A little over a week ago a news organization finally asked Sen. Bob Corker straight up what many had been wondering: Are you thinking about running for President in 2012? As is oft the case with these things, the denial was vague with plenty of wiggle-room. His office is not working on it. His wife would be surprised if he ran — and so on.
A blanket denial? Not even close. What politician doesn't want his name mentioned as a potential presidential candidate? Corker's star has been on the rise since he bucked his own party and spoke out against the Bush stimulus. It kept on shining through the financial crisis and continues to beam even during the current health care reform debate. It is only natural that the man gets a bit of presidential campaign chatter.
But is Corker really thinking about making a run or is this just a case of the senator's name being in the news so much folks just wanna talk to keep it there?
Is there really that big a difference? Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Why should Bob Corker be any different?
Despite the chatter, the conventional wisdom is that Corker (or any "serious" Republican for that matter) should pass on 2012.
As a freshman senator, Corker need not rush things, after all. He's made a name for himself and gotten people talking — but there's no reason to take it any farther than that. Why go through the hassle of trying to out-red meat the Huckabees and the Palins, just to go up against an Obama political machine that took down Hillary Clinton?
Barring major catastrophe and/or severe political tone deafness, if an incumbent president wants a second term, he gets one. Some Americans may have had their misgivings about a black president, but we crossed that hurdle. He is the president. Americans may have needed more reasons than usual in order to elect a black president but they will need even more to throw one out.
Corker is a relatively young man with a big, bright political future ahead of him. There will be plenty of time to take aim at that big prize.
Of course, the same could have been said about Barack Obama in 2007. With not yet a full term in the Senate, Barack Obama was looking down the barrel at the Clinton machine and the prospect of presenting himself, a black Democratic candidate, to the conservative electorate of Middle America. The conventional wisdom told candidate Obama to wait. But he didn't listen — and he won.
It is also important to remember Jack Kemp. He took one opportunity to run for president, but passed on others. He died with many wondering what could have been. As much as it might look like you have all the time in the world in politics, your moment can be just that. You either seize it or let it pass you by.
In 1991, when Democrats had to decide whether or not to run for the presidency in 1992, George Bush the elder was coming off a high after a win in the first Gulf War. Because of this, many top-tier Democrats, like Mario Cuomo, passed on the race. Little did they know that Bill Clinton would capitalize on the opportunity and beat a severely damaged incumbent president on the way to serving two full terms in the White House.
Running for president is always a gamble. A candidate who wants to run has to start laying groundwork almost as soon as the previous election has been held. That far out, it can be difficult to predict what the political landscape will look like come election time.
For Corker, gambling on a year that doesn't look like a slam dunk for Republicans could be to his advantage. While he is wicked smart, accomplished and temperamentally suited for the top job, many will not see him that way.
Presidents are usually tall men. Corker is not. While intellectually engaging, Corker is not Mr. Charisma. As many substantive qualifications Corker has which suit him for the office, he has just as many that superficially would give him trouble in an election year without an incumbent.
However, if Obama is presumed to be getting a second term, Corker could easily slip by the also-rans in the primary and end up one-on-one against Obama in the general. If the economy then truly goes in the tank or something else goes wrong, then Corker is in the perfect position to capitalize.
2012 may indeed be too early for Sen. Corker. The question he needs to ask himself is: Would he rather have remorse for jumping the gun early or deal with the lifelong regret of wondering what might have been?