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Posted at 4:09 PM ET, 02/23/2011

Do most senators really see themselves as possible presidents?

By Ezra Klein

"It's still the case that most Senators see a president when they look in the mirror," writes Jon Bernstein, "and that continues to be an important ingredient that helps make the Senate what it is."

You hear this all the time. But what's the evidence that it's true? Only one Senate Republican -- John Thune -- even explored running for president this cycle, and he decided against it. There were more in 2008, which was considered a banner year for senators with presidential ambitions, but "more" only meant five or six sitting senators who even considered entering the race. It didn't mean 15 or 20.

So who are all these senators who are keeping their presidential ambitions so tightly controlled? I know Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell don't see a president when they look in the mirror. I don't think Chuck Grassley or Max Baucus consider themselves likely presidents, nor do Ron Wyden or Mike Enzi. Is Amy Klobuchar planning a run? Chuck Schumer? John Barraso? Jay Rockefeller?

As far as I can tell, most senators look in the mirror and see a future committee chairperson, not a future president. And that's why most of them tend to keep their heads down and be team players rather than act out and grab the headlines for themselves. The idea that they all see themselves as a future president seems to me to be a cheap shot -- a way of making fun of their egos and ambitions without actually doing the hard work of evaluating their job performance and seeing whether they really do seem to be out for themselves.

By Ezra Klein  | February 23, 2011; 4:09 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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I think this applied in earlier times when the Senate wasn't nearly as ancient as it is today.

The 111th Congress was the oldest ever, and only death made the new Senate younger.

This has had loads of implications, but that's for another post.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 23, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

It's probably slightly more true with Governors than Senators.

Posted by: DDAWD | February 23, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Senators may see themselves as presidential material, but governors probably do as well. And then there's Nancy Pelosi, who sees John F. Kennedy when Barack Obama is sight.

Posted by: AlessandroMachi | February 23, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, they may not think of actually running, but I think just about all of them think they know enough to be president.

Which is a different thing altogether.

Posted by: lcrider1 | February 23, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the line is meant literally. It's intended to reflect the enormous egos of U.S. senators in relation to their House brethren.
And it takes too long to say in their reflection they see "a Senator constantly sought on Meet the Press and various Sunday talk shows as well as a vital guest at any respectable D.C. salon."

Posted by: RZ100 | February 23, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Amy Klobuchar? Not a bad idea.

Posted by: wswest | February 23, 2011 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Oh I think Bernstein is absolutely correct, it wasn't a cheap shot at all. He doesn't mean that even today Charles Grassley (who's older than Christmas and joined the Senate 30 years ago) daydreams about running in 2012. But at some point in the last 30 years, yeah, he probably did entertain the idea. They all do. Think of the all boys across the Republic (and Canada too) who play high school football and how few of them are able to play for a big college team and how few of those end of playing in the NFL and how of few of those end up playing in the Super Bowl, much less winning there.

Now think of all the elective offices in this country, and all the politicians who fight over them. If you make it to to the US Senate, you've made it almost to the top of the greasy pool, almost. Just like an NFL player isn't delusional to imagine he'll someday wear a Super Bowl ring, anyone elected to the US Senate isn't delusional to think they may have what it takes to be Maximum Leader.

Posted by: beowulf_ | February 24, 2011 4:53 AM | Report abuse

Yes, they do, like the Ancient Rome's senators say themselves as the next emperor. Hisstory repeats itself.

Posted by: rolandberger | February 24, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Yes, they do, like the Ancient Rome's senators saW themselves as the next emperor. Hisstory repeats itself.

Posted by: rolandberger | February 24, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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