Thursday, February 27, 2003

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A leading indicator for the Democratic nomination

Mickey Kaus, TNR's &c., and The Note are all a flutter about Bob Shrum's decision to join the John Kerry campaign as an indicator of Kerry's chances to become the Democratic nominee.

However, over the next year (and before the actual primaries), there's a better harbinger for who will be the eventual nominee -- which candidate picks up the elite foreign policy advisors?

Why these people? Because foreign policy analysts might care about a candidate's philosophy of governance, but they care about being Secretary of State more. Therefore, unless their foreign policy views are sharply in contrast with the candidate's ideology (no pro-war analysts would be likely to work for Howard Dean, for example), these people will pick the candidate most likely to win -- and therefore most likely to appoint them to choice cabinet, subcabinet, and White House positions.

[But wouldn't these people just wait until the primary season is over?--ed. Not necessarily. There are clear first-mover advantages to latching onto candidates. In 2000, remember, George W. Bush assembled an impressive list of Republican foreign policy experts -- the "Vulcans" before the first primary or caucus. But why wouldn't domestic policy advisors operate under the same guidelines?--ed. The ideological constraints are more powerful for domestic issues. Since domestic policy is the bread and butter of presidential campaigns, candidates usually take great pains to articulate their policy proposals in a way that acts like a brand for their ideological stripe. This branding narrows the range of domestic advisors who can plausibly join a particular campaign. Because foreign policy is usually reactive rather than proactive, plain-old experience is more valued for its own sake in international relations].

Who are the elite advisors? As a public service, this blog provides the following list. I divide it into two categories -- those with sufficient gravitas to become Secretary of State, and those with enough know-how to qualify as National Security Advisor. The latter group will likely commit to a candidate first, because they have more rungs up the achievement ladder:

Secretary of State-level advisors (A depressingly short list -- readers, feel free to e-mail those I may be forgetting):
Sandy Berger
Richard Holbrooke
George Mitchell
Lawrence Summers
Strobe Talbott

National Security Advisor-level advisors: (A larger and more impressive list -- but then again, I actually know most of these guys):
Ivo Daalder
Leon Fuerth
Bruce Jentleson
Charles Kupchan
Kenneth Pollack
James Steinberg
Stephen Walt

(Interesting side note: It was difficult to locate anything like an personal web page for the first category of people. It was easy to complete the same task for the second group. That says something, but I'm not sure what.)

To my knowledge (which is appallingly slim in inside-the-beltway stuff) none of these people have publicly committed for any candidate. Yet.


UPDATE: I've amended this post to respond to Kevin Drum's excellent question.

posted by Dan on 02.27.03 at 04:17 PM