There are fewer accusations of prostitution, significantly more landslides, and at least one JFK boner joke to read about while you wait for the Florida exit polls.
1896: On one side of the 1896 election, we have a candidate backed by a organized, developed, and well-funded campaign. On the other, we a populist who travels through the country giving speech after speech, working to rouse his base through words and personality.
William McKinley and William Jennings Bryani are perfect candidates for 1896. Each showed a segment of society and a vision of where American was headed.
Beyond the surface, the more dissimilar 2016 and 1896 become. The key reason is Bryan. The semi-populist Democratic nominee based his political tactics around his skills as an orator and rousing a popular base, but his campaign actually argued for something, for a vision of America, and not just against the status quo (like 2016).
Every campaign argues against something. A nominee will either make the argument against the opposing candidate or against the status quo of the President in office. Both Bryan and William McKinley, however, argued for their respective visions of America. Trump is not an outlier in this sense – both the 1840 and 1848 were campaigns in which the Whig Party dodged real issues as much as possible, and the Cleveland-Blaine battle of 1884ii was a personal referendum on each candidate. Trump dodging the issues and focusing instead on character attacks against Clinton and rousing populist sentiment remains a few steps away from the 1896 contest, even if Bryan used a similar strategy.
Anyways, McKinley wins in a huge landslide by promising the gold standard and high tariffs and he doesn’t have to leave home.
Fun Fact: According to the latest Presidential Rankings, McKinley comes in at 21 which means he is +1 PARiii in rank or +.47 PAR in rating. Brookings has John Quincy Adams as the replacement level president though, which seems suspicious.
1900: McKinley and Bryan run against each other again, and Bryan’s position is weaker than 1896. Silver is less of an issue with a growing economy, and McKinley is now a successful war president. McKinley has another asset – Theodore Roosevelt is the new vice-presidential nominee, and Roosevelt can match Bryan in oratory skill.
McKinley wins, proceeds to die, and renowned knife-fighter Roosevelt becomes President.
Relation to 2016: Very little. If you squint, the context looks similar – a recovering economy finally turning the corner. However, the Spanish-American war was seen as a success, while Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Islamic State are not yet ended, much less successful. Comparing Roosevelt to any other candidate is generally frail, but in context – a vice-presidential candidate who can take the fight to the opposing presidential candidate – isn’t really there.
Fun Fact: Six times have the same two candidates come to blows two elections in a row, and 1900 was the fifth of these.iv
1904: Theodore Roosevelt beats Alton Parker, as they both basically run on the same platform. SPOILER ALERT: Elections involving Roosevelts are devoid of drama.
Relation to 2016: None. Seriously, none. It was a little dirty but not out of the ordinary.
Fun Fact: Teddy became the first former Vice-President to ascend to the office of President during the middle of a term and then go on to win his own term outright. Former VP’s who moved up the chain: Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson and Arthur. None would serve again. VP’s after Roosevelt who moved up: Coolidge, Truman, LBJ and Ford. Only Ford failed to win re-election.
The lesson: Roosevelt really did make the President a more visible, powerful office.
1908: WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT HAS A COW AS A WHITE HOUSE PET.
That is all.
Oh, and William Jennings Bryan runs again and loses.
Relation to 2016: Bryan is one of the more incredible figures in American history – he worked for years on causes he believed in and they were widely accepted (McKinley only garnered 51% of the vote over him in 1900).v Yet, while his ideas were popular, they always fell just short. He has a number of dubious distinctions – my favourite being that he is supposedly the basis of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.
For all the good things he worked for, his historical legacy is decisive. He was for the continued disenfranchisement of Black Americans, but he inspired a generation of leaders in the Democratic Party, with Truman citing Bryan as the reason why liberalism remained alive in the mid-20th Century. Questions continue about how he really viewed working Americans – was he a full champion of their cause, or simply a populist looking to get elected?
He is often forgotten, as most losing candidates are. Yet his legacy runs through the veins of both parties.
