As Election Day 1916 approached, former New York Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes appeared to be heavily favored to defeat incumbent President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was so certain of his impending defeat that he decided that he would resign after Hughes won the election.
President Wilson — who held a doctorate in government — felt that the transition period from Election Day (in November) until Inauguration Day (in March) was too long to have a lame duck President, particularly while World War I was getting underway in Europe. In what would have been an unprecedented act, Wilson had decided that, in the event of a Hughes victory, he would appoint Hughes as Secretary of State. Then Wilson would resign the Presidency and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would also resign so that Hughes could immediately assume the Presidency.
On Election night, it appeared that was exactly what would happen. Early returns showed a solid lead for Hughes and some outlets called the election for the man Theodore Roosevelt called “the bearded iceberg”. As the night dragged on, though, and it became clear that California would go for President Wilson, the extraordinary plan that Wilson had hatched to prevent a lame duck President was relegated to the what-could-have-been pile.
When a reporter called the Hughes campaign’s headquarters to get a reaction to the rapidly changing circumstances, an aide to Hughes said that candidate had gone to sleep and somewhat presumptuously added, “The President cannot be disturbed”. The reporter said, “Well, when he wakes up, tell the President he isn’t President anymore”.
By the next morning, Wilson had won re-election with a narrow victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Hughes later became Secretary of State under Presidents Harding and Coolidge and was appointed Chief Justice of the United States by President Hoover following the death of William Howard Taft.
First of all, we don’t even know what political party Admiral McRaven belongs to. Secondly, if McRaven does make himself available for political office, I highly doubt it would be as Vice President — especially when he’s one of the few people who could actually beat Hillary Clinton.
If he’s a Republican, I’d love to see Admiral McRaven run because he’s demonstrated his ability as a leader and we need the best possible leadership. Even if he’s not a member of my party, I’d like to see him as a nominee because we deserve to have the best options possible when we’re choosing our President.
And if he’s a Democrat…well…I’m quickly talking myself into him anyway. For more on McRaven’s qualifications, go read the article published Saturday on CNN.com by Peter Bergen (no relation), "William McRaven: The man who hunted bin Laden, Saddam, and the pirates".
Just a few days ago, I mentioned the person that Republicans should be begging and pleading to declare that he belongs to their party and urging to run for office: Admiral William McRaven, who is in a perfect position to do just that since he retired from the Navy just a few days ago.
McRaven is the rare American public figure who is untouched (and unsullied) by the political climate of the last 20 years. He was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command during a time when the work of the Special Forces truly stood out as the best of the best. He played a major role in finding Saddam Hussein and organizing and commanding the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven even continued taking part in Navy SEAL raids in Afghanistan while he was a three-star Admiral.
Who could run against that? How would any career politician — Democrat or Republican — possibly challenge Admiral McRaven if he decided to run for President? They couldn’t. McRaven could say, “This country needs leadership and this is how I’ve led,” and no politician could stand up and say, “Well, you haven’t served in Congress or as an elected official” because McRaven could just say, “Exactly. And this is how I led…”
Hell, I’m starting to hope he’s a Democrat because I’ve talked myself into McRaven for President.
If it happened, it would automatically hand the election over to the Democrats. A third party candidate would split the non-Democratic vote, and neither the mainstream Republican candidate or the third party Tea Party candidate would be able to garner the votes needed to win many, if any, states. It would result in a Democratic landslide in the Electoral College, and it would be catastrophic for the GOP.
An example of what this would look like is the 1912 election when incumbent President William Howard Taft, a Republican, was challenged by his mentor and predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, for the GOP nomination. Since Taft was President and the President is head of the party, Taft controlled enough delegates to hold on to the Republican nomination despite Roosevelt’s popularity nationally and scores of dissatisfied Republicans. When Taft was renominated, Roosevelt bolted from the party and became the Progressive Party (or “Bull Moose” Party) nominee. The Taft/Roosevelt split also fractured the Republican Party and the scattered any possible majority for President Taft or Roosevelt. It also drove many progressive Republicans towards the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who pledged a progressive platform. Wilson hadn’t even served two years as Governor of New Jersey at that point (his only experience in elective politics), but the drama within the Republican Party during the 1912 election guaranteed Wilson’s victory so far out that Wilson spent much of the final weeks of the campaign working to elect Democratic members of Congress to work with him once he was elected President instead of focusing on his own campaign.
