People Who Won’t Get Elected President

While good pundits, especially those with multiple degrees in political science, are supposed to qualify all predictions about elections nearly two years into the future with some sort of disclaimer, I will eschew that convention and predict that the following people will not be elected president in 2008 or thereafter:

I actually like some of these people and it’s not inconceivable one or two of them would make fine presidents. But they’ve got zero chance of getting a major party nomination, let alone winning in November.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Hm. “2008 *or thereafter*” lets you leave Barack Obama off the list … but I’m reminded of one Republican’s comment on Dubya: if you had been making a list of the 50,000 Americans most qualified to be president, he wouldn’t have been on there.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I think it’s more than possible that no sitting representative or senator will be elected to the presidency in 2008.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Dave: Certainly true, although Hillary has a shot because, although she has by most accounts done an excellent job, nobody really thinks of her as a Senator.

    Anderson: I’d have to say that Bush would have been a Top 100 on that list, simply by virtue of having been an effective enough major state governor to get re-elected. At any rate, qualifications in the traditional sense are ancillary to getting elected to political office.

  4. In November of 1996 I sat next to a 20 something young man on a flight to Austin. Making conversation with him, I asked what brought him to Austin. His response was he was going to campaign for Gov. Bush who would be elected president of the US in 2006. As one who was disappointed in the recent election of Clinton in 1996 (and 1992 for that matter), I was still surprised. I was not particularly impressed with Bush Sr. after his recanting of his “no new taxes” pledge. I liked Bush as governor, but didn’t particularly think of him in presidential terms. You know the rest of the history. My doubt/non-consideration was matched by that young man’s fervent conviction, and he was right.

    I think if you looked at the presidential candidates in 1975 or 1991, Carter and Clinton might have made the list in the same sense as Gov Bush being governors of their states, but I don’t think you would have said that’s the guy to win it all (especially Carter).

    But now with multiple 24 hour news channels and blogs, I wonder if the rules on dark horse candidacy haven’t changed. Can you get a ‘Carter’ to come out of left field and win the whole enchilada? If no, then you are 100% right on all those names. If not, then you may get to eat crow.

  5. James Joyner says:


    Clinton was a flawed superstar by the time he ran in 1992. He’d been keynote speaker at the Democratic convention and was a multi-term Democratic governor in a conservative, Southern state.

    I don’t know my 1976 history all that well but Carter was a legitimate social conservative from the South with military bonafides owing to his Naval service and status as a USNA grad. In the post-Watergate, post-pardon arena, that was enough to (barely) win. I agree, though, that he was a dark horse.

    Most of those on my list are deeply flawed in the sense that they’re viewed as kooks or extremists outside their narrow constituencies. Hagel has a certain gravitas but has alienated much of the Republican base.

    I actually rather like Dodd personally and view him as a serious guy. He’s simultaneously too liberal and too unexciting to break through the field, though.

    Huckabee is the most viable name on my list, I think, but I just think he’s got too far to go in the money/name recognition race to win it.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    In my view both Hillary Clinton and John McCain have similar problems. Both are fairly obvious frontrunners who’ve aggravated important parts of their respective parties’ bases. There are differences, too. If Ms. Clinton secures her party’s nomination, I believe she’d lose in the general election. Even in a year in which Democrats will have distinct advantages.

    Although I suspect John McCain could win the general election I suspect he may have problems securing his party’s nomination.

  7. James,

    I remember the 1976 campaign and until he won New Hampshire, he was really not considered a viable candidate. I remember his gimmick was passing out paper bags of peanuts to try and build some voter association with him. You will find about as much coverage of Carter and his chances of winning in 1975 as you will for anyone on your list.

    Clinton, if I remember correctly, was polling in single digits before he took a second place finish in New Hampshire. The candidates had the nick name of “the seven dwarfs” because none of them were that well known and the big names of the day (Cuomo and Gephardt) didn’t want to run against a popular war winning president (talk about your false reads of the political wind). As far as “serious flaws” Clinton had them and has them, but he won anyway.

    I agree that the 50,000 list by Anderson is a clear case of partisan hype. You may be right on the “top 100” number just because coming up with 100 current/former senators/governors from one party who might be possibly considered would have swept him in. But the field of candidates is much smaller than that 100. In November of 1996, Bush wouldn’t have made my own top 20 list. But the beauty of the dark horse campaign is that it allows for someone to “come out of no where”. Certainly just about every one on your list qualifies from that perspective (at least outside of the political chattering class). But can someone still do that today?

  8. James Joyner says:


    True on the ’92 field. Still, Clinton was widely seen as a rising star. The feeling was that ’92 was about “getting his feet wet” to make a more serious run later. Ross Perot and the total implosion of Bush 41’s administration made him suddenly viable.

    It’s true that Dubya was a footnote in 1996, although he was an instant front-runner in 2000 because of his reputation as a consensus builder. Indeed, it was McCain who came out of nowhere that year to make it at least interesting.

    I do think things have changed. For one thing, running to establish name recognition and viability for a future race may not work now, as losers are considered damaged goods. We’ll see how Edwards does, I guess, but my sense is he has little traction.

    McCain may be the exception there, as losing in 2000 doesn’t seem to have hurt him. Then again, I honestly don’t think he has that strong a shot at the nomination, despite his frontrunner status.

  9. Christopher says:

    James: why would anyone ever get “multiple degrees” in political science, and what does that degree have to do with qualifications fro prez????.

    YAJ: Bush was elected prez in 2006??? wow that means we have him till 2011. Thank God!

  10. Pepper says:

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