Anyways, Donald Trump is no William Jennings Bryan.
Fun Fact: Linked in the above article is the story of how the Washington Post interviewed the cow. That alone would fit in this election.
1912: In the closest a true third party ever comes to winning the White House, Woodrow Wilson defeats Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive) and William Howard Taft (Republican) to become the first Democrat elected since Cleveland in 1892.
1912 ranks along with 1828 as one of the most fascinating elections – minus the prostitution and slavery accusations.vi The Republican Party of 1912 controls the electoral landscape – Wilson is the only Democrat who serves as President between 1896 (Cleveland) and 1932 (FDR). The GOP has such a dominant position, the only way it can lose is if the party tears itself apart, which it proceeds to do. Taft and the conservatives clash with Roosevelt and the progressives, and with both men running, a Democratic victory becomes assured.
Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The Republican Party of today does not have the popularity nor strength of 1912, but if Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, or John Kasich stayed in the race, it would look similar to this. Except the 2016 version would be about who can say the most racist things, instead of the 1912 issues of tariffs and workers rights.
Fun Fact: Thomas Woodrow Wilson was kind of a racist asshole!
1916: For all his issues not liking people of different colour, Wilson was deceptive (or, perhaps, a good) politician. His core campaign issue was his ability to keep America out of the First World War; yet he believed that with the growing conflict, if he lost, it would be imprudent to keep Charles Hughes waiting and devised a plan to usher him into the White House as soon as possible.vii He pushed for a stronger military while claiming progressive ideas from the GOP.
1916 was closer than most elections of the era. Wilson faced the unique situation of having a larger share of the popular vote than in 1912, but far fewer electoral votes – he squeaked by Hughes by just 23 electoral votes, the sixth closest election in American history.viii
Relation to 2016: Very little. Mexico was in revolt and everyone in Europe was shooting everyone else.
Fun Fact: Charles Hughes was a sitting Supreme Court Justice when he decided to run. He gave up his seat, ran for President, lost, and later served as Chief Justice.
1920: 1920 was the year without a President. While working up support for the Treaty of Versailles during the summer and fall of 1919, he collapsed and never fully recovered. His wife, Edith, worked as his surrogate.
The decline of Wilson corresponded with a decline in the economy, a rise in social unrest, and a question of the American character (stay open to the world or close back up). His personality and popularity may have forced American involvement in the League of Nations, but without his backing the project was doomed, as was the Democratic party. Warren Harding – he of Blink fame – took up the Republican mantle and trounced James M. Cox in the largest popular-vote victory in recorded American history.
Relation to 2016: Very little. Much like Stella, Harding and the Republicans got their groove back. The GOP peaked again during the 1920’s beginning with Harding’s landslide.
Fun Fact: Teddy Roosevelt reacted to his defeat in 1912 like any normal man: he went on an expedition to the Amazon. While there, his malaria flared up (due to yellow fever, contracted from a wound he received after leaping into the river to save a pair of canoes). He was bothered by this the rest of his life, and it prevented him from seeking the Republican nomination of 1920. When he died in 1919, leaving the Republicans without a standard bearer, the Democrats seized on the opportunity and nominated his distant cousin, Franklin, as the vice-presidential nominee.
Theodore Roosevelt is the reason Jules had that wallet.
1924: Harding dies in 1923, which came as a surprise and really shouldn’t have. Keeping something like seventy-eight scandals and an affair hidden from the public was much easier in 1920 than it is today, but all the stress took a toll on Harding. Fortunately, he had a well-spoken and garrulous Vice President in Calvin Coolidge who took over and handily defeated a divided Democratic Party in 1924.
Relation to 2016: Very little. The public knew little about Harding’s transgressions and he remained popular after his death. Coolidge rode excellent credentials and an incredibly popular Republican wave to victory.
Fun Fact: This is the end of the Confederate voting block – the last time a winning candidate takes none of the states from the Confederate South.