The final result was an Electoral College and popular vote bloodbath. In the Electoral College, Wilson won 435 votes to Roosevelt’s 88 and Taft’s 8. Wilson won 42% of the popular vote while Roosevelt won 27% and Taft won 23%. It would be very difficult for a third party candidate to win a Presidential election — not impossible, but very difficult. For a third party candidate to win, that party would likely need to be on the ballot in two or three Presidential elections first in order to gain exposure, complete ballot access nationally, and win the confidence of an electorate which has become conditioned to vote for one of two major parties. A third party candidate’s success in a Presidential election would also likely require a solid foundation on the local, state, and federal love, so that there is a base of supporters, surrogates, and other elected officials to advocate the party and its candidate. A third party’s success wouldn’t come from winning one Presidential election; it would come from electing members of Congress, Governors, local officials, and then winning a Presidential election. Like I said, it’s not impossible, but it is very difficult — and it is way harder now than it was in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt was just a few years removed from a very popular Presidency and one of the most famous people in the world.
Finally — and this is the most important thing pertaining to your question — a Tea Party candidate absolutely can not and will not ever win a national election. A third party candidate winning a Presidential election is unlikely but not impossible; a Tea Party candidate winning a Presidential election is impossible. There is no way to make the Electoral College math work for a Tea Party candidate on the national level. And if the Tea Party did run a third party candidate for President, that would be as a major protest against the mainstream Republican Party. It would sabotage the party’s shot at that particular election, and possibly even fatally split the party on a national level. Tea Party candidates can win (and have won) seats in Congress, but a national election victory isn’t even slightly possible. The GOP would do everything it could to prevent a third party candidate from the Tea Party running for President.
An incumbent Republican Governor? As I’ve said many times, I don’t see the Electoral College math working out in 2016 for any Republican candidate, and I especially don’t see any current Republican Governor winning the nomination or election. The best two candidates for the GOP, in my opinion, are Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Now, they are both former Governors, of course, but not currently in office.
With that said, I do believe Governors tend to be the best Presidential candidates and have the best “head start” of sorts if elected President. Governors have executive experience that is about the closest thing to the Presidency that one can experience, even if they are on completely different levels.
If I had to choose the incumbent Governor who would be the best candidate nationally for the GOP in 2016, I’d say that it’s Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. He has a lot going for him and is a rising star, but 2016 is too soon for Governor Sandoval. Still, if I’m forced to pick a GOP Governor currently serving, that’s who I would put my money on.
Congressman James Garfield (R-OH), on the declining popularity of President Ulysses S. Grant, a fellow Republican and Ohio native, during the latter half of Grant’s second term in the White House, according to information Grant’s Vice President Henry Wilson shared with Garfield in January 1875.
While President Grant remained personally honest, scandals and corruption had tainted his Administration due to the Civil War hero’s poor judgment when it came to his political appointments. As the upcoming 1876 Presidential election approached it appeared as if Grant would break with tradition and seek an unprecedented third term in the White House. Vice President Wilson was one of the members of Grant’s party interested in succeeding him, but Wilson died in office in November 1875.
Eventually, Grant stepped aside and Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes won the Republican nominee for President in 1876. A controversial and bitterly-disputed election between Hayes and Democrat nominee Samuel J. Tilden was only decided by a 15-person Electoral Commission which awarded the Presidency to Hayes on a straight party-line vote (8 Republicans to 7 Democrats) just two days before Inauguration Day 1877. Garfield was one of the eight Republican members of the Electoral Commission.
In 1880, President Hayes delivered on an early pledge to only serve one term in the White House and the Republican National Convention kicked off in Chicago with General Grant the favorite for the nomination as he sought a third term in office. Garfield attended the convention as the leader of the delegation supporting the candidacy of Treasury Secretary John Sherman, a longtime Ohio Senator and the younger brother of Grant’s Civil War colleague and friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman. The convention soon became deadlocked as supporters of Grant and James G. Blaine unsuccessfully attempted to break through the logjam from ballot-to-ballot. Although Garfield had not intended to seek the nomination for himself, his name began to pop up as balloting continued but didn’t gain a foothold until nearly three dozen ballots had taken place.
Garfield continued to insist that he was not a candidate and remained loyal to Sherman’s efforts, but the convention’s 34th ballot witnessed movement in Garfield’s favor as delegates began to see the dark horse as an acceptable compromise candidate who might be able to bring the paralyzed convention to a conclusion. On the 36th ballot, James G. Blaine’s supporters, eager to stymie Grant’s hopes, threw their support behind Garfield, making him the unexpected Presidential nominee in the longest GOP convention up to that point in history. Garfield would go on to be elected President in November 1880, was inaugurated on March 4, 1881, was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, and lingered for weeks before finally dying on September 19, 1881, at the age of 49 and just 199 days into his Presidency.
