If no candidate receives the required majority in the Electoral College to become President and the election is sent to the House of Representatives, the first thing to understand is that the votes are not cast individually. Instead, the vote is decided by state delegations (whose individual members of Congress vote as a block), and resolving the undecided election would require an absolute majority of states (at least 26) in order for a candidate to be elected.
So, to break it down more: there are 435 individual members of the House of Representatives, but in the case of an undecided election of the President that is thrown into the House for a resolution, the members don’t cast individual votes. Instead, they gather in their respective state delegations and cast their votes within their state’s caucus — the candidate who wins the majority of votes within the state delegation, “wins” that state. Once a candidate wins an absolute majority of state delegations that candidate is elected President.
Now, there are, of course, 50 states, so what happens if the votes of the state delegations are split 25-25 and we still have no winner? We simply take another ballot. And, if necessary, another and another and another… The voting in the House of Representatives continues on-and-on until a candidate finally wins a majority of state delegations. It’s like a Papal Conclave — we must have a winner! — without the world’s most low-tech method of excitement: the fumata bianca.
A few more important particulars to note if a Presidential election is thrown into the House of Representatives because nobody won a majority of Electoral votes:
•The House must choose between the leading Presidential candidates who received Electoral votes, they can’t just plug anyone that they want in there. Of course, this is usually just two candidates. However, the last time the election was decided by the House (1824), there were four candidates who split the Electoral vote: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay. In such a case, the House is limited to deciding between the top three vote-getters in the original Electoral College tally.
•Advances in technology and transportation has all but eliminated the possibility of state delegations being absent from the proceedings, but it is mandatory for at least 2/3 of the state delegations to be present in order for the House to decide the election.
•All other Congressional business takes a backseat to an undecided Presidential election thrown into the House. The House begins voting as quickly as possible and continues until there is a winner who qualifies.
•If we reach Inauguration Day and still don’t have a President-elect, the person who won an Electoral College majority as Vice President becomes President. If there is also no Vice President-elect, the House how and who to choose the person who will become Acting President until somebody qualifies as President. (An undecided Vice Presidential election is resolved by the U.S. Senate.)
The House of Representatives has decided two Presidential election — most famously the aforementioned 1824 election in which Andrew Jackson won a plurality of Electoral votes against John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay, but lacked the required majority necessary to clinch the Presidency. The House ended up electing John Quincy Adams, a result that Jackson and his supporters chalked up to a “Corrupt Bargain” between JQA and Henry Clay, who became Secretary of State under President Adams.
The first election decided by the House was the 1800 campaign. At the time, the top vote-getter in the Electoral College was elected President and the person who finished second was elected Vice President. While there was no official designation between the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, going into the 1800 campaign, Democratic-Republicans unofficially saw Thomas Jefferson as the Presidential candidate and Aaron Burr as the Vice Presidential candidate. When Jefferson and Burr ended up tied in the Electoral College, Burr saw an opportunity to snatch the Presidency up for himself, decided not to step aside for Jefferson, and the election was thrown into the House. Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist leader, had issues with both Jefferson and Burr, but he hated Jefferson just a little bit less than Burr. Hamilton influenced the Federalist support in Congress that Jefferson needed to clinch the Presidency and Burr ended up as Vice President. As we all know, Burr never forgot Hamilton’s role in costing him the Presidency and he ended up killing Hamilton in a duel while still Vice President of the United States.
Incidentally, just in case anybody was wondering, a Vice Presidential election has only been thrown into the Senate for a decision on one occasion — 1836. Richard Mentor Johnson had been a staunch supporter of Andrew Jackson and the outgoing President Jackson wanted to reward him. While Jackson had almost seemingly handpicked Martin Van Buren as his chosen successor in 1836, Old Hickory definitely chose Johnson as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate that year, insisting that the Democratic National Convention nominate Johnson as VP. The Democrats nominated Johnson as Van Buren’s running mate, but Johnson was extremely unpopular in the South. Despite being from Kentucky, Johnson openly kept a former slave as his common-law wife and raised their mixed-race children as white, free, and legitimate. Many Southerners of his own party steadfastly refused to support Johnson’s candidacy for Vice President even as they supported Van Buren for President. This led to four candidates splitting the vote for Vice President in the Electoral College — Richard M. Johnson, John Tyler, Francis Granger, and William Smith. While Johnson had a solid plurality of Electoral votes for VP, he lacked the majority required for election that Van Buren had won as President.
