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Who passes the 2016 Presidential “Freshness” Test?

Christopher Harris

According to the “Presidential Freshness Test” of National Journal writer, Jonathan Rauch, a Presidential candidate has 14 years from the time they are first elected to National or Statewide Office, to make it into the White House as either the President of Vice-President, otherwise they missed their window of “Freshness” with the American electorate. As it relates to “Presidential Freshness”, the definition of “National Office” is U.S. Senator, and the definition of “Statewide Office” is to be a State Governor. Apparently, with the exception of war winning generals, the electorate doesn’t seem to care too much for elevating any other type of people into the Oval Office.

Mr. Rauch found this to be true, ever since the start of the “modern Presidency” with President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. No one is elected to the Presidency without experience in high elective office, with generals who win a major war (and, for some reason, Herbert Hoover) being the only significant exception, most likely because you are considered to be “Too Fresh”. Americans apparently like to know that the person who is going to be Commander-in-Chief, Head of State, and Chief Executive Officer, has at least been ankle deep in the waters of American politics before we toss them into the deep end.

High Dive - UA edit

So with that in mind, as of January 2015, here is a list of 12 of the “most likely” Republican Presidential candidates, the office they currently (or formerly) held,  their First Elected Date, and their “Freshness Date/Status”.

2016 Republican Candidates - 2 - LIKELY CANDIDATES - UA edit


Ben Carson: Never held elected office = Too Fresh

Bobby Jindal: Governor of Louisiana – First Elected (U.S. House of Representatives) in 2004 = Fresh until 2018 **Jindal didn’t reach Statewide office until he was elected Governor in 2007. Technically speaking = Fresh until 2021**

Chris Christie: Governor of New Jersey – First Elected (Governor) in 2010 = Fresh until 2024

Jeb Bush: Former Governor of Florida – First Elected (Governor) in 1998 = Stale as of 2012

John Kasich: Governor of Ohio – First Elected (U.S. House of Representatives) in 1982 = Stale as of 1996 **Kasich didn’t reach Statewide office until he was elected Governor in 2010. Technically speaking = Fresh until 2024**

Mike Huckabee: Former Governor of Arkansas – First Elected (Governor) 1998 = Stale as of 2012 **Huckabee was Lt. Governor of Arkansas, and became Governor in 1996, when the current Governor, Jim Guy Tucker (D) was convicted of fraud and had to resign his office.**

Mike Pence: Governor of Indiana – First Elected (U.S. House of Representatives) in 2000 = Stale as of 2014 **Pence didn’t reach Statewide office until he was elected Governor in 2012. Technically speaking = Fresh until 2026**

Mitt Romney: Former Governor of Massachusetts – First Elected (Governor) in 2002 = Fresh until 2016 **Mitt Romney successfully gained the RNC Presidential nomination in the 2012 Primaries, but lost the General Election to the incumbent President, Barack Obama, by 65,918,507 (51.01%) Popular Votes to 60,934,407 (47.15%), and 332 Electoral Votes (61.7%) to 206 (38.3%)**

Rand Paul: U.S. Senator from Kentucky – First Elected (Senator) in 2010 = Fresh until 2024

Rick Perry: Former Governor of Texas – First Elected (Governor) in 2000 = Stale as of 2014

Scott Walker: Governor of Wisconsin – First Elected (Governor) in 2010 = Fresh until 2024

Ted Cruz: U.S. Senator from Texas – First Elected (Senator) in 2012 = Fresh until 2026

One of the vagaries of this “Freshness Test” is that the clock stops for a candidate if they make it into the Vice-Presidency within that 14-year period, as was the case with President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, so his “Freshness” would have expired in 1962. Lucky for him, Kennedy tapped him to be his Vice-President in 1960, thus, preserving his “Freshness”. You will note that some of the men on the list above have exceptions on their “Freshness”, because they were previously U.S. Representatives, which would normally qualify as “National Office”. However, according to the “Freshness Test”, that doesn’t necessarily count, maybe because most Americans don’t know who most U.S. Representatives are, beyond their own Representative. So with that in mind, it must be noted that Lyndon B. Johnson was elected as a U.S. Representative in 1936, and served in the House until he got elected to the Senate in 1948. So if the clock started with being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he would have been “stale” by 1950.

The same applies for President Richard M. Nixon. He was elected to the U.S House of Representatives in 1946, and served there until he got elected to the Senate in 1950. He was tapped as the Vice-Presidential running mate of eventual President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952, and served two terms as Vice-President, so his “Freshness” clock stopped in 1952 at 2 years (6 years if you count his time in the House of Representatives). But the clock started again in 1960, and he lost that election to eventual President, John F. Kennedy. He unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California in 1962, and after that crushing defeat, he sat out of politics, until he decided to run for President again in 1968. At that point, his clock was at 10 years (14 years with his House time), so theoretically speaking, if he had lost in 1968, he may have still been considered to be “Fresh” enough for a last shot in 1972.

It’s interesting to note that President George H.W. Bush is the only exception in the modern Presidency to have transitioned from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Oval Office, without first stopping off as a U.S. Senator or a Governor. But even with him, if you apply the “Freshness Test”, he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1966, so his 14th year of eligibility was up in 1980, which is when he was picked to be the Vice-President to President Ronald Reagan.

I first heard of this “Freshness Test” back in 2003, and as a history and politics junky, I was fascinated. I started using it to determine who would be the best Republican candidates, and the likely winner in 2008, because I was actively seeking to work (and did end up working) on a Presidential campaign.  At that point in my life, and in my thinking, my research lead me to become a supporter of Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee. Using the “Freshness Test”, I knew that once Arizona Senator, John McCain, won the nomination, he was going to lose the general election, because he was “Stale”. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives back in 1982, and then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. So at best, his “Freshness” was over in 2000, when he ran for the RNC nomination, and lost out to Texas Governor, George W. Bush, who obviously became President.

So when you look at this list of 12 candidates, you will see that the field is rather deep with “Fresh” candidates. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Scott are the only “Stale” candidates; and Ben Carson is the only “Too Fresh” candidate. I would say that a field of eight “Fresh” candidates, with six of them having gubernatorial experience, should make for a strong field of qualified people to choose from. Now, WE, THE PEOPLE, just have to make sure to choose a candidate who is an “Ice Cold Conservative”, you know, “THE REAL THING”, because the mushy-middle is where Republicans go to die, and how the RNC loses elections. Stay Fresh, and Stay Conservative.

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