“I would say the model hasn’t changed much since Nixon was clawing his way back from the wilderness,” said Republican consultant Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who knows a bit about comebacks himself; his career nearly imploded in 2006 when his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff came to light.
Reed was referring to the six years between Richard M. Nixon’s 1962 defeat in the California gubernatorial race and his presidential victory in 1968. He traveled widely, wrote and played the loyal party soldier campaigning for other Republican candidates.
In 2012, members of the political class who want to return to office may be seeking a similar strategic mix of visibility, base-building and, in some cases, wealth.
A seat on the board
For many politicians who are between offices, corporate boards and the financial industry have long been perches of choice. Sixty-six Fortune 1000 companies have a former member of Congress on their boards, according to an analysis of business filings by the Web site Muckety. Two dozen former governors are also directors.
With annual pay and stock awards often in the low six figures for just a few days of work, such posts are attractive to former officeholders seeking time to regroup politically. In exchange, companies benefit from big names, whose calls are taken by prospective clients or who can sometimes smooth out regulatory bumps.
Huntsman, a former Utah governor, deputy U.S. trade representative, and ambassador to China and Singapore, joined the Ford board shortly after dropping out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination in January.
He hardly needs the dough: His filings during the campaign reported as much as $66 million in assets. But the board seat is a way for him to stay in the middle of the conversation on issues such as manufacturing, trade and competitiveness. And for a car company interested in Asian markets, Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin, is an asset.
A spokesman said Huntsman’s schedule over the next few weeks would not allow for an interview.
Few ex-officeholders have taken to the boardroom as readily as Jeb Bush, who has been on every short list of possible Republican presidential contenders since finishing his second term as governor of Florida in 2007.
He is a director of at least six companies — involved in a range of businesses from timber to hospital linens — and served as a paid adviser to Lehman Brothers at the time of its 2008 collapse. He is a senior adviser to Barclays Capital and has his own consulting firm, Jeb Bush and Associates. A Bush spokesman did not respond to an interview request.