Third-party candidacies for the Presidency are very difficult, so a major party nomination would be the way to go. Third-party candidates not only have to establish their party and platform, but have to work extra hard to ensure that they have a place on the ballot in all 50 states once Election Day rolls around. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy. Plus, third-party candidates — especially if it were a candidate like Admiral McRaven or General Petraeus — would siphon votes off from the Republican nominee and Democratic nominee, and it would likely result in one of the major party candidates winning the election with a minority of votes which makes the new President pretty weak from the outset. In a three-way race (in Presidential politics), one of the major parties will almost always win because they have a stronger and more expansive base than a brand-new third-party trying to build on a foundation that isn’t very solid yet. For a third-party Presidential candidate to have a serious chance of being elected, that third-party needs to have been extant for at least one or two previous election cycles. That gives the third-party a chance to establish name recognition, demonstrate the party’s ideology, raise money, build organizations throughout the country, and, hopefully, elect officials to offices further down the ballot (House, Senate, Governor) prior to running a candidate with a real shot at the Presidency.
Also, a McRaven/Petraeus ticket would be far too top-heavy when it comes to the military. If Admiral McRaven (or General Petraeus) were the Presidential nominee, it would make better sense politically to balance the ticket with a civilian. If the goal was to run a ticket that wasn’t “politics as usual” (which would be the best strategy), I’d suggest picking a business leader as the running mate. If not a business leader, I’d steer clear of Congress and recommend a politician not tarnished by Washington’s toxic political climate — a statewide elected official such as a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Attorney General, or even someone from the Judiciary. But if I’m a political strategist or party leader, I wouldn’t run two military commanders — even two commanders as capable and respected as Admiral McRaven and General Petraeus — together on the same ticket.
I don’t know what party he belongs to, but if the GOP were smart, they’d be BEGGING Admiral William McRaven to declare that he is Republican and anoint him as their 2016 Presidential nominee tomorrow. Admiral McRaven is a star, he’s a hell of a public speaker, he’s the commander of the special operations forces that played such an integral part in the War on Terror, and while President Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Admiral McRaven planned the details and oversaw the operation as it was being carried out. General David Petraeus would have been a perfect choice before his extramarital affair took a bit of the shine off of him (General Petraeus could still bounce back from that if he wanted to run); Admiral McRaven would be a dangerous candidate against any of the most-talked-about potential 2016 candidates. He could even beat Hillary Clinton.
Would he run? I don’t know. And if Admiral McRaven did run, is he even a Republican? That’s what the GOP should be trying to figure out. Like I said, General Petraeus could rise above the affair he had and still be a Presidential contender, so I think the GOP should be targeting him, too, trying to ascertain whether he is a Republican, and urging him to consider seeking the Presidency.
We haven’t elected a President primarily known for his military career since Dwight D. Eisenhower, but we also haven’t had top-level military commanders seek the Presidency very often since then. General Wesley Clark sought the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination, but I thought his campaign was really low-key and half-assed. I actually supported General Clark at first in 2004, but it seemed like I was more excited about the prospect of his candidacy than the General was. Other than Clark, nobody primarily known for being a military commander has even sought a major party’s Presidential nomination since Eisenhower was elected.
Al Gore will always be a potential wild card who could shake up the race, as well, but someone like Admiral McRaven would really turn things on their head. The least popular Americans in the country right now are politicians with the exception of a few state Governors who still enjoy a bit of popularity in their own regions but are largely unknown outside of that area. Who better to run for President at a time when Americans have a record-low opinion of politicians than someone who ISN’T a politician? It is difficult for non-politicians to gain traction in Presidential elections because as unpopular as politicians might be, the electorate immediately wonders whether a person who hasn’t held elective office is qualified to lead. Those questions would be null-and-void with Admiral William McRaven. Of course he is qualified to lead, and he’s not only undamaged by the toxic political climate of the 21st Century but he’s so above politics that we don’t even know what party he belongs to until he tells us. I never mention him with potential 2016 candidates because I’ve never heard his name connected with a possible run (or connected with any of the parties), but Admiral McRaven could win and win big (even against Hillary Clinton) if he could be convinced to run.
I don’t think any Republican can win a national election against Hillary Clinton. I think Jon Huntsman could give her a run for her money, but that would require Huntsman wrapping up the GOP nomination extremely early and the rest of the country getting to know him really well before the general election season kicks into gear. But that’s not going to happen. The GOP’s best chance — and I know that it isn’t exciting and it isn’t what most people want to see — is Jeb Bush. Or, even less exciting — Mitt Romney. I can’t imagine Romney running again unless Bush decides not to and the GOP is dying for someone who could give them a shot, but Romney is relatively undamaged for a guy who lost a Presidential election.