1928: The 1920’s is starting to feel like the Madison/Monroe/“Era of Good Feelings” elections – predictable.
So thank goodness for 1928. Coolidge refuses to run again – tells absolutely nobody of this decision until he hands his secretary a press release saying concisely “I do not choose to run for President in 1928,” and then at the press conference he gives the media copies of his statement and refuses to speak about it. The Republicans turn to Herbert Hoover, Commerce Secretary and famous inventor of household cleaning goods, while the Democrats counter with Al Smith.
Smith is Catholic and anti-prohibition, as the Democrats were chasing that all important drinkers vote. His nomination put the Democrats between a rock and a hard place – while there is a wealth of pro-Catholic sentiment, he simultaneously faces the broadside of anti-Catholic conspiracy.
That conspiracy grows fast and wild. The Klan gets involved, terrorizing a Smith campaign trip. Protestants across the country are told if Smith gets elected, marriages will be annulled, and while Hoover himself claims his opponent’s religion has no bearing on the contest, the Republican Party pushes the Catholic narrative out to hide their man’s straightforward aloofness.
Relation to 2016: Lots. The virulence against the Smith campaign was similar in nature to the populism excited by Trump, and not just because the Klan gets involved.ix On some level, all political campaigns are dirty and involve lies; fewer devolve to activating baser group-mentality truths about human nature, an us-vs-them mentality which paints the other candidate as morally vacant and evil. Smith faced a lot of this in 1928.
Oh, and the economy was about to implode.
Fun Fact: Blacks and the Klan find themselves on the side of Hoover. While the Klan hated Catholics, Black Americas thought Hoover to be anti-segregation at worst, and possibly supportive of integration.
Also Babe Ruth campaigned for Smith in such a way as to make all future sports endorsements pointless:
Unfortunately, Ruth wasn’t the most dependable spokesman. He would sometimes appear in his undershirt, holding a mug of beer in one hand and a spare rib in the other. Worse, if he met with any dissent while praising Smith, he would snarl, “If that’s the way you feel, the hell with you!” and stagger back inside.
If athletes aren’t going to campaign drunk, then why campaign at all
1932: The economy implodes in 1929. Franklin Roosevelt wins in a landslide.
Relation to 2016: Very little. There’s not much to say here. Hoover ran again because he controlled the Republican Party, but the heyday of the GOP was over. They wouldn’t win a Presidential election again until 1952. It is unclear what Hoover really thought – obviously that he could fix the country, but the vast majority of Americans blamed him for the collapse. It would be similar to 2008 if the race was Obama vs. Bush instead of McCain.
One event does stand out – Hoover was so unpopular in the GOP that some prominent Republicans refused to back him, and others openly spoke of a Roosevelt victory.
Fun Fact: Herbert Hoover oversaw the total and utter meltdown of the American economy and the beginnings of a worldwide depression and still ran for office.
1936: FDR ran again, facing off against Alf Landon. The race is close, surprisingly so until the first weekend in October, when NBC sues Landon for using the ‘Alf’ theme song without permission. This marks the first ever ‘October Surprise.’
Just kidding. Landon disappears about halfway through the campaign and FDR wins every state except Maine and Vermont.
Relation to 2016: I can’t find any. Maybe if Obama ran against Trump – that might cause a 1936 type of landslide.
Fun Fact: College football teams use FDR as an example when scheduling teams to play during the upcoming season. “He ran against Hoover and Alf Landon? Lets schedule Bourgeoisie State and the U.S. Virgin Islands junior varsity swimming team!”
Also George Gallup starts asking people lots of questions, Nate Silver correctly predicts every state except Vermont, and Peggy Noonan claims that Landon “can pull this thing out of the hat” with a high Kansas turnout on election day.
At least Landon had awesome campaign buttons:
1940: Hindsight is everything, and it makes 1940 a strange election. It is clear that the war going on in Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, the North Pole, and Mars is going to reach American shores soon, but Americans don’t believe that. FDR certainly does, but he is forced to campaign on an isolationist message while simultaneously quietly working the public to prepare them for war. His opponent is Wendell Wilkie, who looks like Don Draper’s father.
