Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Potential Presidents"
Asker redcloud Asks:
Besides Ben Franklin, who else from the Founding Fathers who didn't become President do you think would have made good Presidents?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Oh, there are many.  A lot of the Founders that I listed earlier today in my answer to a question about who might have been a suitable first President had Washington not been available fit the bill.

I would say that the one Founding Father that really stands out to me as a guy who would have been a really good President is probably John Jay.  Jay was highly respected and one of the unsung Founding Fathers, but he wrote some of the The Federalist Papers, was just as important and influential as a diplomat as Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, served as Governor of New York, was Presidential of the Continental Congress, and the very first Chief Justice of the United States.  From 1784-1790, Jay was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, which meant he was basically the Secretary of State from the end of the Revolution, through the writing and ratification of the Constitution and formation of the federal government, up until Thomas Jefferson became the first official U.S. Secretary of State about a year into George Washington’s Presidency.  John Jay was an enormously capable leader and incredibly important Founding Father.  He was also way ahead of his time, fighting for emancipation almost from the birth of the republic.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
The favorites for the democrat and republican nominations in 2016 are already pretty obvious even if we don't know if they are running for sure. If those favorites decide not to run and you take them out of the equation, who are some surprise candidates on each side that people might not know very well but who could possibly win? Are there any?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

First of all, I personally don’t think that there is a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination yet.  The GOP is a mess right now.  Of course, we hear certain names being tossed around, but a lot of those names are the Tea Party Republicans.  People like to talk about the Tea Party Republicans as if they are credible Presidential candidates because they are adept at capturing headlines, but I will confidently and adamantly continue to say this: none of the politicians who are identified as leaders of the Tea Party wing of the GOP will be elected President of the United States.  They make a lot of noise, they get a lot of TV time, and they might even raise a lot of money…but they cannot win a national election.  They can’t even win the GOP nomination.  It’s not going to happen.  Maybe they can stretch out the primary process by splitting the GOP, but that’s only going to hurt the Republican Party, not result in a Tea Party candidate as the nominee.

So, with that said, who is a dark horse from the GOP that could surprise people?  Well, right now it seems insane to suggest that a Republican member of the House of Representatives or U.S. Senate could be a Presidential contender, but I’ve been worried about Senator John Thune of South Dakota since 2007.  Senator Thune didn’t run in 2008 or 2012, but Thune would be a formidable candidate.  He is experienced, he is well-respected, he isn’t a bomb-thrower, he comes across as Presidential, he’s solidly Conservative and should appeal to the GOP’s base, yet he doesn’t come across as an extremist.  John Thune could absolutely be elected President if he decided to take a shot at the White House.

As for the Democrats, President Obama still has three years left in his term, yet Hillary Clinton has been all but crowned as his successor and the leader the party.  Nearly everybody thinks that she’s going to run and, if so, that she will win.  Vice President Biden, who has been a loyal, hard-working, efficient, and important partner to Obama, is waiting in the wings just in case Hillary decides not to run.  Hillary and Biden are the obvious frontrunners.

But the Democrats have a superstar-in-the-making who also has nowhere to go but the White House and, quite frankly, with the right campaign, with the perfect introduction to the American people, and if he caught the right breaks since anything can happen in Presidential primaries, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley could shock the establishment and steal the nomination from Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden.

Governor O’Malley is Bill Clinton in 1992, except O’Malley is more experienced, tougher, and doesn’t have the “weaknesses” that almost cost Clinton the Democratic nomination in ‘92 and ended up leading to his impeachment.  Like Senator Thune, O’Malley looks like a President.  Now, being telegenic and charismatic doesn’t make someone a good President, but it sure as hell helps with getting elected.  O’Malley is a proven executive with a record he can run on while also pointing out that he isn’t part of Washington’s business-as-usual.  He’s had a successful political career with a variety of significant experience, but he’s never served in American’s least popular institution — Congress, his name isn’t Bush or Clinton, and he hasn’t served in previous Presidential Administrations like many of Washington’s other recycled bureaucrats.  Could Martin O’Malley be President of the United States?  Without a doubt.

It’s only October 2013, and the more famous 2016 contenders will continue to hog headlines until Iowa and New Hampshire, but keep your eyes on Senator John Thune and Governor Martin O’Malley.     

