Who will win the White House? If history is the best predictor of the future, the winner will have sustained a long public career, often over decades. Using the modern presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through George W. Bush as illustrations:
- Franklin D. Roosevelt served in the President’s Cabinet and as Governor of New York;
- Harry S. Truman held the offices of U.S. Senator and Vice President;
- Dwight D. Eisenhower had a very public career as one of history’s most notable generals and as President of Columbia University;
- John F. Kennedy won election to both the U.S. House and Senate;
- Lyndon B. Johnson did the same, but also had a stint as Vice President;
- Richard M. Nixon not only served in both houses, but also as Vice President and as a losing presidential candidate;
- Gerald R. Ford held office in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1946 until replacing President Nixon in 1974;
- Jimmy Carter had a long career in Georgia politics as both a State Senator and Governor;
- Ronald Reagan not only had a public career as an actor, but also as Governor of California;
- George H. W. Bush held numerous offices, including membership in the U.S. House of Representatives, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Envoy to China;
- William Jefferson Clinton served as both Attorney General and Governor of Arkansas; and
- George W. Bush was a two-term Governor of Texas.
But candidates who do not sustain a long public career, such as Wendell Wilkie, the Republican Party’s 1940 standard-bearer, usually come up short, failing to demonstrate to key leaders in politics, the media and interest groups as well as to the public at-large that they have the desire, dedication, intellect, organizational skill and wisdom, among other things, to stay the course and go the distance. In 2004 U.S. Senator John Edwards (D NC), who had served less than one term in the U.S. Senate, ran a credible campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination, but lacked the nation-wide breadth and depth of political and financial contacts to challenge U.S. Senator John Kerry’s (D MA) superior resources, which he had built over a much longer political career.
The complexities of America – political, economic, social, religious, geographic and cultural – make the race for the White House a marathon run and not a 100-yard dash.
For more analysis, please see: Charles W. Dunn, The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership (Prentice-Hall, 2007).