The Royal Road to Romney
Republicans always nominate the runner-up from four years ago. Is Mitt next?
Photograph of Mitt Romney by Scott Olson/Getty Images. Photograph of Newt Gingrich by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
So Herman Cain dropped out of the race. Yawn.
And Newt Gingrich is surging. Yawn again.
Republican primary voters aren't enthused by Mitt Romney. But he is the more disciplined candidate. And he has better organization skills. And a bigger war chest. ... Yawn, yawn and yawn.
If you really want to know how the GOP presidential primary is going to turn out, you don't need much analysis. You didn't have to wait this long, either. Long before trapeze artists Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain ended their acts with spectacular thummps, long before the false springs of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee, long before today’s leading candidates had even declared they were running—all you had to know is that the winner of the GOP presidential primary is the candidate who came in second last time wins this time.
In the last primary, in 2008, Sen. John McCain was the winner. Mitt Romney came in second.
So, yes, it's going to be Romney this time.
Sorry, Tea Party.
(Corollary to the succession rule: If there's a sitting Republican president who can run again, or if there's a Republican vice president, he wins the nomination. By contrast, Democratic nominees are usually not the candidates who came in second in the previous primary, and usually not the early front-runners. Democrats who become president or vice-president, however, usually enjoy the same succession rule as their GOP counterparts.)
Here's the evidence going back three decades.
Ronald Reagan won the nomination in 1980. He had come in second in 1976.
Reagan was still president in 1984, so he won the nomination again.
In 1988, George H. W. Bush, who had been vice president, won the nomination. That year, Sen. Bob Dole came in second.
In 1992, Bush was president, so he was nominated again. After he lost the general election to Bill Clinton, there was an open GOP primary race in 1996. The winner was Dole. Runner up: Pat Buchanan.
In 2000, Buchanan ran as the candidate of the Reform Party. So the GOP picked the next best thing–the eldest son of the last Republican president. George W. Bush won the general election and was president in 2004, so he won that year’s nomination. Sen. John McCain came in second.
In 2008, McCain won the nomination. Romney came in second.