Larry Kudlow

Gen. Wesley Clark's shooting-star campaign for president is burning out as it crosses the sky. So many flip-flops and so few clear messages. Is he for the Iraq War? Is he an old-school Reagan Republican? Or maybe he's a G.W. Bush Republican (as he indicated in a speech a couple years back)? Or is he now a real Democrat? Does he actually think Bush is set to take over numerous countries in the Middle East and elsewhere? Would he hand U.S. foreign policy over to the United Nations?

All this haziness, and now some of his senior campaign staff is resigning.

But Clark is not the only general to stumble in his quest for the presidency. Many generals have sought the highest office in the land, although few have attained it.

Since Gen. George Washington (running unopposed) won the first American presidential election, 20 more generals have tried for the position of commander in chief. In fact, a general ran in every presidential election between 1788 and 1808, 1824 and 1852, and 1860 and 1892.

Some were obscure men from obscure parties: James B. Weaver, of the Greenback Party, ran in 1880 and 1892 and lost both times. Some were famous in military circles: Winfield Scott, who ran in 1852 against Franklin Pierce, was affectionately known to his troops and subordinates as "Old Fuss." Some brought little to the office: James Garfield's assassination was the most remarkable event of his presidency (although he stuck to his vow of being a one-term president). And some -- George Washington, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant -- were as famous as any non-military figure in American political history.

All told, 22 generals have run a total of 30 times for president. Ten have actually held the office. Between 1796 and 1880, there were only four presidential elections in which a general did not make a try for the office (1812, 1816, 1820 and 1854). Yet from 1880 to the present, there have been only four elections that featured a general as a nominated candidate. Of these four candidacies, only Ike was successful.

This must have something to do with the fact that the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War produced a vast number of generals, and an even vaster amount of political capital. In the 20th century, it took until World War II for a general -- Dwight D. Eisenhower -- to generate similar momentum.

Larry Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” which airs nightly from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.