POLITICAL JUNKIES LONG FOR REAL CONVENTION FIGHT
Toward the end of eight years of Democratic rule in the White House, the governor and junior senator of the bedrock Republican state in the nation both are angling for the GOP presidential nomination. What will happen?
I don’t know about Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in 2016, but I can tell you about Gov. John Bricker and Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio in 1940. As Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms were drawing to a close, with many Americans doubting he would seek a third term, Bricker and Taft were both among many hot prospects for the Republicans, and a clash seemed inevitable.
The problem was solved when Bricker decided to stay in Columbus and let Taft try to follow his father, William Howard Taft, into the White House. Such was not to be: The sudden enthusiasm for Wendell Willkie at the party’s 1940 convention in Philadelphia dashed Taft’s hopes, for that year, at least.
Then came 1944, with FDR seeking a fourth term. Another Ohio donnybrook was averted by Taft’s need to run for re-election to the Senate. He deferred that year to Bricker, who ran for and lost the presidential nomination to Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Dewey then made Bricker his running mate on a ticket crushed by Roosevelt in the fall.
In 1948, it was Taft’s turn again, and he failed to deny Dewey a second chance at the nomination. Taft would run again in 1952 (when Bricker, then a senator, sought re-election), but it would be his final try. He lost to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and died of cancer the next year.
There have been other intrastate presidential candidacies since those days, though none as tense as the Taft-Bricker rivalry once was.
In 1968, freshman Gov. Ronald Reagan was the “favorite son” of the California delegation to the GOP convention in Miami Beach. There he staged a last-minute, unsuccessful challenge to Richard Nixon, who had been congressman and senator from California before becoming Eisenhower’s vice president in 1953. But, after losing the governorship so spectacularly in 1962, Nixon had moved to New York and largely cut ties to his native state.
The Republican presidential contest in 1980 saw two Texans oppose each other. But John Connally, a former governor and a former Democrat, faded before the big showdown between George H.W. Bush and Reagan in the Texas Republican primary that May. At the GOP convention in Detroit, Reagan put his ex-rival on the GOP ticket, and, unlike Dewey-Bricker almost four decades earlier, Reagan-Bush won in a landslide.
In addition to Perry and Cruz, there may be other in-state rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
There are Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida; Gov. Scott Walker and US Rep. Paul Ryan in Wisconsin; and, an echo of 1940, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio.
In all these cases, the battle for control of a state’s delegation to the GOP national convention in Cleveland likely will be averted by one or both candidates’ dropping out of the race or by some sort of Bricker-Taft arrangement, whereby turns are taken.
Political junkies have been denied a real fight at a major-party convention for a very long time, because nominations are wrapped up in primaries months before the first gavel falls. But that won’t stop us from having fun with the speculation game.