The GOP’s 2016 Dark Horse: This Guy?!
It’s that magic time before a presidential election when politicians with a ghost of a dream start visiting New Hampshire. First up: former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich.
The days may be getting shorter and the nights colder, but for politicians dreaming of a long shot presidential campaign, spring is here already.
It’s the season of hope, new beginnings, and first visits to early primary states for this crowd, and one of the first out of the gate is former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich, who spent the weekend in New Hampshire. A Republican who served four terms in the House of Representatives in a suburban Baltimore swing district and in 2002 became the first GOP governor of his ferociously liberal state in almost 40 years, Ehrlich might seem like a sure fire presidential contender. But he lost his bid for reelection in 2006 to Martin O’Malley and then again in a 2010 comeback attempt.
Still, Ehrlich, who now works at the Washington law firm King & Spalding, harbors aspirations of having “a voice in the party.” So when the former governor received an invitation to appear at a Granite State lobster bake and a local GOP dinner, he took advantage of it—but only after making sure that his two sons’ football teams wouldn’t have particularly tough opponents that weekend.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Ehrlich seemed cognizant of the political implications of his trip to New Hampshire. He was told it had gone well, he said, and he has already received two more invitations to the Granite State. But he has decided to take things in small steps. He “enjoyed the visit,” he said, but he is aware that “obviously [New Hampshire residents] don’t know who I am.” Ehrlich said he sees his big advantage as being able to talk about his 2013 book, America: Hope for Change, which he said “really helps” and which features a blurb from former New Hampshire governor John Sununu.
Ehrlich contrasted his event with the far more publicized trip to Iowa of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, joking that “we didn’t talk and check schedules.” The big difference between the two events, he quipped, was that her appearance at the Harkin Steak Fry was “preplanned” and he was just “invited.” Ehrlich didn’t hesitate to take a jab at Clinton, though, noting that “she’s got a lot to explain over past the six years.”
The former Maryland governor also talked about the Republican Party’s need to heal its internal divides and make peace between the establishment and conservative wings of the party. Both factions agree on the substances “87 percent of the time,” he said, and “shouldn’t let tactical differences divide.” The lack of unity is “inexcusable and lets our party down,” he said. But that lack of unity may be what gives Ehrlich an opportunity.
In today’s fractured GOP, there may be more room for dark-horse candidates to emerge from the chaos. With a half dozen social conservatives, from Dr. Ben Carson to Sen. Ted Cruz, jockeying for position, and the perceived candidates of the establishment, like Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio, suffering from self-inflicted wounds, the political news cycle seems to churn through frontrunners. In 2012, politicians once considered has-beens like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum took turns surging into first place and had real shots at becoming the GOP nominee. Then again, for every success story like Santorum—and even then it’s hard to call finishing second a success—there are dozens of Dan Quayles and Jim Gilmores who failed to make any sort of political comeback by running for president.
Looking ahead, Ehrlich said he thinks “some really blunt talk is needed” in the coming presidential campaign. The question is whether he’ll be one of the Republicans sharing that blunt talk with the country. In the meantime, 2015 is a long way away, and Ehrlich still has to catch the rest of his sons’ football games this season.