By Dick Morris - 04/29/14 06:52 PM EDT
Of the last eight people who have won the Republican nomination for president, six ran for the office and lost before they eventually got their party’s nod. To win as a Republican, it would seem you first must lose.
Mitt Romney, John McCainJohn McCainTrump: Illegal immigrants treated better than veterans Trump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money MORE, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon all lost before they won. Only George W. Bush and Gerald Ford won the nomination without first having lost. (And Ford inherited his incumbency and blew it).
The Republican Party is, at heart, a monarchic and legitimist institution. Party leadership is handed down in orderly succession. Rebels and insurgents are typically given short shrift.
In the beginning, Thomas Dewey begat Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower begat Nixon. Nixon begat Ford. Reagan lost to Ford and then, it was his turn. Then Reagan begat Bush-41. Dole had lost to Bush-41 and then, it was his turn to try. Bush-41, literally, begat Bush-43. McCain lost to Bush-43 and then, it was his turn. Romney lost to McCain, and then, his turn came.
What does this predict for 2016? Of the defeated candidates left over from 2012, Rick Santorum is probably too focused on social issues to win. Herman Cain and Michele BachmannMichele BachmannChief strategist of pro-Trump super-PAC guilty in payment scandal GOP operative Ed Rollins joins pro-Trump super-PAC Michele Bachmann trolls Clinton on NYC subway MORE can be dismissed as flashes in the pan and the problems that knocked them out of contention have not gone away. Romney probably won’t get a third chance — even Nixon only got two. Newt Gingrich inflicted too many wounds on others and on himself.
That leaves Rick Perry. He’s acceptable to Latinos, based on his Texas record. He draws strong Tea Party support without being defined by it. A Southerner, he is clearly ready to play on the national stage. A big state governor, his record on jobs has only gotten better. Perry can’t be dismissed.
Will his debate brainlock disqualify him? Not if he doesn’t repeat it. Bill ClintonBill ClintonDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Clinton's ace in the hole: Obama Eric Trump: Clinton 'filled with scandal' MORE recovered from a disastrous 1988 convention speech. He’s probably had enough time to recover from his dismissal of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” in his book.
But Perry has to develop a truly national perspective to win. He can’t forever be repeating “in the state of Texas” before each line.
He needs to know more about issues other than energy. In 2012, he showed the same lack of depth and laziness in issue preparation as Sarah Palin did in 2008, but he wasn’t caught as easily because he’s a man.
In competing for the center of the Republican Party, Perry would face Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Paul RyanPaul RyanSessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon Dole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable MORE.
Bush, the former Florida governor, sure doesn’t sound like he’s running. If he did, he could win. People would blanch at a Bush-Clinton race, but if the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary, the Republicans shouldn’t feel bad about tapping Jeb. But Bush sure doesn’t seem to have the heart for it.
Christie thinks we will all forgive his virtual endorsement of President Obama in the last days of the 2012 contest, but we won’t.
And he’s going to have a hard time surviving his Bridgegate and Port Authority corruption scandals.
Ryan underwhelmed in 2012 as the vice presidential candidate, only breaking even in the Biden debate, and has scarred himself by becoming the poster boy for Medicare vouchers.
Who are the other options? Ted CruzTed CruzDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune MORE and Rand PaulRand PaulLibertarian ticket will get super-PAC support Overnight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules MORE will lock up the Tea Party and the libertarian wings in the early going, but the Republican Party does not usually cotton to insurgents. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio apologized to Trump for 'small hands' crack Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Fla. Senate candidate bashes Rubio MORE has the potential to move to the establishment center and compete, but he has disappointed at crucial times to date.
Scott Walker, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley and some others might emerge as national candidates. Walker, in particular, is interesting because he has been, hands down, the best Republican governor in recent years. He slew the teachers union, freed the schools, funded education, cut taxes, created jobs and survived repeated political assassination attempts. He has the courage, fiber and vision it would take.
But look through the lens of history. Republicans don’t like to take chances. They want their candidates to have served their apprenticeship as losers. The Republican voters are agoraphobic, fearful of new situations and people. It takes them a while to get used to new candidates, so those who have run once and learned their lessons have great appeal.
So keep your eye on Perry.
Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.