A Firm "No" Won't Stop 2012 Questions for Some

A Firm "No" Won't Stop 2012 Questions for Some

By Scott Conroy - November 9, 2010

In January of 2006, Barack Obama had been in Washington for only a year when the late "Meet The Press" host Tim Russert asked the question that had already begun to follow the junior senator from Illinois wherever he went. "So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?"

"I will not," Obama replied.

Obama reversed course on the same TV program nine months later and admitted that he was considering a presidential run, citing the overwhelming encouragement he had received to do so. His originally espoused lack of presidential ambitions never became an issue as his campaign built momentum and ended in the White House.

As the latest presidential campaign cycle takes shape, Obama's metamorphosis from a firm denial of interest to his successful White House bid in 2008 seems to have helped raise the burden of doubt for prominent politicians to deny convincingly their own interest in running for president in 2012.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was elected a year ago and recently left the door open to running for president in 2016, has been more emphatic and consistent in his denials of interest in 2012 than any other Republican whose name has been floated.

Last month, Christie went the Shermanesque route, paraphrasing the Civil War general for whom the political jargon for denial of presidential aspirations was coined: "If nominated, I shall not run. If elected, I shall not serve," Christie said. "How about that? I'll try that one tonight."

But just as Obama was greeted with rock star-like adoration in 2006 as he campaigned for candidates across the country, Christie has engendered similar responses from the Republican rank-and-file. And like Obama, Christie often outshined the GOP candidates for whom he was stumping in the midterm cycle.

The political press has taken note of the Christie phenomenon, and so the presidential inquiries have kept coming. When a reporter in New Jersey popped the question last week, Christie tried expounding upon the reasoning behind his lack of interest.

"I don't feel like I'm ready to be president," he said. "I don't want to run for president. I don't have the fire in the belly to run for president. But yet, everyone seems to think that I've left the door open a little bit."

The clarity of Christie's comments has been hard to argue with, but the apparent amusement he has gleaned in coming up with new ways to say "no," only seems to have further highlighted the presidential question.

"Short of suicide, I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running," Christie said at the recent New Jersey press conference.

That answer might have been enough to satisfy even the most dubious observer, if it didn't so closely echo -- in its own, more colorful way -- Obama's 2006 comment during his "Meet the Press" denial of interest. During that interview, the future president said, "You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things. But my thinking has not changed."

In a briefing with Washington reporters on Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a page out of Christie's playbook by citing the prospect of his own death in denying his own presidential aspirations, explaining away a comment he made recently to a reporter in which he had seemed to leave the door open to leaving office before finishing his third full term in Austin.

"I made reference to I don't know what I'm going to be doing in four years -- the Lord may have a different game plan for me," Perry said. "My point was I may not be alive in four years. Now, my plan is to be alive, and I plan on being the governor of the state of Texas."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also denied interest in running for the office that his father and brother once held. Bush has been able to present as supporting evidence the word of the 43rd President of the United States, who vouched for his brother's earnestness in an interview this week.

"I wish he would," former President George W. Bush told Fox News of Jeb. "He has to run first. And he has made it clear he is not running in 2012. And when the man says, 'I'm not running,' he means it."

Denials of interest in challenging President Obama have not been confined to the GOP, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said that she will not launch a Democratic primary rematch.

"Oh yes, yes," Clinton told a reporter in New Zealand who asked whether she had ruled out another White House run in 2012 or 2016. "I'm very pleased to be doing what I'm doing as secretary of state."

Of course, there is no way for a politician to prove that he or she will not run, and if any of the above mentioned were to reconsider, it might simply be a matter of reverting to the reasoning Obama used in reversing his 2006 pronouncement -- that an unforeseeable popular wave of support made him reconsider.

An online movement to draft Christie is already up and running, and similar organizations have formed to convince other GOP leaders to sacrifice their own espoused lack of ambition and enter the race for the good of the country.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who has for the past two years been up front in admitting that she would "walk through" any "open doors" to the presidency -- has recently encouraged the narrative that she might be just the kind of reluctant warrior who would seize the GOP mantle as a matter of public duty.

"A reason to run is if nobody else were to step up with the solutions that are needed to get the economy back on the right track and to be so committed to our national security that they are going to do all that they can, including fighting those on the extreme left who seem to want to dismantle some of our some of our national security tools that we have in place," Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in September. "If nobody else wanted to step up, Greta, I would offer myself up in the name of service to the public."

Because of her universal name recognition and solidarity with the GOP grassroots, Palin is thought to have more time to mull her presidential decision than other would-be candidates -- a reality that may move the height of the campaign season back a few months from the early winter start it saw on both the Republican and Democratic sides in the 2008 cycle.

Likely candidates including Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour have joined Palin in being upfront about their potential aspirations, but they have also been non-committal and deferential to their potential rivals, particularly in regard to Palin, about whom the would-be candidates have generally spoken glowingly.

But former New York Governor George Pataki, whose name until now has not been one of the most frequently cited among potential contenders, may have signaled a new stage in the jostling for early position when he differentiated his own background from Palin's in an interview on Monday with ABC News' "Top Line."

"It was a challenging job, Mayor of Peekskill, let me assure you," Pataki said of the position he held more than a decade before becoming governor. "Twice the size of Wasilla."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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