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Due to not being born in the United States, he can't run, but would a certain former governor of California/Action Star/Ex-Kennedy be a good president?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Honestly, yes, I do.  Governor Schwarzenegger was a moderate and his personality could be an important weapon in bridging some of the differences between the two sides.  Personality is huge for a President.  What he would be great at is those moments where Congress is stiffing the White House and he just appeals to the American people.  Obama is not-so-great at that.  Schwarzenegger would be very good.  He’s actually very likable despite some of his transgressions and indiscretions.

I just finished reading his recently-released autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story (BOOKKINDLE) and he really is a remarkable person.  I lived in California for most of his time as Governor and I didn’t love or hate the guy, but reading his story and recognizing how smart he really is and how hard he has worked at everything he has done from bodybuilding to politics has given me a lot of respect for Schwarzenegger.  The book is very candid, too.  I liked it way more than I expected.

Which former NBA stars would've made the best presidents?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, right away we’d have to go with Bill Bradley.  In 2000, when Bradley was challenging Vice President Gore for the Democratic nomination, I was completely in the Bradley camp, attended a Bradley fundraiser in Northern California, and voted for him in the California Primary.  I was — and still am — a huge Bill Bradley fan.  I wish he would have sought the nomination in 2004 and I wish he played an active role in American politics today.

I think Bradley’s good friend Phil Jackson would probably be a solid President, too.  Jackson might be better-suited for Senate Majority Leader because he’s used to dealing with a wide variety of egos and talents and might be able to formulate a strategy (triangle legislation?) so that the Congress worked as a team and got things done.

Of course, Kevin Johnson is currently the Mayor of my hometown, Sacramento.  I’m not sure if he’d be a good President or not.  Since I haven’t been back to Sacramento in over a year-and-a-half, I’m not even sure if he’s doing a good job as Mayor.  If he pushes through a deal for a new arena and keeps the Kings in town, he’ll get my stamp of approval.  Unfortunately for KJ, Sacramento has been in shambles for most of the last decade, so presiding over that city is probably similar to the helplessness that the antebellum Presidents experienced as the nation moved towards Civil War.

I don’t mean to build the entire answer around people with Sacramento ties, and this person obviously couldn’t be President of the United States, but I think Vlade Divac would be a great political leader.  I’m not sure what his politics are, but it seems like he’d be a perfect candidate back in his homeland of Serbia.

Michael Jordan probably could have seriously been elected President of the United States at the height of his popularity.  Jordan always transcended cultural, racial, and political boundaries, and he was definitely popular enough with the American people (and wealthy enough to self-finance his campaign, if necessary).  I don’t think that remains the case, especially after his inexplicable Hitler mustache in the Hanes commercials, the anger and bitterness in his vicious Hall of Fame acceptance speech, and the fact that he turned on the NBA’s players and was the most hawkish, hardline owners during the NBA lockout.  But if he had been old enough (and showed even the slightest interest) to run in 1996, Jordan probably could have won all 50 states.

This was a fun question!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Since it is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Day, do you think that he could have been a good president?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

As great and inspiring that MLK was, I don’t believe he would have been a good President because he never showed much skill as an executive or an administrator.  Dr. King was an amazing organizer who was creative, courageous, and determined, but he struggled with the day-to-day leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and I think he would have soured on politics quickly, as he showed a real distaste towards church politics and the in-fighting of religious and fundraising organizations.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which non US born person do you think would be a good president?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

That’s tough to answer because there are plenty of people around the world who would have been good Presidents, but you also have to think about how they would fit in the American system of government, which requires a very different skill set than, say, a British Prime Minister or the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 

I’m just going to name the first few people who come to mind.  Despite being from the British system, Tony Blair has all the tools to be a good President of the United States.  He’s charismatic, he can talk, he is a solid politician, and he knows how to follow which way the wind is blowing.  I’m always impressed by King Abdullah of Jordan, although he would be considered too short by American political standards.  If Fidel Castro had been born in the United States there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been elected President.  Before we realized that he’s apparently corrupt and insane, Hamid Karzai seemed like a damn good politician who ended up in the right place and the right times.  The current, well-respected, personally-stable version of Prince Charles would have been a progressive force to be reckoned with if were an American politician. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you think any of the presidential children would have made good presidents themselves? (Besides John Q. Adams and Bush 43, of course)
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

This is a very good question.

