Presidential Long Shot Hall of Fame: Donald Rumsfeld
January 24, 2007
Donald Rumsfeld is a household name in America (at least for another few weeks), but what most people don’t know is that at one point he was considered a rising star of the Republican party. A congressman, New Trier graduate, and former Nixon bureaucrat, Rumsfeld rose to prominence during the Ford administration, first as White House Chief of Staff and later as Secretary of Defense. During the Nixon/Ford era, Rumsfeld picked up a reputation as a master bureacratic in-fighter. Rumsfeld even found himself in a rivalry with another young Washington insider: George H.W. Bush. Both men were considered for the VP slot under Ford (eventually going to Nelson Rockefeller) and both men were clearing eyeing the presidency. Rumsfeld got the early upper-hand by exiling Bush to the CIA, but Bush would best him for Reagan’s VP in 1980. Rumsfeld temporarily cut and run on his presidential ambitions, remaining relatively inactive for most of the Reagan years (oh yeah, except for this). By 1985, however, he was ready for another round with Bush, making preparations to secure the Republican nomination in 1988.
So why is it history does not speak of an epic clash of titans between Bush and Rumsfeld? Because Rumsfeld dropped out in April of 1987. For you math whizzes out there, that’s almost a year before the first primaries. The hall of fame generally frowns upon long shots who actually drop out before it becomes embarrassing, but Rumsfeld’s withdrawal sported a great deal of panache. In a letter to his supporters, Donny remarked that “for a dark horse, the probable imbalance of revenues and expenses early in the campaign raises the specter of a deficit of several millions of dollars.” While that letter features far too many five dollar words for a presidential candidate, it underscores the real weakness of a Rumsfeld candidacy: he didn’t want to raise any money. Rumsfeld made the decision that asking other people for money was demeaning for a man of his stature. Apparently, he entered the race for President of the United States thinking that he wouldn’t have to spend much time raising money. People would, you know, just spontaneously recognize his superior abilities and the masses would demand that he rule over us with grace and magnificence. The donors would flock to his cause unbidden; selling their dearest possessions to finance the glorious ascendancy of Donald Rumsfeld. It’s almost as though Rumsfeld had willfully ignored, oh, every presidential election since Washington.
So why is Rumsfeld getting enshrined in the hall, you might ask? It is true that we here at the Salad appreciate his verbose style, rejection of glad-handing politics, and laziness of epic proportions. Those alone, however, are not enough to secure immortality. The real reason is that, true to his style, Rumsfeld’s getting the last laugh. As an architect of the Iraq War, Rumsfeld has virtually guaranteed that nobody will look back on the Bush presidencies with any sort of fondness. Just like Ahab got his whale, Rumsfeld finally got the Bushes.
From hell’s heart, we salute at thee, Donald Rumsfeld!