In her masterpiece book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Kearns Goodwin details the political environment and machinations of the four candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, culminating in the election of Abraham Lincoln. Ostensibly Lincoln was the least qualified of the four candidates. The other three—New York Sen. William H. Seward, Ohio Gov. Salmon P. Chase, and Missouri elder statesman Edward Bates—outclassed the homespun Lincoln with their distinguished resumes and political pedigrees.
In the end, Lincoln won the Republican nomination and the general election to become president during the most threatening time of our nation’s history. He recognized the grave danger facing the country and knew that he had to surround himself with the very best and brightest talent available. Hence he invited his three rivals to join the presidential cabinet. None were eager to serve the man who had defeated them, but Lincoln persuaded all three. Eventually his rivals grew to appreciate that Lincoln was indeed the right choice for president at that time in history. Oddly enough, none of his rivals ever served as president.
Politics is fickle, even in 1860. I can’t help but draw a parallel to today’s political scenario. We now have four candidates vying for the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama for the presidency. While it is difficult to judge who among them is the most qualified, does it really matter?
To draw the parallel further, let’s assume that whoever wins the Republican nomination goes on to win the general election. Do you suppose the new president would turn to his three rivals and ask them to serve in his cabinet? If so, do you imagine the rivals would accept? Such were the odds in 1860, but Lincoln succeeded in persuading all three of his rivals to join him. Our country was on a path to potential self-destruction in 1860. Some would argue we are again on a path to self-destruction today, with a financial civil war pitting citizen against citizen, much as in 1860.
I cannot determine if today’s four rivals, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, represent the best and brightest who collectively might solve today’s crisis. I do know, however, that whoever the next president is—whether Democrat or Republican—needs to meet our financial problems head on and deal with them. Our next president will need to surround himself with capable problem-solvers. Few people have distinguished themselves as much as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels at solving problems. Let’s hope there is a prominent place for him to put this great country back on track. In 1860, a team of rivals saved the country. Perhaps history can repeat itself.