In the case of a Presidential election deadlocked in the Electoral College, the House settles the dispute by a vote between the top three vote-getters, at most. When a deadlocked Vice Presidential election is decided by the U.S. Senate, only the top two contenders in the Electoral College are considered. So, the undecided election for Vice President in 1836 came down to Johnson and Granger, and Andrew Jackson was happy to see the Senate elect his choice for VP, Richard Mentor Johnson, to join his chosen successor as President, Martin Van Buren.
(Four years later, neither President Van Buren or Vice President Johnson were as lucky. The Democrats renominated Van Buren, but Southerners were no longer the only opposition to the scandalous Richard Mentor Johnson. At the Democratic Convention in 1840, Democrats refused to renominate Johnson, Van Buren refused to nominate another VP, and Van Buren headed into the general election season without a running mate. Still hoping to continue in the job, Johnson simply campaigned for VP on his own and ended up as President Van Buren’s de facto running mate. Johnson’s presence or absence had no discernible impact on the campaign — no matter who his running mate was, the incumbent President Van Buren was trounced on Election Day by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.)
Yeah, I saw an article somewhere (maybe Politico?) that said Senator Warren is Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare for 2016. No, Hillary’s worst nightmare is a Bill Clinton sex scandal and a strong challenge from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
I like Elizabeth Warren. I think she has a bright future, but I also think 2016 is too soon. She doesn’t have the national base or appeal that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden does. She doesn’t have the same rockstar potential as Governor O’Malley does once the rest of the country gets to know him. She doesn’t match up well with anyone on the GOP side except for Sarah Palin or Rick Santorum, neither of whom are getting anywhere near the Republican nomination in 2016. I’m definitely not convinced, either.
Sure. Let’s set it up this way, so everyone knows what I’m talking about:
Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected first in 1884, defeating Republican James G. Blaine. In 1888, Republican Benjamin Harrison beat the incumbent President Cleveland. In 1892, former President Cleveland challenged incumbent President Harrison and won. So, Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as President (1885-1889 and 1893-1897).
The 1888 and 1892 campaigns (and Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison) are pretty odd, actually. First of all, they were fairly clean campaigns, largely because neither Cleveland or Harrison really campaigned.
The other weird thing is this: Cleveland and Harrison (as incumbents — Cleveland in 1888 and Harrison in 1892) weren’t that unpopular with the country when they lost their elections. However, both of them were unpopular within their own party.
In 1888, Cleveland actually won the popular vote and lost the Electoral vote to Harrison. So, really, Cleveland won three popular vote elections as President (1884, 1888, and 1892). What tripped up Cleveland in 1888, however, was that he lost his home state — New York. The reason he lost his home state was because the Tammany Hall Democratic political machine (his own party) despised Cleveland due to the reforms he worked to push through as Governor of New York and as President. Tammany Hall cost him New York’s 36 electoral votes in 1888 and New York’s 36 electoral votes cost Cleveland the Presidency.
In 1892, President Harrison had to beat back challenges for the Republican nomination by GOP leaders trying to dump him in favor of James G. Blaine or William McKinley. Harrison had alienated many leaders of the Republican Party, particularly people like Matthew Quay, Pennsylvania’s political boss and Harrison’s 1888 campaign manager. There’s a great story about how Harrison talked constantly about how God had put him in office, discounting the work of GOP operatives during 1888, and Quay finally told Harrison, “Then let God re-elect you.”
There was also a third-party candidate in 1892 — James B. Weaver of the Populist or People’s Party. Weaver won four western states — a total of 22 electoral votes — and that siphoned off some of Harrison’s support. Without Weaver, Harrison still would have lost, but it would have been much closer.
To add to Harrison’s troubles, his wife, Caroline, was very ill with tuberculosis throughout 1892, so his heart wasn’t really in the battle. The First Lady died two weeks before Election Day, and although everyone (Harrison, Cleveland, Weaver, and their surrogates) ceased campaigning out of respect to the Harrison family, President Harrison was already beat by that point.
