Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Presidential Politics"

I’m very excited about receiving my copy of this new book, Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman (BOOK | KINDLE). I’m pretty confident that it is going to be a great read, so check it out when it it released on September 23rd via Random House.

Asker chrisdelberk Asks:
What do you think of the possibility of a Tea Party 3rd candidate in 2016?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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.  

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What if we had McRaven/Petraeus for a third party?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If the Republican Party shot itself in the foot in October and through some miracle, Democtats took both chambers of congress, do you think Obama would be able to get anything important done, or is he already too far gone now?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, let’s be clear, for the Democrats to miraculously win both chambers of Congress in November, it would require a more serious wound than the GOP shooting itself in the foot. Both parties shoot each of their members in both feet almost as a requirement for taking your seat in the House and Senate; so, it’s definitely not happening.

But, yes, if Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, President Obama would still have time to get some things done — roughly from the day the new Congressional session began (January 3, 2015) until the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in the summer of 2016. After the nominating conventions, all eyes turn to the general election, of course, but more crucially, members of Congress (particularly the House since all members face re-election) focus on their own campaigns and get very cautious. But for those 18 months or so, the President could definitely get some things done, and would be smart to push through immigration reform and try to shore up the liberal side of the Supreme Court since it’s up-in-the-air who the next President will be and it’s impossible to say whether there would be favorable conditions for confirmation in the 115th Congress that starts in 2017.

It’s not happening, though. And, conversely, if the Republicans win both chambers of Congress on November 4th, President Obama becomes a lame-duck President before he eats breakfast on the morning of November 5th. 

That was a lengthy response, but it didn't really answer my question of: *why* is Jeb Bush the best candidate? You mention the electoral college, but would he really fare much better there than Christie? Bush would win Florida, but he wouldn't stand a chance in states like NJ or PA (which Christie would put in play) The Bushes are a tarnished brand with moderates and independents, and he won't go over well with the base (especially on immigration, which they just mutinied Cantor over). So--why?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Don’t mistake the noisy Tea Party movement and the extremists in the Republican Party as the GOP’s base. They make the most noise, but they don’t cast the most votes, especially in a general election — particularly a Presidential one. Cantor got knocked off, but that’s one guy in one district. Lamar Alexander — a far more moderate Republican easily beat back a challenge tonight in Tennessee from his right, and Pat Roberts did the same thing in Kansas on Tuesday. If those two Senators hadn’t been successful in states where the Tea Party/Libertarian element has been progressing quite strongly over the past couple of years then I might re-think a moderate Republican’s ability to win the GOP nomination in 2016.

Listen, it’s not that some of the other Presidential contenders who are mentioned — Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, etc, etc, etc — can’t win the GOP nomination. It’s definitely possible that they could, but none of them can win the actual election, and as out-of-touch as the two major political parties might seem, neither of them are going to nominate somebody who they know don’t have a shot at winning the election. And I don’t think Christie could even win the nomination. He’s damaged. Sure, he might do fine in the tri-state area, but it’s going to take more than those three states to clinch the GOP nomination, and it’s certainly not going to win him the general election. That bridge deal really hurt Christie in areas where he definitely would have been the top choice immediately after the 2012 election — he’s not a member of Congress and he’s not a Bush, so I’m sure many Republicans were dying to support him. But he screwed up at the wrong time and he’s way more damaged from that scandal than Jeb Bush is by his family. Plus, George H.W. Bush is the most popular ex-President alive today and George W. Bush’s reputation and approval rating has been rising because he’s been scarce, he’s largely been out of the political game, and all former Presidents gain in popularity the further away from their term they get.

The “why” isn’t much deeper than this: the Republicans want to win, and they cannot win with Christie because I simply don’t think there’s enough time for him to rehabilitate himself by the time the Republican primary season hits full swing. If he had another year, yes, he’d probably be able to get back to where he was in November 2012. But he doesn’t, and he can’t. The GOP wants to win and, right now, if we’re looking at the list of contenders most often mentioned for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, Jeb Bush is simply the best bet. 