FDR eventually wins, but not as easily as ’32 or ’36. Wilkie is a strong campaigner; while he faces an uphill battle in regards to FDR’s popularity and lingering memories of the Depression, he works to expand the Republican map and does so in the Midwest.
Relation to 2016: Very little. With an imminent war, popular president, and lingering distrust of big business, 1940 is a poor guide for the 2016 campaign.
Fun Fact: In 1940, the Republican Party won ten times the electoral votes compared to 1936, and they still lost by 367.
1944: A dying FDR picks Harry Truman as his vice-president and possible successor and runs against Thomas Dewey. Dewey fights hard, expands the electoral map for Republicans, and still loses by 300 electoral votes.
Relation to 2016: None. Running against a successful war-time President is nearly impossible.
Fun Fact: After 1944, pundits are able to start referring to ‘temperament’ and ‘nuclear codes’ and ‘finger on the button’ and America is worse for having to listen to them, especially this year.
1948: Fucking Thomas Dewey runs a great race, looks poised to win, and loses at the last minute to Truman, and forces all of us to endure years of ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ references in regards to a candidates chances. He also gives rise to Peggy Noonan. In a just world, he either loses in a landslide or wins and we avoid this catchall.
We will see this image until the End of Days.
Relation to 2016: It depends on how election day goes, but dammit if there’s not hope!
Fun Fact: By 1948, America was on the up! Things were looking nice, recovery was cruising along, and Truman was making inroads on segregation. Death and taxes may be the only two certainties in life according to some, but there is a third, little known subsection to that rule:
We can’t have nice things.
And so Strom Thurmond runs for President as a Dixiecrat.
1952: Truman discovers that while it is hard to defeat a successful war president, it is easy to run against a not-successful war president, and the Korean War is going…poorly. Truman fires MacArthur in early 1951, and while America is no longer losing, they certainly are not winning in 1952. Truman toys with the idea of running again – though the 22nd Amendmentx is now law, Truman is exempt from it (the last President with the chance to run for a third term until President Trump overturns the Constitution in 2024). Adlai Setevenson emerges from the Democratic mess.
The Republicans see their chance and grab onto war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, who defeats Stevenson, sweeping everywhere but the deep south and ushers in an era of gentlemanly goodwill for all.
Relation to 2016: Very Little. Ike ran against the war in Korea and Truman’s Cold War policies; Stevenson seemed to never really commit to running.
Fun Fact: Truman had to relieve Eisenhower of his rank in order for Ike to run for office.
1956: REMATCH! The final rematch in American history.
*please don’t let 2020 be a rematch*
Ike and Stephenson square off again and it is never really a contest. Ike is remains incredibly popular – war hero status and a growing economy will do that to a President. Just look at Ike’s approval ratings
Stevenson retained a strong following amongst Democrats, and he campaigned heavily, but it was never a contest.
Relation to 2016: None. A popular incumbent facing off against the same rival is about as boring and opposite from 2016 as we can get.
Fun Fact: This is the last 48-state election. Alaska and Hawai’i would make Richard Nixon’s life hell in 1960.
1960: Eisenhower’s handpicked successor is Richard Nixon, who campaigns with a pledge to visit all fifty states. His opponent is Democrat John F. Kennedy, who is a bit of an underdog in the primary and runs a tight race with Nixon throughout the campaign – the race was rarely more than five points apart.
A lot of circumstance dominated the race. Nixon’s pledge hits a bump when he hurts his knee and spends two weeks in the hospital. Kennedy’s VP nominee – Lyndon Baines Johnson – was an ambivalent choice, in terms of pairing, but LBJ remains one of the best campaigners in American history. The two candidates were simultaneously faced with the medium of television. JFK’s youthful appearance famously helped him.
Kennedy won – barely – and Nixon’s choice to not contest the results of the election placed him in good standing until he actually won in 1968 and then tried to lie to everyone.