Interestingly, if Mitt Romney ran again in 2016, that might remove the problems Hillary is going to face about her age. A lot of people don’t realize this because he doesn’t seem to age, but Mitt Romney is actually over 7 months older than Hillary. If it was Hillary vs. Mitt, no matter what the outcome, the next President would be the second-oldest to ever be elected.
I like Governor Dean, but I don’t see that happening. There are three Democrats who would be ahead of him if he jumped in the race — Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. One of those three Democrats will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. If Hillary and Vice President Biden didn’t run for some reason, Dean might be in a position to gain some traction, but once the rest of the country sees Governor O’Malley, it’ll be all over. O’Malley is smooth and he’s the real deal.
All good questions.
1. LBJ worried about the repercussions throughout the country if he exposed what was going on. Remember, this being 1968, the country was in a great deal of turmoil. I think LBJ worried that he’d be tossing a lit match into a country already soaked in gasoline which desperately needed stability, no matter who was elected. Just trying to neatly explain the whole deal would be difficult, as well, because the Chennault affair was quite complicated and the fact that Nixon might have secretly sabotaged the peace talks would require some hardcore evidence if it was the President of the United States publicly making the accusation.
First and foremost, LBJ would have to explain how this information came to his attention, and any of those revelations would have caused outrage. Was it from the fact that the United States was spying on the South Vietnamese, our supposed allies? Was it from spying the North Vietnamese or the Chinese? Was it from the fact that the U.S. had wiretapped the phones of Anna Chennault, a naturalized American citizen and working journalist? Was it possibly from wiretaps that allowed the Johnson Justice Department or FBI or whomever to listen in on phone calls made by the Republican Presidential nominee (Nixon) and the Republican Vice Presidential nominee (Spiro Agnew) as well as their top aides (mainly future Attorney General John Mitchell)? Perhaps it was a little bit of all of those things. No matter what, the answer wasn’t pretty, and it wouldn’t have been a smooth ride for President Johnson either.
On top of all that, any revelation by LBJ would have come late in October 1968, and it would have come across as a blatant October Surprise, even if it was absolutely right to blow the whistle. Again, the country was in turmoil, LBJ had made the decision not to run again in March, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in April, Bobby Kennedy was killed in June, and the riots following Dr. King’s assassination and police brutality during the Democratic National Convention were still fresh in American minds. It could have been seen as a last-gasp effort by LBJ to hold on to power by making these very serious allegations — LBJ privately used the word “treason” — in the hope of winning the election for Hubert H. Humphrey just a few days later.
2. No, it didn’t really make a difference in the war, and it probably didn’t make a difference in the peace talks, either. They were stalled and I doubt there was going to be a magical change of events before the election. As you mentioned, the Vietnamese on both sides of the war were not clueless about the Presidential election. I’m pretty sure that both sides were wanting to see if they could get an even better deal from Nixon if he won the election without having to be pushed in that direction. If Nixon hadn’t come to the table with an even better offer once he was inaugurated, the Vietnamese could have reverted back to the previous deal agreed upon under the Johnson Administration because it was no secret that the United States wanted to end the war and end it quickly. Our government — throughout history — has been naive, over and over again, in thinking that our political process and the events taking place in American politics aren’t observed as closely by other countries or governments as we observe them.
3. I think Richard Nixon was probably one of the most brilliant men to ever serve as President but — like Bill Clinton, who is also near the top of the list when it comes to most intelligent Presidents — he couldn’t help doing stupid things. Sometimes, when you’re smarter than almost everybody else, you do dumb things because you believe others wouldn’t think you’d ever do something so dumb. People like that can justify anything to themselves. I can tell you exactly how Nixon probably justified it to himself. He likely told himself that he lost to JFK in 1960 because of dirty tricks in Illinois and in Texas, LBJ’s home state, but that he kept quiet about it. He probably told himself that LBJ was the incumbent President of the United States and that LBJ was unfairly (in Nixon’s mind) placing the power of the Presidency behind Hubert H. Humphrey (who happened to be Vice President, an even closer way to tie him to the Administration) and would do everything he could to defeat Nixon, just as the Kennedys and their allies had done in 1960. He probably decided that if dirty tricks were going to be played, he wasn’t going to get beat again and sent back into the corporate world like after 1960. And after telling himself all of these things, Nixon had convinced himself that the world was against him, that his back was against the wall, that the Democrats were once again trying to yank the Presidency from his hands, and that it was not going to happen this time.
Listen, if I think about something long enough and run it over in my head again-and-again, I can justify just about anything to myself and convince myself that it is in my best interests. And I’m not nearly as brilliant as Nixon was, and I’d like to think that I’m not nearly as vindictive, either. Nixon was on a whole different level, in terms of intelligence, resentment, or ruthlessness.