Get Back to the House!

One of the often overlooked features of the U.S. Constitution is the minimal qualifications for running for office. The Constitution says that any natural-born citizen—male or female—over the age of 35 can be president.

Perhaps we should add one limitation: No current members of the House of Representatives can run for president.

Usually, members of the House are smart enough to realize that they cannot win and would be wasting everyone’s time, but this year there is a crop of House members who think they can win the top slot.

The Republicans have three House members running for president, and I—who am not running for president—have just as much chance of getting elected as any of them. It would be difficult to determine the candidate with the least chance of winning.

Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) ran in 2004 and had no success attracting votes or contributions, but he is running again. His background includes nearly bankrupting the city of Cleveland during his two-year tenure (1977-1979). A survey published in the “American Mayor: The Best and Worst of Big City Leaders,” places Kucinich among the 10 worst mayors in American history. His positions include creating a Department of Peace and Nonviolence and banning the sale, transfer or possession of handguns by civilians.

Duncan Hunter has represented a district in southern California since 1981. His views are generally close to the mainstream views of the Republican Party. He has raised little money and never gets listed in national polls. If he were a senator or a governor, he might have a chance.

Tom Tancredo has represented a northern Colorado district since 1998. His signature issue is immigration, and he presents himself as a hard-line opponent of illegal and legal immigration. He does not register on reputable national polls and his views on immigration are far out of the American mainstream. Given that he is the grandchild of immigrants, his anti-immigration views seem all the more unbelievable. Tancredo could not get elected statewide in Colorado and would lose in most congressional districts in the United States.

Kucinich, Hunter and Tancredo have no chance whatsoever of winning, but if there is a category of less than no chance, Ron Paul would be in that category.

On the personal level, Paul appears to be a decent human being. He is a doctor with a fine reputation. While serving in Congress, he continued delivering babies. He has served in the military and has been married to the same woman for 50 years. Paul supporters cite his backing on Internet sites and the fact that he has raised more than $3 million, with most of that in the bank.

So why can’t he win? First, Americans do not see House members as presidential material. We have only elected one in our history and that was in 1880. Second, he would be 73 at the time of the election, and that is too old for Americans. Third, when he ran for higher office, such as for the Senate in 1984 and as the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1988, he received less than one-half of 1 percent of the popular vote.

Most significantly, Paul’s political views are popular with only a narrow sliver of Americans, and they are far outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party. Paul is the only Republican Party candidate to vote against the Iraq War Resolution, and he sponsored a resolution to repeal the original resolution. Parties change political positions, but not this quickly. Leaders throughout the party have spent considerable energy defending the war. Party activists cannot turn on a dime.

If Paul somehow won the Republican nomination—and I cannot imagine a scenario in which this is possible—it would lead to a remarkably bad defeat for Republicans. He might do better than William Howard Taft’s 23 percent in 1912, but he would probably do worse than Barry Goldwater’s 38 percent in 1964. Large parts of the Republican coalition would sit out the election. Most opponents of the war in Iraq would vote for the Democratic nominee.

Without a reasonably united party coalition and an active get-out-the-vote effort, Republicans in the House and Senate would take serious losses. After Goldwater’s 1964 thrashing, Republicans lost 36 seats, dropping to only 140. With 295 members in 1965-1966, there was a significant liberal majority, and during that session, Congress expanded social programs more than any other two-year period. Thus, the Goldwater campaign led to larger government.

So what does it matter if candidates want to run vanity campaigns? Responsible individuals do not waste the time and money of volunteers. One does not take soldiers into a battle that one cannot win, and one should not do that with volunteers. There is nothing high-minded about wasting people’s time and resources.

More significantly, vanity campaigns waste the American public’s time because the candidates are given an opportunity to participate in television debates and other events. Vanity campaigns also further trivialize the presidential race.

If these candidates are running to change public opinion, they should drop out and write a book. Campaigns are not for shifting public opinion. If they really want to run for president, run first for the Senate or for governor. But don’t run for president because you like the attention.