"What we face in 1992 is the possibility that there will be no Democratic candidate for president. . . . [W]e may well have the first presidential election that goes to the incumbent by default."
So wrote Ross K. Baker of Rutgers University in this section last week. That statement is not only wrong, it is irresponsible.
It is wrong because James Monroe in 1821 was re-elected president by default -- that is, without opposition. Historians refer to President Monroe's years in the White House as the Era of Good Feelings.
It is irresponsible because under Maryland law this newspaper is obligated to provide names for the presidential primary ballot. If we report there are no Democratic candidates, there could be no Democratic names on the ballot next March.
The Maryland Annotated Code, Article 33, Section 12-6 (a)(1), "Primary election for candidate for President and delegates to national convention," says that "any person who desires to run in TC the primary election may become a candidate . . . if the Secretary of State . . . has determined in his sole discretion that the candidate's candidacy is generally advocated or recognized the news media throughout the United States or in Maryland. . . ."
If Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. read Professor Baker's article last week and decided there are no bona fide Democratic candidates and so quit reading the papers hunting for names, you can see what would happen. Democrats in Maryland could not participate in the electoral process next year except as write-in voters.
I am here to tell you, Mr. Secretary, that there are Democrats ready, willing and able to run for president in 1992. Your boss, for one, Gov. William Donald Schaefer. At least he says so. George McGovern has also stated he will run rather let the nomination go unfilled. Put their names on your list, Mr. Kelly. You read it here. The law is clear; you have no choice.
I am also requiring you to put Sen. Lloyd Bentsen on the list. After months of contradictory signals, the Texas senator and 1988 vice presidential candidate is said by close associates to be a definite "go."
Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, who came in third here in the 1988 presidential primary, is also a certain candidate . Gov. Douglas L. Wilder of Virginia is, too. He will probably be the first to announce formally, and that may be soon. Other Democrats may join this list. Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt, Mario Cuomo, Michael Dukakis have all hinted at possible candidacies.
Individuals aside, the point is, the secretary of state must not take Professor Baker so seriously that he quits searching the papers for candidates and authorizes a blank Democratic primary ballot in 1992.
Now the Democratic primaries here and in other states will, of course, be academic exercises. George Bush is going to be re-elected as decisively as James Monroe was in 1821. (President Monroe got 231 of 232 electoral votes. A New Hampshire elector cast a protest vote for a non-candidate.)
It's not just the Persian Gulf. Some political scientists thought President Bush had a lock on 1992 before the war. Using different econometric and political models, it was being predicted last year that he would be re-elected without a victory in war and with a lingering recession.
Part of the reason for that is the demise of the Democrats. At the presidential level at least, the Democrats of the 1990s look a lot like Whigs of the 1850s or the Federalists of the 18-teens. Having faded away into irrelevance, they face fading away into history. In the three presidential elections of the 1980s, Republicans won in the electoral college by a cumulative 1,440 to 174. That's 89 to 11 in percentage terms.
As is my right and responsibility under Art. 33, Sec. 12-6 (a)(1), I herewith nominate another candidate for the 1992 Maryland Democratic presidential primary ballot.
I nominate George H. W. Bush.
If Winfield Kelly takes his responsibilities as seriously as I take mine and reads a lot of newspapers, he will know that some other journalists have proposed this. To be honest, they have done so in a spirit of mischief. They propose a ticket composed of George Bush for president and some prominent Democrat for vice president.
The theory is that more states would go for Bush-Bentsen, say, than Bush-Quayle. Polls in 1988 showed Senator Bentsen a lot more popular than Dan Quayle. The vice president's poll ratings are still low.
I am not joining in this cabal (though I advocated it once in jest.) I believe it would create terrible political problems to have a Republican president and Democratic vice president, against a president's will (remember that qualifier). I also believe anti-Quayle Republicans and even many Democrats would be so offended by this too-clever-by-half ploy that they would give the Bush-Quayle ticket a solid victory.
No, I'm proposing that President Bush's name and slate of electors go on the Democratic ballot here for other reasons. Those electors would have to be registered Democrats, as I understand Maryland electoral law and the Democratic National Committee's rules and by-laws. I know there are Democrats in the state who would run as Bush delegates.
Maryland law and Democratic rules do not require a presidential candidate to be a party member, merely to be committed to the aims of the party. I think George Bush could say he is committed to the party's traditional aims, as he understands them. The Texas Democratic Party was pretty conservative when he entered politics there.
So could George Bush get on the Democratic primary ticket next March? There would surely be lawsuits trying to keep him off, but I think it is quite possible. The suit would probably be decided by a Republican federal judge.
Could George Bush win the Democratic presidential primary? He might. The state may move it to March 5, thus making it the second in the nation. There would still be several active Democratic candidates in the race that early. In a six- or seven-candidate field, the president could easily run first with a small vote.
Even if the field of candidates were small, a Bush candidacy might do well. Suppose the results were, say, Bentsen 33 percent, Gore 25 percent, Wilder 20 percent, Bush 22 percent. What would that outcome do?
It would send the national Democratic Party a distant early warning signal that in 1992 it had better select a presidential candidate and write a national platform in sharp contrast to the liberal ones of the recent past.
If a Republican candidate could get a fifth of the Democratic primary vote in a state as reliably Democratic as Maryland (Jimmy Carter carried Maryland twice!), surely that would be taken as a wake-up call as loud and clear and demanding as reveille played by Louis Armstrong. The message would be not only that the White House was going to be lost again but that the Senate might be.
There is something else a good Bush showing in a Democratic primary might do. It might even suggest to President Bush that he can and should take a step so extraordinary as to assure a cooperative Congress and a truly united nation in his second term. He can chose to run with a Democratic vice presidential candidate om a National Unity ticket, resolved to do something about the nation's domestic problems which neither party has been able to solve in the existing political arena of conflict.
Dumping Dan Quayle for another Republican is out of the question. It would raise questions about the original choice. Dumping him for a Democrat would be the logical, non-apologetic act of a president determined to have history record of him that he ended the divisive, bitter, negative, partisan politics of presidential elections and divided government.
The Democratic National Convention might endorse such a ticket, too. It would win by default -- but active, positive default. We would be in the Second Era of Good Feelings (or Era of Good Feelings II).
An extraordinary step by a president, but not an unprecedented one. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln dumped his Republican vice president for a pro-war Democratic senator from Tennessee (attention Senator Gore). He wanted to show in the midst of civil war that he was not a region's president, not a party's, but the nation's.