A lot of people say JFK Jr. and he would have been a very fascinating candidate, but by the time of his tragic death, it seemed as if he was no closer to entering the political arena than he ever had been.  I’m not sure about his ability and I know he would have been an attractive candidate, but I don’t think he ever really had the passion to be a candidate — and, really, with all he and his family saw and went through, who could blame him?

I’m quickly scanning my brain and trying to think of whether there was a Presidential child who might have made a good President.  I don’t say this to be mean and it is an unfair blanket statement that obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but for the most part, Presidential children have been unremarkable.  There were a few Presidential children who made it on their own, but there were far more who skated by on their father’s name.

Charles Francis Adams — the youngest son of John Quincy Adams — is a possibility.  Adams was a brilliant historian and spent time in the Massachusetts legislature and one term in the U.S. House of Representatives where he was a forceful advocate for the abolition of slavery.  Like his father and grandfather, Charles Francis Adams was the U.S. Minister to Great Britain (appointed by President Lincoln and served throughout the Civil War), where he helped maintain British neutrality and kept them from giving diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy.  Adams was very close to being nominated by the Democrats to challenge Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection in 1872.

Martin Van Buren had four sons, all of whom were involved in politics at some point and worked closely with their father.  Van Buren’s oldest son, Abraham, was a military hero of the Mexican War and another son was a Congressmen and abolitionist.

John Scott Harrison — son of one President (William Henry Harrison) and father of another President (Benjamin Harrison) — served two terms in the House of Representatives and another vehement opponent of slavery amongst Presidential children.

Several of John Tyler’s sons served in prominent positions in the Confederacy or the Confederate military during the Civil War.  David Gardiner Tyler, the oldest son of Tyler’s second marriage, served in the Confederate Army as well as the Virginia State Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Robert Todd Lincoln had a distinguished career in public service after his father’s assassination.  Lincoln was Secretary of War under President Garfield and President Arthur and appointed U.S. Minister to Great Britain by Benjamin Harrison.  It was probably only his personal preference which kept him out of the White House as Lincoln likely could have been elected President on his own at any time during his lifetime simply because of his name.

President Grant’s oldest son, Frederick Dent Grant, had a solid military record (as a young aide to his father during the Civil War he was wounded at Vicksburg) and served as President McKinley’s assistant Secretary of War.

The second son of President Hayes, James Webb Hayes, had a distinguished military career that he could have used to his advantage, particularly the fact that he won the Medal of Honor during the Spanish-American War.

Maybe the most qualified child of a President was James Rudolph Garfield, the second son of President Garfield.  The younger Garfield served in the Ohio State Senate, on the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and as Commissioner of Corporations for Theodore Roosevelt’s Department of Commerce and Labor.  Many of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “trust-busting” policies were carried out successfully due to Garfield.  For the last few years of Roosevelt’s administration, Garfield served as Secretary of the Interior and TR thought so highly of Garfield that President Taft’s decision to replace Garfield with Taft’s own appointee contributed to the vicious split between Roosevelt and Taft prior to 1912.

Roosevelt’s oldest son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was a highly-decorated military hero in both World Wars, winning a Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Medal and Distinguished Service Cross in the First World War and the Medal of Honor in World War II where he participated in the initial stages of the Normandy landing of the D-Day invasion.  TR Jr. served in the New York State Assembly and was assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1921-1925 — the same position used as a springboard to the White House by his father and his cousin, Franklin.  TR Jr’s unsuccessfully ran for Governor of New York but served as Governor of Puerto Rico and Governor-General of the Philippines.  TR Jr. may have been able to transmit his Medal of Honor heroics at Normandy into a even more prominent political career but he died a month later of a heart attack.

