual run will never come to fruition.

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