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Crystal Ball: Thune Re-ups for Senate in 2016, Saves Presidential Ambition for 2024

Last updated on 2014.07.22

An eager reader asks what I think John Thune will do in 2016: run for re-election to the Senate or run for President? Assuming he runs for anything, I say Senate 2016, then President 2024.

First, Thune himself says he's not running for President in 2016.

Thune is in his second term in the Senate.* After a hard fight to win the first term by unseating Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, Thune got a free pass to his second in 2010, when Democrats ran no one against him. He's climbing the ladder of Republican leadership; a third term would move him higher.

Plus, think of his odds. I haven't read much punditry saying 2016 will be a good year for Republicans to take the White House. There are a lot of Republicans in the chute in front of Thune with more name recognition and money, and none of them (Paul, Huckabee, Christie, Portman, etc.) have shown sure-fire Hillary-beating potential. If the Dems don't nominate Hillary (Elizabeth Warren is unlikely to run and less likely to win, but we Wellstonians can dream), the calculus changes somewhat, but not the long line of GOP heavy hitters in front of Thune.

Besides, nationally, Thune hasn't done squat. McCain had a legislative record, had mavericky national buzz. Romney had been governor and invented the Affordable Care Act (oh, oops). Name one thing that Thune is known for nationally that would boost a presidential bid.

Meanwhile, back home in South Dakota, Thune is God. He affirms everything that a majority of South Dakota voters want to be: good-looking, West River, down-homey, and bringing home just enough DC pork without passing all sorts of laws and regulations. No Democrat challenged him in 2010, leaving his rep and war chest unscathed. Even if the Dems throw the best they can muster at Thune in 2016 (Brendan Johnson, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Ryan Casey), Thune will have an easier time beating them locally than beating a field of GOP primary contenders and a Dem nominee propelled by demographics nationally.

If I'm Thune, if I enjoy power, I keep a good thing going by hanging on to my Senate seat for one more term. I serve in that seat through 2022, open to the possibility that Obama's Democratic successor will do worse and be vulnerable to a challenge in 2020, but not counting on it. I take Mitch McConnell's place as Senate leader and build my national profile as the Democratic president's strongest yet most reasonable opponent. I build my leadership PAC and increase my giving to other Republicans around the country to make them beholden to me. I help my handpicked GOP successor win my seat in South Dakota in 2022. I leave the Senate undefeated and loved by all the right people.

And in 2024, at the healthy and handsome age of 63, I run for President on much firmer national footing than I had in the risky year of 2016. The demographics aren't any better, but my profile and war chest are.

I thought in 2011 that Thune might have been angling to get Romney's rolodex to boost a 2016 run. But the national strength of Democrats tells me he'll hold back, build his resume and network more, and restrain any Presidential ambitions until 2024.

I invite you, dear readers (including you, Senate staffers, who read this blog at work!), to identify variables that would change the equation and send Thune charging off against Christie, Paul, and Clinton in 2016.

*Correction 2014.07.22 11:27 CDT: I corrected and edited this paragraph, which originally and erroneously stated Thune was in his third term. I regret my forgetfulness!


  1. WR Old Guy 2014.07.18

    I think the distinguished Senator has one major accomplishment. He is an excellent bobble head who is always in the background smiling and shaking his head "yes" at any public media event involving the Republican leaders in the Senate. I also think the RNC has done an excellent job of concealing the earpiece that Senator Thune wears so he can speak the RNC's position on any subject.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.07.18

    Mitch McConnell had a groupie
    John Thune was his name
    Wingnut congress accomplished nada
    but Obama was to blame-o.
    T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e and John Thune was his name-o.

    John Thune feeds at the public trough
    Like the poor folks he despises
    He'll run unopposed for one more term
    His eyes on larger prizes.
    T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e and John Thune was his name-o.

    His biggest accomplishment to date
    Constituents can't recall
    When McConnell wants a photo op
    Dear John Thune heeds the call
    T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e,T-h-u-n-e and John Thune was his name-o.

  3. Rorschach 2014.07.18

    Thune is in his second term - not his third term. If he runs for re-election in 2016 he will be seeking his third term.

    Right now I don't think Thune knows what he will run for in 2016 or if he will run. He would be the frontrunner for re-election. But imagine how he could cash in returning to the private sector. He made hundreds of thousands of dollars out of office from 2003-2004 for doing next to nothing. I think Sanford Hospital alone paid him $400,000 during that 2-year span. He could easily be a $1 or $2 million a year guy. The wild cards are: 1) what happens to Mitch McConnell? 2) does Thune have a path to the majority leader position? 3) does somebody want him as their VP nominee? 4) is he having any fun in DC, or is it wearing on him like it wears on 93% of the public? 5) What does his wife/family want him to do?

    What I would like to see him do between now and then is work with both Democrats and Republicans to come up with some serious solutions to ongoing national problems. Be the next Tom Coburn.

  4. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.18

    I've already ordered my 2024 bumper sticker:


  5. Loren 2014.07.18

    The only thing I can think of that he does well is a photo op, probably because he is tall and can stand in the background and still be seen! If he takes McConnell's position, the whole country will be able to see his "leadership skills"! That should be interesting, if not embarrassing.

  6. lesliengland 2014.07.18

    doesn't thune already have a rolex? boz does.

  7. Anne Beal 2014.07.18

    When anybody is considering a run for office, it is now advisable to consider what the spouse thinks of the idea. The wife's enthusiasm for a national campaign, her attachment to the family home, the needs of elderly parents, the births of grandchildren all factor in. The spouse's veto power over any proposed candidacy trumps all other factors. So unless you see signs that Kimberly is itching to live in Washington, any run is unlikely.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.18

    Nice little jingle Mike, though I think you do an injustice to a dog named Bingo.

  9. mike from iowa 2014.07.18

    Thanks,Deb. Actually these things write themselves. The story of Bingo that I read was in broad Scots or something. Hard to understand.

  10. grudznick 2014.07.18

    Nice schtick, Mike.
    You should write us some more poems from Iowa.

    I say young Mr. Thune runs for Prez next time Prez is up for running. I say he grapples it to the ground and ends up as the GOP nominee.

  11. lesliengland 2014.07.19

    thune=gravitas?? has he done anything? has good health insurance though, to log the miles at his age. an opinionated, slightly educated, inexperienced, religious republican from a very small red state. grooming as a tool of national republican party. vice-presidential candidate could be someone like cheney. or sarah palin. 2017 will not be pleasant. i am assuming we may lose the senate in 2014 and who knows whether we can beat the repubs or fix the house in 2016. sigh. and you guys are worried about dems failing to recruit an AG candidate. its all about the money (citizens united ect.) :(

  12. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.07.19

    Pretty sure that in 2004, he said 2 terms would be it. Term limits and all were the rage back then.

  13. mike from iowa 2014.07.19

    Thanks grudz and I have taters. Lots of taters.

  14. mike from iowa 2014.07.19

    I suspect what Anne is saying is the spouse is fully aware of the corruption connected to her husband and isn't eager to have to face the public and the charges associated.While wingnuts fling mud with abandon,the pols wife will be asking her spouse's opponent for civility and to stick to the issues. I think we all have witnessed this morality play before.

  15. G-Man 2014.07.20

    Rorschach is correct. Thune is in his 2nd Term, not 3rd Term as was incorrectly reported in this post.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.22

    Duly noted, G and R! I regret and have corrected the error.

Comments are closed.