Here’s a fun item from the Saint Anselm Crier (via Politico) today, announcing that Army General David Petraeus will be speaking at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on March 24th. Well-respected by political elites in both parties, Petraeus is someone whose name has occasionally been floated as a possible future (likely Republican) presidential or vice presidential candidate. While there is no particular reason to think that this visit is an indication that the general is gearing up for a political career, that will inevitably be the context within which the trip is viewed by the national media, many of whom probably do not know that Petraeus owns property and is registered to vote here in New Hampshire (just up the interstate a bit in Springfield). But it does provide a nice opportunity for us to think about the special case of a general (active duty or retired) making a high-profile run for one of the top elected offices in the land.
While Petraeus, Colin Powell, and Wesley Clark all immediately come to mind, Clark is of course the only one of the three generals to actually make a run at the presidency. I was able to observe him closely in 2004, and I watched him struggle through a difficult adjustment period as a candidate. It’s quite a challenge for a leader used to functioning atop an order-driven military hierarchy to make the transition to the media-saturated, horizontal chaos of the partisan political arena. Clark entered the race late, and couldn’t adjust on the fly to life inside the campaign fishbowl. I knew he was in trouble when he started showing up at events in New Hampshire wearing vee neck sweaters over his shirt and tie, an old cliché of a political consultant’s trick employed to soften the sharp edges of his martial image.
So, it will be fun to see Petraeus viewed through the lens of presidential primary politics (whether he wants to be viewed that way, or not). We really don’t know anything about what his electoral persona as a presidential or vice presidential candidate would be (maybe we'll get a few clues), but my guess is that his name will continue to pop up in that context, whenever he finds himself operating in this kind of political environment.
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