Without a doubt, my favorite is Irving Stone’s classic book, They Also Ran: The Story of the Men Who Were Defeated for the Presidency.
Originally published in 1943, Stone updated the book in 1966, and it takes a look at 23 losing candidates. What I love about They Also Ran is that Stone doesn’t merely give brief biographies and recaps of the campaigns, but he tries to envision what would have happened if the losing candidates had actually been elected President.
It’s a shame that the book was last updated nearly a half-century ago, but Irving Stone was an amazing writer (he also wrote two fantastic biographical novels — Lust For Life about Vincent Van Gogh and The Agony and The Ecstasy about Michelangelo) and They Also Ran is an absolute classic.
Even if Hillary and Obama hadn’t run for President in 2008, I don’t think John Edwards would have been the Democratic nominee. If there’s one thing that I know it’s that is really tough to be the frontrunner for your party’s nomination as President of the United States when you knock up a member of your staff while your wife is dying of cancer and then try to get one of your aides to fall on the sword for you.
Without the heavyweights (Hillary and Obama), another Democrat would have emerged from the field — maybe Joe Biden or Bill Richardson, or maybe someone who didn’t run in 2008 like Howard Dean or General Wesley Clark or even Al Gore.
The rivalry between General Eisenhower and Robert Taft was certainly interesting. Because of Eisenhower’s popularity and his relatively easy victories over Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, it’s forgotten that Taft was such a contender for the Republican nomination in 1952 before it became clear that Eisenhower was making a bid for the Presidency. Taft really felt that it was his turn and that he deserved the nomination. He looked at Eisenhower as a bit of a political carpetbagger — a career soldier who had said he had no interest in politics and hadn’t even officially declared which party he belonged to until shortly before he ran for President.
Taft was a victim, of course, to Eisenhower’s immense popularity as the Allied commander during World War II. But Taft was also a victim of television. Eisenhower had that famous smile and a quirky charisma, while Robert Taft was a really awkward-looking guy who didn’t come across well on television. The 1952 Republican National Convention was the first political convention that was a major television event, and that definitely helped Ike and hurt Taft. Bob Taft also came across as a cold, aloof figure who was highly-respected for his intellect, but not terribly exciting or special. Not only did he not have the appeal or ability to connect with the American people that Eisenhower did, but he wasn’t even close to being as likable as his father, William Howard Taft.
With that said, Bob Taft was a formidable figure and Eisenhower could not take him lightly — not during the 1952 GOP Convention and not after Eisenhower’s election when he Ike had to try to mend their relationship since Taft remained Senate Majority Leader. Taft never fully bought in to Eisenhower, but they also didn’t have much time. Although Taft sought the Presidency and felt that he deserved to win it in 1952, he was probably already dying of stomach cancer at the time. Senator Taft died on July 31, 1953, so if he had been elected, he would have been dead just over six months into his Presidency. Despite their rivalry, President Eisenhower quickly realized that losing Taft’s leadership in the Senate was an early blow to his Administration’s legislative efforts and Taft’s absence allowed Joseph McCarthy to continue his reign of terror in the Senate for several more years.
First of all, I know it was an innocent typo and I’m totally not one of those people who likes pointing typos out, but Secretary of Stare would be the greatest Cabinet position ever. I would be an amazing Secretary of Stare.
Huntsman would be a fantastic Secretary of State in a Republican or Democratic Administration, but I hope he runs for President. Hillary Clinton would be great. I love Joe Biden. I am completely intrigued by Martin O’Malley. But Jon Huntsman is the type of President that this country sorely needs right now, and I would love to see it happen.
Let’s pump the brakes and slow down, okay? I like Cory Booker and I think that he’s a rising star, but he hasn’t even been sworn in and taken his recently-won seat in the U.S. Senate yet.
Because of the avalanche of news coverage, the prevalence of social media, and the rapidly-shrinking attention span of the average American, many people confuse “constant coverage” for “credible contender”.
We’ve already reached the point in American political life where everything is just one continuous campaign. It’s awful, but there’s no turning back from it now, unfortunately. What we can do, however, is take a breath and recognize that the fact that a politician is grabbing headlines or making himself/herself the main topic of conversation during a news cycle doesn’t mean that he/she immediately becomes a serious candidate for President or Vice President in an election cycle that is still over two years away from even the party primaries.