William Howard Taft’s oldest son, Robert, probably came closer to the Presidency than any Presidential child not named Adams or Bush.  Robert Taft served over a decade in the Ohio legislature before he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1939 until his death in 1953.  Taft was a brilliant Senate leader, chosen as one of the five greatest Senators in American History by a panel of Senators in 1957, and was one of the Senators written about by John F. Kennedy in Profiles In Courage.  Taft was probably the most powerful Senator besides Lyndon Johnson in the 20th Century and came close to winning the Republican Presidential nomination in 1940, 1948, and 1952.  While Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman enacted the New Deal and promoted liberal policies, Taft was the strongest conservative opponent of the two Democratic Presidents.  Within the GOP, Taft was the anchor of the conservative wing of a party long dominated by moderates such as Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower.  Taft lost the 1952 nomination after a bitter battle at the Republican Nation Convention with Eisenhower and died the next year after his was stricken with cancer.

FDR’s son, James, probably could have enjoyed more political success if he was born in a different era.  His name was, of course, immensely valuable and had a decorated military career as a Marine fighting in the Pacific during World War II.  James Roosevelt ran for Governor of California in 1950, but was unsuccessful.  By the time he established a political career after a decade in the House of Representatives, the very liberal Roosevelt faced a more conservative electorate with Ronald Reagan as Governor in Roosevelt’s home state of California and Nixon in the White House.

Finally, I would have to include Jeb Bush, as well.  I have written before that while I do believe Jeb Bush is better-qualified and better-equipped to be President than his brother, I do think that George W. Bush was a better politician.  With that said, Jeb was undoubtedly capable of being President and probably headed towards the White House before his brother happened to get there first and give the nation “Bush fatigue”.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I am a big fan of Bobby Kennedy and I always wondered how our world would have been different had he not been assassinated. Do you think he would have won that election? What kind of presidency do you think he would have had?

Are there any other examples you can think of from history of those who ran for office (or perhaps should have) and would have been great presidents if given the chance?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve answered the RFK question before, and my previous answer fits your question perfectly, so I’m just going to copy and paste it since my opinion on RFK and 1968 hasn’t changed:

Bobby Kennedy was an enigmatic figure.  He inspires a lot of love from people despite the fact that he was a vicious, dirty political operative.  He was basically JFK’s Rahm Emanuel.  Then again, RFK also had the balls to do and say things that JFK was either too cautious or too conservative to do.  Bobby was more progressive and more in-touch with the regular people of the United States, particularly the poor, the downtrodden, and the minorities.

With that said, people tend to lose sight of the fact that Hubert H. Humphrey — the incumbent Vice President and RFK’s biggest rival for the 1968 Democratic nomination — was ahead of RFK in delegates even after RFK won the California primary on the night he was assassinated in Los Angeles. 

In my opinion, not only would RFK not have defeated Nixon for the Presidency in 1968, but I don’t think he would have beat Humphrey for the Democratic nomination.  Kennedy had quite a bit of momentum, but Humphrey had LBJ’s tacit support and Eugene McCarthy was drawing delegates away from Humphrey and Kennedy and refused to withdraw from the race.  If the candidates had gone to the Democratic Convention in Chicago without anyone clinching the nomination, I highly doubt RFK would have had the support amongst Democratic Party officials to leave Chicago with the nomination.

As for a potential RFK Presidency, I definitely don’t think Americans would have lost trust in the Presidency like they did with Nixon.  The Presidency itself evolves constantly and it’s power or relevance in the eyes of the American people and in comparison to Congress is always cyclical.  However, the loss of trust in the Presidency in the 1970’s was a direct result of Nixon’s transgressions, not a reflection on the institution itself.  RFK wouldn’t have made the same mistakes Nixon did because he didn’t channel his anger in the way Nixon did.

As for the second part of your question, there are so many people who would have been or should have been great candidates for the Presidency that it’s almost futile to try to name some of them since we’ll leave so many out.  My personal wish list of people I wish could have been President would include Al Gore, George C. Marshall, Charles Evans Hughes, Samuel J. Tilden, Theodore Roosevelt (in 1920, had he lived), Al Smith, John Jay, Henry Clay, and the list goes on.

I'd like to throw a hypothetical your way. What do you think an Andrew Carnegie presidency would've been like?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, it would have been very controversial — illegal, in fact.  Carnegie was born in Scotland and, thus, Constitutionally ineligible to be President of the United States.