It has been interesting to watch the Republican presidential race unfold. Without a doubt, a few of the candidates entered the race without ever thinking they could be nominated or elected president. Was it selfish to do so? Was it just a cold, calculated career-management ploy? Are they egomaniacs? Why people run for president these days is hard to guess. But for the most part, running for president is almost never a bad career move. John Edwards and a few others probably have their regrets, but by and large, your stature and marketability are enhanced by running for president. It’s probably never been classically “courageous” to do so. People run because they want the job.
Karl Rove has said, “Never question your opponent’s motives for running for office; assume they are the same as yours.”
Now the race has developed to where a few of the candidates must know they’re not going to win. Would it be courageous, or simply the right thing to do, to drop out? At what point are the contributions and sacrifices you have called on others to make on behalf of your candidacy outweighed by the pointlessness of continuing in the race?
Most of the self-sacrifice in politics is done by the activists and foot soldiers who really do pass up college and careers, children’s birthday parties and Halloween costumes to work for the candidate they are committed to. Campaigns don’t lend themselves to great acts of courage by the candidates.
However, being president often requires great acts of courage. Ronald Reagan was not courageous to run against incumbent Gerald R. Ford in the Republican primaries in 1976, but as Carter points out, Reagan was courageous to boldly work with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to try to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Is there a courageous leader in the Republican field today? Did Jon Huntsman show courage by “acknowledging the obvious,” as I wrote when he dropped out? The fact is, we don’t know if there is a Reagan in the field, and we probably won’t until many years after that person’s term as president.
Which brings us to the South Carolina Republican Party, which resembles more of a knife fight than a noble duel. In order to be courageous as president tomorrow, you have to win today’s knife fight. It’s not pretty, but it’s how our presidents are made.