The Corner

Politics & Policy

Catching the Ball

Bill Clinton on a Midwest swing in 1992 (Blake Sell / Reuters)

In my Impromptus today, I have an item about ambition and opportunity. I talk about the presidential race coming up in 2020, while glancing back at some races past. “Strange things happen in politics,” I say — and do they ever.

Consider the Trump campaign in 2016. Bob Ehrlich, the former governor of Maryland, later published a book called “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming.” Consider Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Both Trump and Macron won the presidency of their country in their first run for office — any office. (And Macron did it outside the major parties.)

I have something to share with you in my post here, but, before I do, I have to paste a paragraph from today’s column — so as to set up the Main Event. Here’s that paragraph:

I think of 1992, the Democratic primaries. Very few wanted to run, because President Bush (41) looked so formidable. But there was a governor of Arkansas who wanted to be president, and he was going to run come hell or high water, dammit. So he did. He had weak opposition: a little-known ex-senator, Paul Tsongas, and a few others …

A reader wrote me to recall a Saturday Night Live sketch. Which one? Here, from November 1991. It’s hilarious. It also illustrates my point (which is nice).

The sketch is headed “Campaign ’92: The Race to Avoid Being the Guy Who Loses to Bush.” A debate is about to take place, or at least a forum of some kind. The moderator comes from the League of Women Voters. She says, “Welcome to this, the first of a series of debates among the five leading Democrats who are trying to avoid being forced by their party into a hopeless race against President George Bush. Most of them have already announced that they’re not interested in the nomination. But each, of course, is under enormous pressure to be the chump who will take on the futile task of running against this very, very popular incumbent.”

Five people are assembled: Bill Bradley, who sports a button that says “Stop Bradley”; Dick Gephardt, who sports a button saying “Gephardt” with a diagonal line through it; Lloyd Bentsen, whose button says “Anybody but Bentsen”; Tipper Gore, representing her husband, and wearing a button that says “Just Say No to Gore”; and Mario Cuomo: “I [Heart] NY.”

The moderator notes that several people have already announced for the Democratic nomination, including Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin, and Jerry Brown. She does not name Bill Clinton (who had announced in October, a month before the sketch).

Let me quote from my column once more: “Fortune favors the bold. You never know. ‘Never up, never in,’ we say in golf. And when others are standing on the sidelines, there is an opportunity for you.”

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