I’m not even specifically picking on Senator-elect Booker or the person who asked this question. It’s an issue that has come up with a number of other politicians over the past few months who happened to dominate a few news cycles because of this reason or that reason and then immediately have been spoken of as potential candidates in 2016.
Americans wonder how it ever reached the point that we’re at right now when we find ourselves locked in a constant campaign — a situation that results in problems like the government shutdown because politicians aren’t governing. They are either running for something or running away from something. Nobody wants to make difficult decisions or unpopular compromises during a campaign. Now, since we’re in a constant campaign, everybody is a candidate and nobody is a political leader.
We’ve reached that point because we’ve empowered the politicians that we put in office to see themselves as potential Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates since we mention that possibility whenever one of those politicians win themselves some news coverage for whatever the reason might be. By wild speculation over two years before primary season and three years before the general election cycle, we allow them to be candidates rather than public servants. Instead of doing the job they have, they shape themselves for the job that they want. And they do it because we let them.
It is one thing to look ahead to the 2016 election and think about Hillary Clinton’s possible candidacy. She’s no longer holding office. She doesn’t have a job to do every day on behalf of the American people. But when we start speculating about Cory Booker who doesn’t even have the exact date scheduled yet for taking his Senate seat, or debate whether or not Ted Cruz is eligible for the Presidency even though all he has done in office is grandstand, alienate leaders from both parties, and willfully obstruct progress, we give them permission to plunge into the constant campaign rather than do their job.
It’s time to stop that. And, just like I said during the shutdown when I pointed out that we have the power and ability to unseat every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives and 1/3rd of the U.S. Senate every two years, it is up to us, the American people, to make it clear that we are tired of the constant campaign. It’s our responsibility to make it understood that we want our elected officials to do the jobs that they have, not the jobs that they might want, or the jobs that others speculate that they might someday get.
Just like we — regular Americans like you and I — can change the face of Congress every two years through the ballot, we can end the constant campaign, too. Again, it is our job to make sure that our political leaders are doing their job — as public servants, not constant candidates in a never-ending political campaign. And, as we do that, let’s also remember that just because a politician is getting a lot of attention, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified or ready to run for President or Vice President.
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.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday from Doubleday:
On the electoral front, John Kerry had locked up the Democratic nomination, and the Bush team was feeling on the defensive. Bush tried to settle down his jittery staff during a meeting in the White House residence.
"Listen, I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns," he started, implicitly reminding his team that he had already seen five Presidential campaigns up close. "The accidental genius of the process in its length is it strips you bare. You’re totally revealed to the American people. You can’t hide who you are. It’s one of the reasons why people made fun of me with my pillow in 2000 and I wanted to get home. But you need your sleep. It’s exhausting." The bottom line this year, he added pointedly, was this: "We’re going to win because John Kerry is an asshole."
No, not necessarily. If anything, Jimmy Carter should have been way better off during his term (1977-1981) and been in a position of strength going into his 1980 reelection campaign. But Carter rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, didn’t know how to play the game in Washington, couldn’t work with Congress, and was frequently described as “supremely self-confident” — which is code for “arrogant asshole” in the political dictionary. Carter was also probably one of the most inexperienced Presidents of the 20th Century. Prior to his 1976 bid for the Presidency, Carter had served just four years as a Georgia State Senator and four years as Governor of Georgia. His political career had also seen a pretty bad loss in Georgia’s 1966 Democratic Gubernatorial primary to the virulent, unabashedly racist Lester Maddox. What really made Carter’s Presidential election in 1976 especially impressive was the fact that, quite frankly, Jimmy Carter has never been a very good politician.
