WASHINGTON -- For more than 60 years with hardly a break, the Republican Party has chosen as its standard-bearer someone who has been able to claim it's his turn. Not since military hero Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio, whose supporters so contended in 1952, has a conspicuous outsider run away with the prize.
Patience nearly always has been rewarded for party stalwarts, whether it was Richard Nixon in 1960, Barry Goldwater in 1964, Nixon again in 1968, Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980, the senior George Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, the junior George Bush in 2000, John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012.
Rockefeller, the favorite of the party's Eastern establishment but widely abhorred or mistrusted by Republicans elsewhere. Ford was nominated as the incumbent in 1976 over Reagan, but the California governor handily bounced back four years later. The junior Bush swept the 2000 primaries with a huge campaign treasury and a reputation in Texas of being a magnet for needed Hispanic voters. Romney was nominated in his second try.
All these confirm that the Grand Old Party pretty much remains a conservative club in which seniority -- and marking time -- are the way to nomination. Those who stand and take their place in line are rewarded for faithfulness and adherence to the principles of the fraternity.
Of course there have been intramural squabbles of the sort that pitted Goldwater as Mr. Conservative and Rockefeller as Mr. Liberal at San Francisco in 1964, wherein the flammable Barry ignited the crowd with his memorable declaration that "extremism in the defense of liberty is not vice" and "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
His scorching defeat in the general election helped convince party elders to take a more moderate course four years later, with Nixon waiting in the wings. The rejected 1960 nominee effectively channeled the Goldwater ire against Vietnam War protesters in 1968 and narrowly defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey, who loyally clung to support of President Lyndon Johnson's conduct of the war until the 11th hour.
Eventually Reagan's conservatism with a smile found an enduring home in the GOP, but not until he too had to wait his turn, as the accidental president, Ford, warded off his challenge for the nomination in 1976. Reagan returned in 1980 and 1984 with smashing victories, followed by the two nominations of his vice president, the senior George Bush, whose presidency some hoped would amount to a third Reagan term but didn't measure up.
The old boy network remained in charge in 1996 when the sharp-tongued but clever Bob Dole was given the honor of running against a recharged Bill Clinton, and fell far short. The sentiment that Dole had earned the nomination for all his years in the conservative cause gave him that dubious day in the sun, and he continues as one of the club's most respected members.
In 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney doggedly awaited his turn but probably was just too much the model of the rich business executive to shake his image as a country-club Republican with an unfortunate penchant for verbally reinforcing the clichÃ©.
Which brings us to the current crop of 2016 hopefuls, none of whom has really been waiting in line long enough or prominently enough to claim the mantel of past national service. Of the prospective field -- Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz -- none has yet developed the credentials to claim rightfully to be next in line. Only former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush seems to have the bloodlines for the next presidential race, and the Bush colors may be distinctly a mixed blessing.
As for all of them, none has laid out a distinctive issue platform that sets him apart from the pack, with the exception of Paul of Kentucky, widely labeled a libertarian but also a prominent member of the tea party movement. Building a credible bridge to the Republican country club is no simple task, but he seems to be making headway as a freshman senator apparently not interested in waiting his turn.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at email@example.com.)
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