Ross Douthat comments on the Romney-Polk analogy being made by some Romney campaign advisers:
I am fairly confident that if a President Romney achieves the present-day equivalent of winning the Mexican War, he won’t be bowing out in favor of Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio in 2016.
I agree that the Polk analogy doesn’t make much sense. The odd thing about the analogy is that it suggests that Ryan’s budget ideas would be subordinated to Romney’s political priorities, which is hardly the message the Romney campaign wants to be conveying at this point. Polk’s Vice President Dallas supported the administration and voted for a tariff-reducing bill in the Senate that was wildly unpopular in his home state of Pennsylvania. Dallas destroyed his political future for the sake of loyalty to Polk, and that’s certainly not what Ryan’s boosters have in mind for him.
The other problem with this “one and done” thinking is that the only modern sitting Presidents that chose not to seek re-election did so because they were a) horribly unpopular, b) exhausted by their disastrous wars, or both. Since the mid-19th century, it has been very rare for a sitting President not to seek re-election. Unless I am forgetting someone, I believe Truman and LBJ are the only ones in the last century that did this by choice. Not seeking re-election is usually interpreted as an admission of failure. The problem wouldn’t be simply that Romney’s achievements would not be secure and might be overturned by the next administration. The decision to step down and not seek another term would be turned into evidence that Romney didn’t think he would be able to defend his policies to the electorate.
One worrisome aspect of the Polk reference is that it suggests that some Romney advisers think a suitable role model for presidential leadership is a President responsible for waging a war of territorial expansion. If the campaign is trying to reassure voters that might be unnerved by Romney’s “omni-directional belligerence,” they could scarcely have picked a worse example from American history.
Update: Foolishly, I somehow managed to forget that Coolidge didn’t run for re-election. I regret the error.