As I mentioned, Carter had a contentious relationship with Congress throughout his term. Now, many Presidents have difficult relationships with Congress and it can tend to handcuff, if not cripple, their Administrations at times. What’s really unique about Carter’s problems with Congress is that, throughout his four years in office, the Democrat Carter had significant Democratic majorities in Congress. During the first two years of Carter’s Presidency (1977-1979), the 95th Congress had 61 Democrats, 38 Republicans, and 1 Independent in the Senate and the House had 290 Democrats and 145 Republicans. In Carter’s last two years in the White House (1979-1981), the 96th Congress had 58 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and 1 Independent in the Senate, and 276 Democrats-159 Republicans in the House. But because of Carter’s imperious and micromanaging style and the way he treated the Congressional leadership (of his own party!), President Carter basically sabotaged the significant political advantages that he should have had while working hand-in-hand with his fellow Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress. Carter should have been able to have his legislative agenda rubber-stamped through Congress for four years. Instead, Congress cut him off at the knees and never forgave him. Any candidate who could come out of nowhere as a dark horse and win election as President of the United States, as Carter did in 1976, seems like they must have remarkable political skills. But Carter didn’t. It’s almost as if he simply got lucky in 1976 and just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Carter was and is a wonderful humanitarian, but he also was and is a crappy politician, and it showed from 1977-1981, particularly when it came to alienating a Congress that was on his side and making his own job exponentially more difficult than it should have been.
Carter may have failed from 1977-1981, but if Ford had been reelected in 1976, I think he would have continued to grow into the Presidency (he was only in office for 2 years, 164 days at the time he left the White House) and been a solid leader during that time period. If Reagan had been elected in 1976 and started the Reagan Revolution four years earlier, I think he would have done just fine from 1977-1981, too.
So, no, I think if you plugged a capable leader into that time frame, they would have done just fine. Carter’s failure during those four years can be chalked up to one simple problem: he’s just never been a very good politician.
There are an awful lot of “What ifs?” in that question, but there is one much bigger problem with your question: Richard Nixon actually WAS President longer than LBJ was. It wasn’t that big of a difference, but the fact is that Nixon’s Presidency lasted about five months longer than Lyndon Johnson’s Administration.
Alf Landon is either completely forgotten or used as a punchline because FDR destroyed him by an ungodly margin in the 1936 election, but Landon, who was Governor of Kansas, was a highly-respected leader by politicians on both sides of the aisle. FDR liked him and even offered Landon a spot in his Cabinet later in his Presidency. Landon liked FDR, too, supported him on numerous issues (including a lot of the New Deal) and really wasn’t that distant from Roosevelt ideologically. Unfortunately for Landon, he faced FDR in 1936 when Roosevelt was really at the top of his game, as popular as he would be during his 12-year-long Presidency, and also as healthy as he would be during his Presidency.
All of that turned FDR into a steamroller and poor Governor Landon just happened to be the opposition. It must not have eaten at Landon too much because he lived until 1987. That’s right — the second person to run against Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t pass away until 1987 when he was 100 years old.
The campaign between FDR and Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 was significantly different because it took place in the midst of World War II and because FDR was obviously dying. In 1944, FDR didn’t quite have the energy that he used to have on the campaign trail. Dewey, on the other hand, was only 42 years old and had all of the energy in the world. Instead of hammering Roosevelt’s policies, Dewey took a ton of shots at FDR’s fitness for continuing as President when his health was failing and his physical appearance was deteriorating frighteningly. Roosevelt didn’t know Dewey as well as he had known Hoover (a former friend), Landon (whom FDR respected and liked personally), or Willkie, who ended up being close to Roosevelt and serve as a special envoy to war-torn Europe. FDR’s campaign focused on what Roosevelt had accomplished and how close the Allies were to bringing World War II to an end. Roosevelt really didn’t run against Dewey in 1944, he ran (as much as FDR could run — get it? because he was crippled — too soon?) on his own record and on the always-effective argument that you don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream, particularly when that stream is the deadliest and most horrific war in the history of the world.
Incidentally, the best quote about Thomas E. Dewey during the 1944 campaign came from a Roosevelt, but not from Franklin. FDR’s cousin and Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, the acid-tongued Alice Roosevelt Longworth — described Dewey as the little groom figurine on the top of a wedding cake because his mustache made him look like that was exactly where he belonged.
Of course, the worries that Governor Dewey expressed throughout the 1944 campaign about FDR’s fitness to remain in the White House and the President’s failing health were completely accurate. Five months after Roosevelt defeated Dewey, FDR was dead. Dewey was nominated once again by the GOP four years later, in 1948, against FDR’s successor, Harry S. Truman. And as even casual readers of history know, some newspaper editors jumped the gun with the morning edition that was being published for the day after Election Day because Dewey did not defeat Truman.