Whose turn is it anyway?

A long-time reader wonders who the heir to this year’s Republican nomination really is:

When it has no incumbent to run, the Republican Party almost invariably nominates the candidate who is “next-in-line.” This was true in 2008, 1996, 1988, 1980, and 1968. The only modern exception is 2000, when no next-in-line candidate sought the nomination. That year, the Party nominated the son of its most recent president.

This year, Mitt Romney was considered the next-in-line candidate, and reasonably so. Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee could also plausibly have claimed that mantle, but neither ran.

Power Line’s Steve Hayward spoke for many when (if I recall correctly) he cited Romney’s next-in-line status as a basis for predicting that the Party would nominate the former Massachusetts governor. That prediction looked good after one line-jumper after another (Pawlenty, Bachmann, Perry, and Cain) failed to sustain a challenge to the front-running Romney.

Now, Newt Gingrich has emerged as (presumably) the final challenger. In mounting his challenge, Gingrich is not really line-jumping. Rather, he is reclaiming his place at the front of the line. Gingrich indisputably held that place after the 1996 election. But he had to leave the line a few years later when he was ousted as House Speaker. That is why, as noted above, there was no heir apparent (other than, perhaps, the second Bush) in 2000.

The typical next-in-line Republican candidate isn’t just someone who previously ran unsuccessfully for president. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and (to a lesser extent) John McCain had all served beside a Republican president and/or been in the trenches for years fighting the traditional Republican fight. Mitt Romney cannot really make that claim. Newt Gingrich can, and I believe that many Republican voters give him great credit for that.

Thus, while Romney is this year’s heir apparent, perhaps Gingrich can be deemed the heir not-so-apparent.