Relation to 2016: Somewhat. Comparing the issues of 2016 and 1960 – or any Cold War election – is difficult because of the overarching American strategy, but both elections have an element of redefining an enemy and focusing on him. JFK famously ran with the idea of a bomber gap, claiming Ike let America fall behind on defense.
The race was also often close, as 2016 has been at times, but that is also what makes 2016 hard to compare. The bottom fell out from Trump, but he has worked his way back to within striking distance.
Fun Fact: Early in his term, JFK dares America by saying, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
America thinks he is talking about getting to the moon in space and we start launching giant rockets whereas JFK is just talking about seeing Marilyn Monroe naked.
1964: Kennedy dies in 1963 and Johnson takes office. Riding the popularity and mourning of JFK, he runs in 1964 with a huge approval rating and faces one of the most unpopular nominees since the Great Depression, Barry Goldwater. Goldwater proceeds to win six states and under 40% of the popular vote.
He is, however, the first Republican to ever win Georgia, and sets off a realignment within the GOP culminating in Reagan. Who leads to Bush. Who leads to Trump.
Relation to 2016: Similar. Goldwater was an unpopular Republican nominee, on the extreme edges of the Party. He was unwilling to support Civil Rights legislation, losing the votes of Black Americans in the process, and was either crazy or willing to use threat of nuclear activity on the Soviet Union. Johnson easily painted him into a corner in which Goldwater was unable to broaden his support.
Party dynamics are different today than 1964 – most Republicans came home to Trump instead of look elsewhere, but both Goldwater and Trump ran on a relatively specific part of the party base.
The New Deal Coalition is used to refer to the structure FDR created in 1932 to win election; that structure was passed down to Truman and then Stevenson, to Kennedy and Johnson. 1968 is the year where the Coalition is thought to end.
And it was a chaotic year. Johnson’s second term is full of promise which never sees the light of day. Vietnam is sucking more and more American troops into Asia with little result. The pushback against the Civil Rights Acts are in full swing and 1968 sees both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy gunned down. A major shift in party dynamics is occurring as well – Nixon bases his comeback strategy on winning the south, and the modern political map we see today dates from 1968.
After RFK’s assassination, the Democrats are left without a standard bearer. Humphrey is a leader in the party but the Democrats are splitting on the Vietnam War, and the anti-war side of the party sees Humphrey as an extension of LBJ – and therefore the war. The 1968 Democratic Convention is combustible to begin with and it explodes; images of the Chicago Police beating protesters are shown worldwide. Humphrey wins the nomination of the Party, but throughout his campaign the support of the party is slow to arrive.
So Humphrey is off to a hard start and Nixon has the united Republican Party behind him and a strategy to win, and then the fun begins.
LBJ is working to end the war, and ends up suspending bombing and calling for peace talks in October 1968 – the first true October Surprisexi. Humphrey is polling close to Nixon at this point, and Nixon is growing wary. He sees this as an attempt to throw the election to Humphrey, and counters with a secret promise to the leader of South Vietnam, telling him to not attend the peace conference and that under Nixon, South Vietnam will get better terms.
LBJ finds out and is irate. He passes the information to Humphrey, who does nothing with it. Nixon goes on to win a close election, though he loses the south to George Wallace.
Relation to 2016: Somewhat. Trump’s dealings with Russia harken to Nixon’s dealings with South Vietnam, and Clinton does show some similarities to Humphrey, especially with the difficulty in pulling the left-leaning part of the party onboard her campaign. However, the Vietnam context makes any comparisons seem shallow.
1972: Nixon remains somewhat popular, with an approval rating hovering between 50 and 60%. He runs against George McGovern in a mirror image of the 1964 race – Nixon, the popular incumbent, and McGovern, the ideologue extremist. McGovern wins Massachusetts and DC, and Nixon wins nearly everywhere else.
