Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
Recent Tweets @
Posts tagged "Presidential Politics"
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.

The idea of Jim Polk being President of the United States! We are more disposed to laugh at it here than to treat it seriously.

A Congressman from James K. Polk’s home state of Tennessee dismissing Polk’s chances as a dark horse candidate in the 1844 Presidential election.

Polk was elected President several months later.

If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell.
Harry S. Truman, speaking at a Democratic fundraiser in San Antonio, Texas during the 1960 Presidential campaign
Asker hewest1937 Asks:
In 1908 was it a forgone conclussion that Theodore Roosevelt would be re-elected if he ran?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, if TR had run for re-election in 1908, he definitely would have won. Hell, William Howard Taft kicked ass in the 1908 election, and I’m sure TR would have racked up an even more impressive Electoral College victory.

Incidentally, had Theodore Roosevelt lived, he almost certainly would have been the 1920 GOP nominee and been elected President again. TR was only 60 years old when he died, so if his health had held up he still could have had plenty of years left to be politically active.

The 1920 election would have been pretty unique in another way if Theodore Roosevelt had lived and been the Republican Presidential nominee — the 1920 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee was none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt.

You know, before we had this meeting I thought Goldwater was just stubborn. Now I am convinced that he is just plain dumb.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Barry Goldwater, after meeting with him during Goldwater’s campaign for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination
Asker bbkld Asks:
So how do you view Reagan's challenge of Ford in 1976? I think if RR had been patient, GF would have been re-elected and RR would have been POTUS in 1980, anyway. The 1976 challenge seemed like a political misstep from a smart politician known for caring about his public perception.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I agree.  Especially for the guy who always talked about the “Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican”, Reagan really should have shown more respect to President Ford, been patient, and supported the leader of his party.  Historians talk of the Nixon pardon destroying Ford’s chances of being elected in his own right in 1976, and it certainly didn’t help, but what really beat Ford in 1976 was the challenge from Reagan and the right-wing of the GOP.  Ford had to move to his right to meet the challenge, made a move that he regretted for the rest of his life when he dumped Vice President Rockefeller as his running mate for Bob Dole to placate the conservatives, and had to spend all spring and plenty of money just to win his own party’s nomination.  Ford was spent by the time the Republican National Convention rolled around, stumbled during the general election against Jimmy Carter, and yet, he still barely lost the 1976 election.  Also, after the GOP Convention, Reagan really should have been out campaigning for Ford instead of nursing his wounds.

It’s said that Reagan himself was hesitant about challenging Ford in 1976 and that he was pushed into it by Nancy Reagan and his top political advisors.  They were worried that four more years of Ford would cause fatigue for Republican leadership and make it more difficult to win in 1980.  They were also worried that Reagan would lose some of his luster because he was already 65 years old in 1976 and his term as Governor of California had ended in 1975, removing a powerful platform for politicking.

But I agree that, even if Ford had won in 1976, Reagan would have almost certainly been elected in 1980 anyway.  Because Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unfinished second term after he assumed the Presidency following Nixon’s resignation, Ford would have been term-limited in 1980 and Constitutionally ineligible to run for President again.  Reagan would have been the front-runner in 1980, no matter what.

In the end, of course, it worked out well for Reagan, but it was a pretty shitty way to treat Ford who had helped restore faith and trust in the Presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  Ford deserved the Republican Party’s support in 1976 after all that he had done, and he deserved loyalty from Reagan and the conservative wing of the GOP that was just unwilling to offer it and impatient about electing Reagan.

Ford was understandably stung by the entire ordeal in 1976. Anybody who ever knew or met Gerald Ford talked about how kind and gentlemanly he was, mentioned that nobody ever said a bad thing about him, and noted how his optimism and how well he got along with even his political rivals. But the challenge from Reagan in 1976 left him bitter about it for the rest of his life and he blamed Reagan for his loss to Carter in ‘76 more than anyone or anything else. Even then, being the good Republican that he was, Ford wholeheartedly supported Reagan publicly in 1980 and campaigned for him — despite personal animosity over Reagan’s 1976 challenge and Ford’s own deep-seated fears that Reagan simply wasn’t suited for the job of President.

Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.

Gerald Ford, when Ronald Reagan’s name was brought up as a possible Vice Presidential running mate in 1976.

Reagan had challenged and nearly defeated the incumbent President Ford for the 1976 Republican Presidential nomination leaving Ford damaged going into the general election against Jimmy Carter.

Bill Clinton is famously, and sometimes mockingly, remembered for biting his lip before he prepared to say something.  At times, it seemed corny or even smarmy, and on Saturday Night Live, it became a staple of the great Phil Hartman’s impression of Clinton during the Clinton Administration. The mannerism was usually followed with a comment like, “I feel your pain.”

However, in Michael Takiff’s awesome oral history of Bill Clinton, A Complicated Man, it is revealed that there was much more to Clinton’s lip biting than a goofy quirk. In fact, it was a calculated action — a speed bump for the lightning quick thoughts of one of the most intellectually powerful and supremely gifted politicians in American history.  Clinton’s longtime aide and one of the driving forces of his 1992 Presidential campaign, Paul Begala, says that Clinton was trained to do the lip biting because Clinton answered questions so quickly that it almost seemed unnatural.

According to Begala:

He was so smart about so many things but also could connect.  The whole thing about his biting his lip — that was coached.  Because he would answer so fast.  We’d say, ‘Take a beat.  Pretend you’re thinking about it.  Pretend you haven’t already got an answer.’  It was a studied thing to give himself a second to force himself to slow down.”

Asker Anonymous Asks:
would you say that the Bush family is elected because of their name
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

It certainly doesn’t hurt.  

Listen, I certainly have my issues with George W. Bush, but stop and think about this for a second:  Maybe the Bush family gets elected because they are the only Republican candidates capable of capturing some moderates and conservative Democrats in a national election because, to a lot of reasonable people, the GOP is frighteningly extremist and out-of-touch.  Is that possible?  This country hasn’t elected a Republican President not named “Bush” in THIRTY YEARS.

The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.

Zachary Taylor, letter to Thurlow Weed, April 24, 1847.

Taylor was elected President the following year.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Out of the major recent electoral landslides... 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1996, which do you think could have most easily been changed/altered/avoided?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, I personally don’t consider Bill Clinton’s 1996 victory over Bob Dole to be a landslide. There is no official definition of a landslide, but in my opinion, winning 400 electoral votes or more is my idea of a landslide and Clinton came just short (379). But Clinton would have been in trouble in ‘96 if General Powell had sought the GOP nomination.

Of the other elections that you mentioned, 1988 is the one that could have conceivably ended differently. George H.W. Bush’s election was no sure thing. Martin Van Buren was the last sitting Vice President to win a Presidential election, so that was an obstacle — the Vice Presidency is actually a pretty tough position to run v for President from.

Bush had to deal with a pesky primary challenge from Pat Buchanan that he wasn’t going to lose, but it didn’t help his cause as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party despite his eight years as Ronald Reagan’s loyal VP. Plus, there were rumors and worries about whether Bush had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal.

On top of that, there was a strong group of Democratic candidates — Michael Dukakis, Joe Biden, Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt, Al Gore, Paul Simon, Bruce Babbitt, and Jesse Jackson. Some of those candidates found no footing and dropped out quickly or quietly. Some of the went down spectacularly in flames. But several of the candidates — including the eventual nominee, Dukakis — matched up well against Bush. And Bush’s choice of a running mate, Dan Quayle, raised some eyebrows and could have easily torpedoed Bush in the final weeks if Quayle had been more Dan Quayle-ish on the campaign trail.

It took some gaffes and uninspired campaigning from Dukakis and some vicious attack ads from the GOP to really put Bush over the top in what was the nastiest, most expensive Presidential campaign in history up to that point.

"The best and decentest election I ever knew." — Rutherford B. Hayes, on the 1888 campaign between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, personal diary entry, Nov. 9, 1888

"The most lethargic canvass ever known in a Presidential contest." — Rutherford B. Hayes, exactly four years later, on the 1892 rematch between Cleveland and Harrison, personal diary entry, Nov. 9, 1892