We are still a long way away from the Presidential election cycle truly kicking off. We’re not even to the midterms yet, and that will have major implications on the next two years and the Presidential race. So, all of this can and will probably change. But, today, in August 2014, it’s Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney if the GOP wants to actually win the White House and not just nominate somebody that those noisy people like. The extremists are not the base in either party, and the power lies with the base because the votes lie with the base. If the moderates and independents were the minority in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney and John McCain wouldn’t have been the last two Presidential nominees, John Boehner wouldn’t be Speaker, and Cantor’s primary defeat would have been the barometer for this midterm election cycle and not the exception.

With Presidential politics, it’s usually not much deeper than the fact that the party will nominate the person who gives them the best chance to win and Jeb Bush is that person over everyone else because of the Electoral College math; Jeb Bush is that person over Chris Christie specifically because Christie is damaged nationally from the bridge scandal and doesn’t have enough time to repair that damage; and Jeb Bush is that person because the Bush name won’t damage him as much as some people think, especially if the candidate that the other side is nominating is named “Clinton”. I guess the second part of that last sentence is more of the “why” that you’re asking for, but honestly, the first part of the sentence is a “why”, too. It’s frustrating and seems silly that something so important can be answered with such a broad statement, but sometimes in politics the reason that a candidate can’t win is simply that a candidate can’t win. It can sound dismissive or like someone is trying to dodge the question, but that is often the explanation; Chris Christie can’t win because Chris Christie can’t win.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Obviously Romney's not going to run again for a number of reasons, but if he did, do you think he could/would snatch the nomination again? He's doing well in NH polling and there aren't a lot of moderate-wing candidates on the roster.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t think he’d even have to “snatch” the Republican nomination.  If Jeb Bush doesn’t run for President, the only Republican who would have any shot at beating Hillary Clinton and winning the election is Mitt Romney.  Believe it or not, if Hillary Clinton shockingly decided not to run, I think Mitt Romney could very well be the front-runner, Republican or Democrat — and that might be enough to convince him to go through everything again and take another shot at running.

Otherwise, I doubt he would put himself and his family through another Presidential campaign that might end in loss.  The campaign itself is punishing, and that’s without even factoring in how devastating it is to lose. Romney and his family have dealt with losses in a primary campaign (2008) and a general election (2012), and I don’t see them doing that again unless there’s a really, really, REALLY clear indication that he’d do better than he did against Obama.  

There are a lot of people — even people who didn’t vote for Mitt Romney — who are now wishing he would have won the 2012 election.  I imagine there will be a lot of hope or nostalgia for Romney to run again in 2016, especially as the Republican field starts to battle for the GOP nomination and it becomes obvious how sub-standard many of the leading “contenders” are.  If Jeb Bush runs, he should set himself apart from that field quickly.  If he doesn’t run, a lot of people are going to urge a “Draft Romney” effort.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens and Romney as the GOP savior (for the Republican Party, not the country) can’t be totally discounted, but I think Jeb Bush will run in 2016 and give the Republicans somebody who at least won’t lose to Hillary by 400 electoral votes.

A report has reached here that President Polk was dead, which, I do not credit…while I regret to hear of the death of any one…I would [rather] have heard of his death…as that of any other individual in the whole Union.

General Zachary Taylor, writing about his Commander-in-Chief, James K. Polk, to his son-in-law from Monterrey, Mexico during the Mexican-American War.

As the war with Mexico progressed and General Taylor’s success in the field as a commander brought him military glory and his name began being put forth as a potential Presidential contender in 1848, a jealous President Polk saw him as a rival. Even though Polk had pledged to only serve one term and had no interest in breaking that campaign promise, he wanted to handpick his successor and made numerous attempts to cause difficulties for Taylor, place obstacles in his way, and neuter his military authority. General Taylor recognized that the President’s actions were politically-motivated efforts to slander his reputation, force his resignation, and handicap his shot at becoming President.

Although Taylor had not previously had any ambition for a political career — in fact, he had never even cast a ballot in his life — Polk’s efforts backfired, Taylor continued to be seen as a war hero, and the General was motivated by the President’s actions to seek the Presidency in 1848. Taylor, of course, won the election and an exhausted Polk — an intense workaholic who believed that it was just short of a sin if a President sought leisure or took a vacation while in office — was stricken with illness as he returned home to Tennessee and died just three months after leaving office.