In the process of completing one of the most devastating electoral landslides in American History, Nixon sends agents to break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate hotel. While noting came of it at first, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman eventually broke the story, leading to Nixon’s downfall and resignation.
Relation to 2016: None. Too much of a landslide.
I wanted the final scene from the movie and couldn’t find it.
1976: No winners emerged from 1976 – literally.
Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign in 1973 after a bribery scandal broke. Nixon asks Gerald Ford to take his place, as Ford is seen by the public as a man with integrity. When Nixon resigns a year later, Ford becomes President – the only man to do so having never been elected President nor Vice-President.
He is beset by problems. The economy is beginning to slow, South Vietnam is falling apart, and he decides to pardon Nixon in an effort to move on from the Watergate scandal. Running against Jimmy Carter in 1968, Ford is blamed for both the nation’s problems and a corrupt bargain to become President, and Carter’s campaign of being a Washington outsider wins him the office.
Relation to 2016: Very little, as 1976 was on the coattails of the least popular president of all time.
Fun Fact: Each of the four candidates in this race would go on to lose a Presidential election – Ford loses in 1976. His running mate is Bob Dole, who loses in 1996. Carter would lose the 1980 election, and his running mate – Walter Mondale – will go on to lose in 1984.
1980: The more interesting race in 1980 is for the Democratic nomination, as Ted Kennedy gives Carter a very difficult time. Carter eventually wins and Kennedy gives one of the best campaign speeches of all time. On the other side stood Ronald Reagan, an economy on the verge of depression, and the Hostage Crisis in Iran.
Reagan wins easily, ushering in a decade of Republican domination.
Relation to 2016: None in the general campaign. The primary races of 1976 and 1980 both have some ties to 2016, however. Ford was pushed to the brink by Reagan in ’76, and Carter by Kennedy. Both lost, which may hold over to the Cruz-Trump ending of the 2016 Republican race (though it did not the 2008 Democratic primary).
Fun Fact: After retirement, most presidents find they get an aircraft carrier named after them. This was true for FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Reagan, H.W. Bush. As a former submariner, Carter got a sub named after him instead.xii
1984: Walter Mondale runs against Reagan and wins Minnesota and DC.
Relation to 2016: None. It was a blowout loss for the Democrats.
Fun Fact: These 1980’s elections are boring.
1988: Michael Dukakis revolutionizes politics with his radical Canada strategy, where he attempts to win only states along the Canadian border. He loses to George H.W. Bush, 426-111.
Relation to 2016: None. The Republican Presidential machine was at its apex, and the party was about to undergo another revolution.
Fun Fact: This Photo:
It will never cease to be amusing.
1992: George H.W. Bush manages to break a long-held American truth: successful wartime Presidents never lose, and unsuccessful wartime presidents always lose. By 1992, HW has seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and successfully prosecuted the First Gulf War, but the economy begins to tank in 1992. Bush also breaks with the Republican Party and offers a budget where he – gasp – raises taxes. This is anathema to the GOP after the Reagan years.
On the other side, the Democrats nominate popular southern-charmer William Jefferson Clinton, only recently emerging from some sort of sexual harassment allegation. They pair him with Al Gore and go on to prove that if you have an accent of any sort, secret doors will open for you in America.
Clinton’s victory is fascinating in hindsight. Bush had a number of advantages and seemingly happened to be the wrong candidate for the wrong time. The economic downturn hurt him, as did the rise of Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate. His character attacks against Clinton did not stick but within a decade they would easily have done so. The rise of the moral Republican Right was beginning in 1992, but was not full force.
Meanwhile, Clinton just looked at us and we swooned.
Relation to 2016: Very Little. Aside from the Clinton connection, 1992 holds few parallels for 2016. Both candidates were experienced, the economy was the main issue, and there was a popular third party to deal with.
Fun Fact: HW wrote Clinton a heartwarming letter upon his inauguration, going to show that politics isn’t full of deplorables.
