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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

The Law of 14

Who will run for president in 2016? I have tried to ignore the question, because as I write this, the election is three years away, for crying out loud! Still, I’m astonished at how many folks think Hillary Clinton is a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Not so fast, reporters, your bias is showing again. At best, Hillary will have to fight somebody to get it, the way she fought Barack Obama in 2008. She has some serious personal flaws, and not too many people are talking about them. I’m not talking about the emotional and political baggage from being in the news headlines for two decades – we all know about that. I’m talking chronology; she’s too old to run for president anymore. By the time 2016 rolls around, she will be 69 years old, the same age Ronald Reagan was when he got elected. Does anybody remember when Democrats thought Reagan was too old to run?

If her age is beyond Hillary's control, so is a shifting in the mood of the voters that I will call the "eight-year itch." Since World War II, voters have tended to re-elect a president if he did not make a big mistake in his first term; but by the eighth year of his presidency, voters are bored not only with him, but also with his party, so the next president usually comes from the major party that was out of power. Here is how it has worked for two-term presidents so far:

Dates Party President(s) Party's next candidate Results
1945-53 Democratic Truman Adlai Stevenson Lost
1953-61 Republican Eisenhower Richard Nixon Lost
1961-69 Democratic Kennedy/Johnson Hubert Humphrey Lost
1969-77 Republican Nixon/Ford Gerald Ford Lost
1981-89 Republican Reagan George H. W. Bush Won (the only exception)
1993-2001 Democratic Clinton Al Gore Lost
2001-2009 Republican George W. Bush John McCain Lost

When we get to 2016, it will be the eighth year that both Obama and the Democrats have been in power, so whoever the Democrats nominate to succeed Obama will have an uphill struggle persuading the voters to choose him/her, instead of giving the Republicans a turn in the White House. George H. W. Bush got elected in Ronald Reagan's eighth year in part because Reagan was so popular, and because his opponent, Michael Dukakis, did not come across as very competent (since then I have not heard anyone suggest that Dukakis would have made a better president than Bush). Obama was popular enough when his presidency began, but I don't think another candidate can ride into the White House on Obama's coattails now--that includes Hillary.

A related problem to the two mentioned above is that by 2016, Hillary will have expired. Politicians may last longer than the food you buy in the supermarket, but they have expiration dates, too. According to columnist Jonathan Rauch, once a politician wins a major office – meaning he is a governor, member of Congress, or mayor of a big city – he has fourteen years to get elected president, before the voters get tired of him and start looking for fresher faces.

So you don’t think I came up with this, I recommend you read Rauch’s column on the subject: Who Can Win in 2004? He wrote it back in 2003, but it’s still relevant. There he gives all the details, all the numbers, involved with the 14-year theory, and they haven’t changed since then. In a nutshell, almost every president, from Theodore Roosevelt onward, became president within fourteen years of when he first achieved one of the major offices mentioned above. Rauch started counting with Teddy because it was at the beginning of the twentieth century when presidential primaries were invented. Before that time, it was mainly party leaders choosing who would get the nomination; the rank and file voters had little or no input on the process. Since then, the only exception to the “Law of 14" has been Lyndon Johnson, because John F. Kennedy picked him for his running mate after he had been in Congress for twenty-three years. Even so, because of the law, we can say that if LBJ had been nominated as the Democratic candidate in 1960, instead of JFK, he would not have beaten Richard Nixon.

The vice presidency is a special case. For some reason the clock stops ticking once somebody becomes vice president, and his years in the number two spot are not added toward the fourteen years he has to become president. Maybe it’s because we don’t pay attention to vice presidents most of the time. But once he leaves the vice presidency, the clock resumes. Probably the best example of how this works came from Nixon, who was elected president twenty-two years after he first ran for Congress, but because he had been vice president for eight years under the Eisenhower administration, only fourteen of those years count, meaning he won exactly on the expiration date.

Now how has the rule held up since 2003? Well, it correctly predicted the winners in both 2004 and 2008. John Kerry had been a senator for twenty years, and John McCain had been one for twenty-six, so both of them were too stale to win. It also gave me an idea of how things would go in 2012. By the time the primaries started, four Republicans were left, and among them, only Mitt Romney was still fresh, having won his first major office ten years earlier. The shelf life had already run out on Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. That would not have kept Santorum, Gingrich or Paul from getting the nomination, but if they had, I would have known right there that the Republicans weren’t going to win. Of course Romney didn’t win either, but for a few weeks the election was too close to call; only Romney had a fighting chance against Obama.

With Hillary, whether you count from when she became first lady (1992) or when she became a senator (2000), she has been in the national spotlight too long to be considered fresh. Sorry Ms. Clinton, by the time the Obama administration is done, you will probably be done, too. Hope you enjoy retirement.

"Politicians are like diapers, both need to be changed often, for the same reason."--Anonymous

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