GOP already trying to change the rules so Tom Cotton can run for president -- in 2020

He just arrived in the Senate, but home-state Republicans are already thinking the Oval Office

Published March 11, 2015 3:16PM (EDT)

  (AP/Danny Johnston)
(AP/Danny Johnston)

Tom Cotton was a mere seven months into his tenure as an Arkansas congressman when he announced that he would challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014 -- a contest Cotton proceeded to win handily. The Republican has now been in the Senate for all of about five minutes, but this is a man on the move: Yes, the Tom Cotton for President chatter has already commenced. Indeed, it's been underway for some time now; back in January, the New Republic identified the Harvard-educated veteran as a "dark horse" contender in 2016. That, alas, does not appear to be in the cards. Say what you will about Cotton, but he's savvy enough to know that the optics of seeking the presidency after less than two years in the Senate -- where he arrived after just two years in the House -- are not good. So Republicans who wish to see the brash neoconservative ascend to the Oval Office will likely have to wait until at least 2020.

They face an irksome obstacle, though: Cotton is up for re-election in 2020, and unlike some states, Arkansas does not allow candidates to seek more than one federal office simultaneously.

If one Republican legislator gets his way, however, Cotton won't confront this problem in five years' time. The Associated Press reports that a state Senate committee has advanced Sen. Bart Hester's legislation providing candidates the opportunity to run for both Congress and the White House at the same time. Hester makes no bones about just whom his proposal is intended to benefit.

“Tom Cotton would be my current idea of someone who should be afforded this opportunity. Politics, if I’ve learned anything, it changes every day and there could be the great next hope show up tomorrow,” he said Tuesday. “But I don’t think it’s reasonable to say I wouldn’t be looking at Tom Cotton to have that opportunity."

Now, Hester maintains that he devised his proposal of his own volition: He was approached by neither Cotton nor any other politicos. Hester told reporters that he tipped Cotton off to the bill after he had already filed it, and while Cotton hasn't pushed for its approval, "he didn’t wave [Hester] off," either. To put it another way, Cotton is not taking the Rand Paul approach: Whereas the Kentucky senator has lobbied assiduously -- and successfully -- to ensure that he can vie for both the presidency and a second Senate term next year, Cotton appears to be taking a hands-off approach.

But neither, apparently, is Cotton ready to commit to the Marco Rubio approach. Florida's junior senator, a potential White House hopeful, is also up for re-election in 2016, but he vows that he will only pursue one office. At this point, it seems that Rubio's sights are trained on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That Paul, Rubio, and approximately 53,932 other Republicans are intent on running for president underscores the party's optimism about reclaiming the White House next year. A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll finds that nearly six in 10 voters are looking for "change" come 2016, and while we're in the midst of increasingly robust economic recovery (albeit one with stagnant wages), President Obama's approval rating is still under 50 percent, so Republicans could stand to benefit from what political scientist Alan Abramowitz describes as voters' "time for change" sentiment. At this early stage, the 2016 contest is probably best described as a coin flip. Her email imbroglio notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton still has roughly a 50 percent shot of becoming the next president. But if she wins in 2016, President Hillary would face daunting odds in her 2020 re-election bid: Not since the Roosevelt-Truman years have voters returned a party to the White House for more than three consecutive terms.

So while Republicans still enjoy a decent chance of winning full government control next year, it's no wonder that some in the party are already thinking ahead to 2020. And given that Cotton has already proven himself a master in the art of grandstanding and demagoguery with his attempt at sabotaging the Iran nuclear talks, it's quite plausible, indeed probable, that the clamor for him to run will only grow louder as time goes on. If that means tweaking a few rules and bestowing him a 2020 insurance policy, so be it.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker

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2020 Election Arkansas Republican Party Tom Cotton U.s. Senate