1996: After seeing him on an episode of Family Guy, the Republicans nominate Bob Dole to run against Clinton. The Democrats had lost the House and Senate in the 1992 Republican Revolution and Clinton was thought to be vulnerable; but the mid-90’s economic recovery solidified his Presidency, even as Newt Gingrich was fucking everything up.
Relation to 2016: Somewhat. The partisan divide in 2016 dates back to the 1992 mid-term elections, which brings forth a Republican Congress unlike any seen before – radical, unwilling to compromise, and angry. Dole is not that brand of Republican – he harkens back to an older era of politics where parties get along, and his candidacy is a passing-the-torch type moment, only instead of holding the torch high, the Republicans use it to try and burn everything down.
Fun Fact: The reason Carter was a one-term President was because his initials are bad. Democratic Presidents since the Depression: FDR, HST, JFK, LBJ, WJC…and Jimmy Carter.
2000: George W. Bush and Al Gore and I don’t want to think about how this election might be similar either. Let’s move on.
2004: The Democrats nominate John Kerry, who is immediately attacked over his war record…and the attacks manage to stick. Bush is running as a recently successful war president – his near 100% approval ratings post 9/11 were declining, but still hovering around 50%. More the point, Iraq has not yet descended into chaos and Afghanistan looks like it will not be a problem either.
Much like 1812, the lesson here is to win re-election before they burn the White House. Or throw your invasion plans to hell.
Relation to 2016: Somewhat. In other circumstances, the Kerry-Bush campaign would be fascinating. One experienced, well-respected politician running against a relatively popular incumbent President. It was not that environment though. Bush worked to portray Kerry as weak on defense, which is the exact reason Democrats chose him to run; Kerry was never fully able to find his legs and the night was over early on election day after Kerry lost both Ohio and Florida.
Fun Fact: Obama gives the 2004 DNC Keynote address, and everything changes.
2008: Obama faces off against John McCain.
Relation to 2016: Very Similar, with one key difference. In 2008, the GOP didn’t know what it wanted to be. Bush was massively unpopular, though his final two years were the best of his term. Cheney wasn’t going to run (he was liked less than Bush) and there was no Republican waiting in the wings. McCain was an old Republican veteran who ran against Bush in the 2000 primaries, but the Party was starting to split along domestic lines. Conservative Republicans pushed against all the social change happening within the country and for a more isolationist America, all the while praising Reagan; meanwhile the Reganites were beginning to feel pushed away from the party as it moved more extreme and further away form mainstream Americans. These were not surface level changes yet, just inklings of what was to come.
Oh, and the economy was self-immolating and threatening a worldwide depression.
Fun Fact: The only way 2016 would be better is if Trump had picked Sarah Palin as his Vice President.
2012: Obama runs for re-election against Mitt Romney in an election Democrats will feel awful about for decades to come.
Obama is not a given for re-election. Pushing through the Health Care Act saps into his popularity, and though he manages to wind down Iraq and Afghanistan and get Osama Bin Ladin, those wars are not completely over yet. The economy is doing better, but unemployment is still high, and part of the Obama message is “We’re on the right track.”
Meanwhile, Romney is a standard Republican and is vilified by the left for being out of touch, a wealthy plutocrat with no knowledge of what middle America is going through through every day. He is attacked for being too scripted and moving from position to position on the issues like he is playing defense in basketball.
He loses – in the race Peggy Noonan actually calls into question on election day – and Obama won and America moved on believing that we’d never think of it again.
And then 2016 happens, and Romney emerges as the leader of the Never Trump movement.
The Presidential cycle of 2012 holds few lessons for 2016 (the Congressional Cycles hold a lot of lessons about what Democrats should have expected). But the idea that Mitt Romney – the most recent Republican candidate for President, would lead a charge against his own party is not something one could see coming in 2012, and it is a fantastically difficult position to take.
Romney ran against Obama and essentially wanted to do the opposite of what Obama did from 2012-16. Hillary is not going to be the same, but she will, broadly, continue a lot of Obama policies, and Romney is saying that she is a better candidate because she won’t bring about the downfall of the Republic.
