Johnny Thune, We Hardly Knew Ye

Despite the gigantic field of putative Republican candidates for president, we’re already seeing examples of that great Washington institution, the sad account of a Beltway titan who has concluded he (it’s always a he) will not get to become Leader of the Free World after all those years of fantasy Oval Office speeches. Today at Politico (of course), we have an extended sad love note from Burgess Everett to Sen. John Thune, who is most definitely not running for president in 2016 or (sob!) maybe ever. Check out this groan-inducing lede:

It’s often said each senator wakes up, looks in the mirror and sees a future president staring back. But John Thune admits his “window” for a White House run might have closed in 2012. [Mirror and window: both made of glass! Get it?]

So instead, the South Dakota Republican is ready to dive deep into the policy weeds as chairman of the influential Commerce Committee, while using his role as leader of the Senate GOP Conference to pursue party unity. And all the while, he’s watching three very different Republican senators mull a run for president.

How sad yet inspiring: instead of wowin’ em at the Pizza Ranches of western Iowa, Thune will go back to carrying water for the telecomm companies and the multinationals on the Commerce Committee, and handling whatever conference leadership chores Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to do himself. Not bad for a former high school jock from Murdo, South Dakota, but ah, what might have been….

What, you might ask, ever qualified Thune for the presidency? Check out this evaluation from WaPo’s Philip Rucker back in 2011, when there was a brief Thune boomlet that ran all the way from Rock Creek Park to K Street, and see if you can catch the drift:

In the seven years since the South Dakotan was labeled a Republican golden boy after unseating Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle, Thune has not set himself apart on a single issue in Washington. And then with his 2008 vote for the bank bailouts, Thune agitated his party’s conservative base.

Although Thune is usually liked if not loved by Republicans who know of him, he does not have an impassioned following. Unlike a string of governors and former governors eyeing a presidential run, he can’t claim executive experience. In fact, he has spent most of his career in government or politics.

And when Thune talks, in interviews and in speeches, he sticks to generic phrases that neither offend nor excite….

Some Republicans think this handsome son of the High Plains could bridge the party’s establishment with its grass-roots rowdies. In Thune, Republicans see a fresh, unflappable face who looks like he is destined to be president – tall, plain-spoken, homespun. What’s more, they argue, Obama didn’t have any more political or business experience than Thune when he ran.

Yes, you’ve got it, it’s the face. He is a perpetual contestant for the Warren Harding Award for pols who look most presidential. And as Harding himself showed, you can go a long way in politics with the right look. What do you think Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Chris Christie would give to have Thune’s chiseled mug?

And now it all looks like it might be squandered on a mere senatorial career. Bring out the tiny violins, and wait for the next obituary of presidential dreams.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.