John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Who Will Take The Crown

Posted on June 9, 2015
American Pharoah.jpg

"American Pharoah" by Maryland GovPics - 2015 Preakness Stakes. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

(This originally appeared in The Hill)

Who is the Republican version of American Pharoah?

It’s been 37 years since the last Triple Crown winner. It’s hard to find a horse that combines the speed necessary to be able to win the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby and the endurance to be able to win the Belmont Stakes.

Similarly, it’s hard to find a candidate for the White House who can appeal to farmers in Iowa, flinty Yankees in New Hampshire and Southern Baptists in South Carolina. 

There were 22 horses that entered the Kentucky Derby this year, including one named Far Right, another named International Star and still another named War Story.

The Republican field is similarly crowded, with the far right well represented. There are no certified war heroes this time around, unlike in 1988, 1996 and 2008, but South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham served honorably in the Air Force and just retired as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

American Pharoah came from behind to win a squeaker in the first leg of the Triple Crown, went wire to wire on a muddy track in the Preakness, and outlasted the competition on beautiful day to easily win the final leg at the Belmont.

It’s usually said that there are three tickets out of Iowa for the GOP primary. The last two legs of the Triple Crown had more than three horses, but far fewer than 22.

Bloodlines are every bit as important in politics as they are in horse racing. Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby in 2009, sired American Pharoah. George H.W. Bush sired both W. and Jeb, and Ron Paul sired Rand.

It’s not clear if the political bloodlines will help or hurt Bush, the former Florida governor, and Paul, the Kentucky senator, with primary voters, but they definitely help with fundraising and campaign organization.

American Pharoah had an accomplished team helping him win the Crown. The jockey, Victor Espinoza, and the trainer, Bob Baffert, had a long history of competing and winning in Triple Crown events. In other words, they know what they are doing.

Similarly, a presidential campaign needs accomplished hands to help run the candidate around the track. Attracting political talent is every bit as important as raising money at this stage in the game. Most with deep experience won’t waste their time on political long shots, although Ed Rollins did once work for Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota representative who ran in 2012, and Ed Brookover is working for Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon making a 2016 bid.

Unless you are an incumbent, winning the Republican presidential primary Triple Crown is just about impossible.

Ronald Reagan lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush in 1980. George H.W. Bush lost Iowa to Bob Dole in 1988. John McCain beat George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000 but lost Iowa and South Carolina. Mike Huckabee won just Iowa in 2008. In 2012, Mitt Romney won only New Hampshire of the Triple Crown primaries.

So, we can pretty much declare right now that none of the candidates running next year are going to sweep the GOP primaries — there will be no Triple Crown winner among this crowd.

But we can draw some conclusions about who the Republicans will select as their nominee, based on some of American Pharoah’s characteristics.

First, the winning horse will have a strong team supporting him (or her). Second, that winner will have to be able to get out of the gate quickly, especially in the first race. Third, the champion will have to show he or she can triumph in all conditions, no matter the weather. Fourth, the nominee will have to have the ability to come from the back of the pack. And fifth, the winner needs to have the stamina to survive the long race that characterizes the presidential Triple Crown.

Who will be the Republican American Pharoah? Ultimately, that’s for the voters to decide.

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