Eight Paths to the Presidential Nomination
By Jerome Grossman
1) Control the party apparatus. This virtually guarantees nomination to incumbent presidents or to candidates like Walter Mondale, whose supporters were in key positions in 1984 to help him repel Gary Hart’s challenge.
2) Gain the allegiance of a personal national constituency. Building up such cadres over the years was the key to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s success in 1932 and Ronald Reagan’s in 1980.
3) Ride the crest of an overwhelming issue. The Vietnam War dominated national consciousness when George McGovern won nomination in 1972 by adopting a peace platform.
4) Engage in a permanent campaign. This requires lots of free time and plenty of early money. John F. Kennedy waged a perpetual campaign from 1956 to1960, as did Jimmy Carter between 1974 and 1976.
5) Run as a national hero. Hero credentials propelled Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, and George Washington to the presidency. Do we have any national heroes?
6) Win Americans’ hearts with charismatic oratory. In U.S. political life, politics and entertainment have always been intertwined. Fiery orator William Jennings Bryan was a three-time nominee. Everyone acknowledges Ronald Reagan’s communications skills.
7) Become indispensable to party victory by representing a key region or constituency. Ticket balancing caters to regionalism and the craving for victory at any ideological price. Lyndon Johnson was supposed to bring the South and Southwest to Kennedy as John Nance Garner did for Roosevelt in 1932. In 1980 Reagan asked George Bush to be his running mate to satisfy moderate Republicans, then still a force in the party.
8) Be struck by lightning. Occasionally it happens. Wendell Willkie came out of nowhere in 1940, as did Gary Hart in 1984. The media are usually the lightning, striking the candidate whom they think is salable, who represents the American ideal. This typically means a man who is tall, handsome, of athletic appearance, not too old, with a full head of hair. Lightning doesn’t strike just anyone.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are two presidential contests – for the nomination and for the election. Each has a different electorate. For the nomination, party activists and issue-oriented ideologues tend to dominate. For the general election, personality is much more important.
People run for president for all sorts of reasons – to achieve national visibility, to be considered for vice president, to prepare for the next national election, to become a celebrity, etc. One recent candidate even ran to forestall federal indictment. A potential candidate who is only interested in winning ought to engage in self-examination to see if he or she qualifies for a trip down one of the historic eight paths to glory.