One of the worst things that can happen to a presidential nominee is being forced to look over his shoulder at the candidates he beat out for the partys nod -- and see that they are still running.
Mitt Romney does not want to see the likes of Rick Santorum and Herman Cain at the Republican convention in Tampa focusing on the Iowa and New Hampshire delegates.
When the Republicans met in San Diego back in 1996 to nominate Bob Dole, some of the candidates who came up short in the primaries -- namely Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander but also Alan Keyes and even Pat Buchanan -- continued to work the crowds. All four of them ran for the Republican nomination again in 2000.
While Republicans generally feel better about Romneys chances of toppling Barack Obama than they did about taking down Bill Clinton in 1996, some familiar faces show no signs of heading to the political sidelines.
After breaking out of the second tier of candidates to win 11 states before bowing out and backing Romney, Santorum announced earlier in the month that he would launch a new political organization which has already been active in trying to shape the GOP, including backing Dan Liljenquists primary to longtime U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Santorum has also remained active tending his social conservative base. Earlier this month, he spoke to a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event in Chicago and a Faith and Freedom Conference meeting in Washington.
Nor does Newt Gingrich show any signs of fading away. Gingrich was very active in supporting Gov. Scott Walkers successful efforts to beat back a recall effort in Wisconsin. The former congressional leader has also continued his publishing efforts including a new book in which he fleshes out his campaign argument that gas prices can be lowered to $2.50 a gallon.
Businessman Herman Cain, who did not even get to the starting gate in Iowa, also shows no signs of heading to the showers. Cain has been active with his own organizations, backing candidates in competitive Republican primaries including former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux over U.S. Rep. Connie Mack and the field in the GOP battle to see who will take on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Even Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whose bid for the Republican nomination ranks as one of the biggest flops in recent political memory, has expressed interest in running again in 2016 or down the road. Ironically enough, the only candidate still in the race against Romney -- U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- is probably the one who concerns him the least, despite the fact that there are no signs that the Lone Star State congressman will endorse him. Paul is 76 and has already announced that he will not seek another term to Congress.
If Obama holds a sizeable lead over Romney when the Republicans convene in Tampa at the end of August, you can expect the once and possible future presidential hopefuls to be out in full force. And they have good reason to be. History shows that, when it comes to nominating a presidential candidate, Republicans generally prefer whoever is next in line.
Every now and then a Republican emerges with his partys presidential nomination having never won it before -- but its rare. George W. Bush did it but he inherited the name and brand of his father. Richard Nixon did it back in 1960 but he had been on the ticket twice before as Dwight Eisenhowers running mate. And yes, Ike did it back in 1952 but he was a war hero. Otherwise Republicans only nominate a first-time candidate under special circumstances: Gerald Ford in 1976 when he was the incumbent, Barry Goldwater in 1964 when he led conservatives against Nelson Rockefeller, and Wendell Wilkie in 1940 when he was the only GOP hopeful who called for an internationalist foreign policy to stop the dangers of Nazi Germany.
Otherwise Republicans go with familiar candidates who have sought the presidency before. After losing out to John McCain in 2008, Romney won the nomination. McCain lost out to George W. Bush in 2000 before being nominated eight years later. A whole host of other Republicans -- Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Thomas Dewey, Herbert Hoover -- came up short in their first bids for the GOP nomination to win later down the road.
While Romney wants to unify the party in Tampa, it does not help if the likes of Santorum and Cain have too big a spot at the convention. If Republicans focus more on what will happen four years down the road instead of in November -- as happened in 1996 -- its a bad sign for Mitt Romneys presidential hopes.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.