Who knows how much effect his actions will have. This is not Alexander Hamilton throwing the election to his hated rival Jefferson, nor Henry Clay working to get a cabinet position under Adams, but it is in the same vein as those two individuals. In a different era, with a less black and white electorate, it would be a Roosevelt maneuver, running against your own party because it has moved too conservative.
Either way, Romney – and the others like him who have disavowed Trump – have decided that the country is more important than their preferred policies; and America is strong enough to survive four years of someone they disagree with.
2016 is unlike any other specific election because of one reason: Trump. He is a radical candidate, which knocks 80% of elections off the table, but when you combine his personal issues, a divided electorate with no third-party outlet, and a relatively unpopular Democrat, the election stands in its own tier. Other elections have been just as crazy in their own right – along with the contests in 1800, 1828, 1860xiii, 1884, 1912 and 1968, this year’s campaign fits in with those as the craziest elections in American history.
This year is not a one-off election. It is not unique and it is not without historical precedent. The partisan divide and black-vs-white outlook today dates back to the Republican Revolution of 1992, and from there to the 1976 Republican primary, and from there to the 1964 Presidential election and from there to the Republican collapse in 1932 – and this is only focusing on the political aspect. Take into account any number of social, economic, and foreign changes and that mix gets more difficult to map.
It is the general lesson of American politics. We may drift to the extremes, but we will always snap back towards the center. One party may win six elections in a row, but it does not mean that party has figured it out; it is far more likely to mean that party has reached its apex.
The problem with this election, as pointed out by the Keepin’ it 1600 crew, is how close it all has come. Trump is an undisciplined fascist who, at the time of this writing, may still win. If he doesn’t, he is going to get over 40% of the vote and carry 200+ electoral votes. What happens if a disciplined fascist takes hold?
Let’s go back eighty years to 1933. Franklin Roosevelt is just elected and is sorting through the Depression. To get elected in 1932, Roosevelt has the support of Huey Long, a former governor of Louisiana and current Senator. Long is a left-wing populist ideologue. If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had a love child, it may well be Huey Long.
Roosevelt isn’t comfortable with Long and calls him one of the two most dangerous men in America – and he is not entirely wrong in doing so. Long holds a wide network of devoted supporters who hang on his every word. He is a great speaker, able to motivate people through his rousing speeches. He essentially controls Louisiana, and at some point in 1933 he begins to split with Roosevelt and starts to lay the groundwork for his own Presidential campaign in 1936. He wants a wealth redistribution, net asset taxes, and more spending on public works; and in the height of the Depression this begins to spiral into antisemitism and egomania.
Long is assassinated in 1935, and a race against a popular Roosevelt is probably a poor idea in the first place, but the popularity of his positions and the Democrats ability to take him under their umbrella, thinking they can assimilate him is a cautious tale for 2016. People can change; demagogues often do not, and to expect that one will after his election is a folly proven by history.
i I think this is the first year where both candidates have the same name
ii The Cleveland-Blaine battle of 1884 is about as exciting as a Jets-Browns mid-December matchup to decide the fifth overall pick.
iiiPresident Above Replacement
iv 1800, 1828, 1840, 1892, 1900, 1956.
v WJB garnered just over 45%
vi Go and read the 1828 section again. It’s certifiably insane.
vii Wilson would nominate Hughes to be Secretary of State, and upon his confirmation, Wilson and his vice-president would resign. The modern line of succession – which includes the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate – came into being in 1945.
viiiCounting the draws in 1800 and 1824 here.
ixLet’s pause for a moment here and get a drink as we all realize that the Klan is still a thing.
x So you don’t have to google: Presidential Term Limits
xiI lied to you earlier.
xiiI just discovered that LBJ is getting a Zumwalt-class destroyer named after him. The Navy either has an amazing sense of irony or no historical knowledge.
xiiiWe didn’t talk much about 1860, but it caused a Civil War.