Rode the ten-mile round before breakfast. Met Mr. Van Buren riding also his horse, and we stopped and exchanged salutations. Van Buren is now Secretary of State. He is the manager by whom the present Administration has been brought into power. He has played over again the game of Aaron Burr in 1800, with the addition of political inconsistency, in transferring his allegiance from [William H.] Crawford to [Andrew] Jackson. He sold the State of New York to them both. His first bargain failed, by the turn of the choice of Electors in the Legislature. The second was barely accomplished by the system of party management established in that State; and Van Buren is now enjoying his reward. His pale and haggard looks show that it is already a reward of mortification. If it should prove, as there is every probability that it will, a reward of treachery, it will be but his just dessert. Divine retribution is often accomplished by the perfidy of man. Nee lex est justior ulla.
John Quincy Adams, on Martin Van Buren’s role in helping Andrew Jackson get elected in 1828, personal diary entry, July 8, 1829
A fellow once advertised that he had made a discovery by which he could make a new man out of an old one, and have enough of the stuff left to make a little yellow dog. Just such a discovery has General Jackson’s popularity been to you. You not only twice made President of him out of it, but you have had enough of the stuff left to make President of several comparatively small men since; and it is your chief reliance now to make still another.
Abraham Lincoln, on Presidential politics during the Mexican-American War to Democrats in the House of Representatives, July 27, 1848
Asker Anonymous Asks:
If Dwight Eisenhower were a politician today do you think he would still be a Republican?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think the better question is if Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were in politics today, would they have allowed batshit crazy extremists who have NO chance of ever winning a national election to hijack the Republican Party? 

No, they would not have allowed that.  Because Eisenhower, Hoover, Nixon, and Ford were leaders.  And the GOP doesn’t have any leaders right now.  That’s why hey have to have a 15-person Royal Rumble every four years to decide on their Presidential nominee.  That’s why they haven’t elected a President not named “Bush” since 1984 — 1984!  If JFK hadn’t been assassinated, he would have been 67 years old in 1984 — the same age Hillary Clinton will be this year.  That’s the last time the Republicans nominated someone not named “Bush” who could win a Presidential election.  And the most reasonable of the rumored 2016 GOP contenders is the guy with that same last name, too.

The question isn’t if so-and-so would be a Republican if they were around today; it is who does the Republican Party belong to?  What does it stand for?  What country does it really believe it represents?  Where is Lincoln’s Republican Party?  Where is Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican Party?  Eisenhower’s Republican Party?  Hell, where is NIXON’s Republican Party?  Because I don’t know many people who today’s GOP represents, and I’m certainly not close with anybody who represents today’s Republican Party because those aren’t the type of people I surround myself with.  The GOP had an identity that I might not have agreed with, but I respected it and Republicans could be proud of it.  They were the party which helped make Civil Rights a reality — not just with Lincoln, but by delivering the votes that LBJ needed in 1964 and 1965 to offset the Southern Democrats.  Today, if the GOP has an identity — and they don’t, I don’t know what they truly stand for, I just know what they are adamantly opposed to — it’s that they are the dysfunctional family that thinks Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum are viable contenders for the Presidency.

So, this is a long way of saying, yes, Dwight Eisenhower would be a Republican if he were active in politics today.  Why?  Because Dwight Eisenhower was a warrior and a true leader.  Dwight Eisenhower believed in himself, in his ideals, and in this country and the American people.  And if Dwight Eisenhower were around today, he’d take charge of the Republican Party, clear out the crazies, stand his ground, and say, "I am a Republican.  This is what the Republican Party represents.  And you — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Cory Gardner, Raul Labrador, Dan Burton, David Vitter, Michele Bachmann, Tim Scott, Eric Cantor, etc, etc, etc — are NOT Republicans. Give us back our party so we can make our country work again."

I suppose this means I’ll be Martin Van Buren — one term, no war, no greatness.
Dwight Eisenhower, on worries that his ill health would limit him to one term in the Presidency like Martin Van Buren, 1955
Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame. He has most unwarrantably abused the privilege which all politicians have of being ugly.
Editorial about Abraham Lincoln in the “Houston Telegraph”, June 1860
You are looking at the most surprised man who ever lived!

Franklin Pierce, upon learning that he was the 1852 Democratic Presidential nominee. It required 49 ballots at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore before Pierce was finally nominated as a compromise choice.

Pierce’s wife, Jane, who abhorred politics, was even more surprised. When she learned of her husband’s nomination, she fainted.