Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
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Posts tagged "Presidential elections"
Asker ultra-pop Asks:
If Sam Houston ran in 1860 on the Constitutional Union Party ticket how well do you think he could have done? Given his large reputation and character is it possible he could have won over the states John Bell won and some other close ones (Missouri which Douglas took by .2%, Maryland which Breckenridge took by .8%, and so on)? Or was he too old, too unpopular in the South, and damned if he tried?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Sam Houston was in a really tough position in 1860. I mean, he was basically the George Washington of Texas independence and annexation, yet his loyalty to the Union was destroying him in the state he brought into the United States. Just a few months after the 1860 election, Texas tossed him out as Governor because he wouldn’t swear an oath to the Confederacy. Northerners wouldn’t vote for him and by the 1860 election, Houston had no support base in the South. He wouldn’t have even won Texas!

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.

On November 8, 1960, millions of Americans went to the polls in what would become one of the closest Presidential elections in American History:  John Fitzgerald Kennedy versus Richard Milhous Nixon.

That morning, Kennedy voted in Boston and Nixon voted in Whittier, California.  The candidates had spent months canvassing the nation, working to get every last vote — and every last vote was needed.  For the past several weeks, Kennedy and Nixon had criss-crossed the country, debated one another, and been working non-stop to be elected the 35th President of the United States.

After they voted that day, there were results to monitor, precincts to watch, election day problems to take care of, and many other things to worry about.  Imagine being on the cusp of the Presidency — with a 50/50 chance of being elected the next President of a superpower in the grip of the Cold War, with the threat of Communism and nuclear weapons hanging over your head, and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people pinned on either your victory or defeat.  Imagine being in the position of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960.  What would you do? 

John F. Kennedy put the control of his campaign in the hands of his younger brother, Bobby, and then took a nap.

And Richard Nixon took a road trip to Mexico.

Once Nixon voted that morning at a private home in a quiet Whittier neighborhood, he had been scheduled to head to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where Bobby Kennedy would be assassinated eight years later) for the Election Day vigil and the long wait for the returns which would indicate whether he would be moving into the White House or facing an early retirement. 

Nixon was finished voting by 8:00 AM and hopped into his black Cadillac limousine to be driven to the Ambassador.  Several blocks away from the polling place, Nixon ordered the limousine to stop.  Along with a military aide and a Secret Service agent, Nixon jumped out of the limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Nixon took the LAPD officer’s place, got behind the wheel and ditched the press which had been following him.

Driving to La Habra, California, Nixon made a quick visit with his mother, making sure she had voted for her son in the Presidential election.  Nixon drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with no specific destination.  He stopped for gasoline in Oceanside and told a gas station attendant — startled to see the Vice President of the United States on a joyride on the very day that he stood for election as President — “I’m just out for a little ride.”  Nixon confided that it was his only source of relaxation.

As the group of four men, with Nixon in the driver’s seat, reached San Diego — over two hours away from Nixon’s campaign headquarters at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel — Nixon pointed out that he hadn’t been to Tijuana in at least 25 years.

As David Pietrusza wrote in his recap of Nixon’s road trip, “Richard Nixon — the ultimate control freak — was winging it on the most important day of his life.”  Not only that, but the sitting Vice President of the United States and the man who many Americans were choosing to become the next President, impulsively decided to leave the entire country while those voters were still at the polls.

In Tijuana, Nixon and his party headed to a restaurant called Old Heidelberg.  Despite the fact it was owned by a German, Border Patrol agents told Nixon that it was the best place in Tijuana for Mexican food.  Joined at the last moment by Tijuana’s Mayor, Xicotencati Leyva Aleman, Nixon, his military aide, a Secret Service agent, and an average LAPD officer ate enchiladas in Mexico while John F. Kennedy took a nap in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

When Nixon’s press secretary Herb Klein was asked about the missing candidate, he had to tell reporters that Nixon often took some private moments on hectic days such as Election Day.  Really, though, Klein had no clue where Nixon was, eventually admitting that the Vice President was “driving around without any destination”. 

After lunch in Tijuana, Nixon and his companions headed back north towards the United States border crossing.  The LAPD officer took over driving duties as Nixon sat in the convertible’s passenger seat.  A shocked Border Patrol guard shook hands with the Vice President and asked the man who was currently on the ballot for the Presidency, “Are you all citizens of the United States?”.

Nixon and company drove to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which Nixon called “one of my favorite Catholic places” on the day he faced the only successful Catholic candidate for the Presidency in American History.  Nixon took his three companions on a quick, informal tour of the Mission.  “For a few minutes, we sat in the empty pews for an interlude of complete escape,” Nixon later recalled.

The missing candidate and his three road trip buddies arrived back in Los Angeles before the election results started rolling in.  Nixon had to explain his trip to reporters who had been searching for him all day.  “It wasn’t planned.  We just started driving and that’s where we wound up.”

In his Memoirs, Nixon didn’t go too far into explaining why he escaped on Election Day, but a paragraph about that day is pretty illuminating:

After one last frenetic week, it was over.  Since the convention in August I had traveled over 65,000 miles and visited all fifty states.  I had made 180 scheduled speeches and delivered scores of impromptu talks and informal press conferences.  There was nothing more I could have done.

Except escape to Mexico while JFK slept.

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.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What presidential election is least-covered in books?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know the exact answer, but I would imagine it is probably the 1924 election.  Calvin Coolidge vs. John W. Davis vs. Robert LaFollette isn’t exactly a barnburner calling for Game Change 1924: The Silent Treatment.

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.

Off the top of your head what are your top 5 presidential elections that shaped (positively or negatively) American history? Does that top 5 change with a little research?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Off the top, I’d say:

•1800 (John Adams vs. Jefferson)
•1824 (John Quincy Adams vs. Jackson vs. Clay vs. Crawford)
•1860 (Lincoln vs. Breckinridge vs. Douglas vs. Bell)
•1960 (JFK vs. Nixon)
•2000 (G.W. Bush vs. Gore)

With more research, I’d stick with those five, but 1864 (Lincoln vs. McClellan), 1876 (Hayes vs. Tilden), 1912 (Wilson vs. Taft vs. T. Roosevelt), and 1976 (Ford vs. Carter) would be in the conversation.

"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

What are the chances John Kerry will run for president again?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t see that happening.

Kerry has taken to the State Department really well and even some of his longtime detractors have complimented his work as Secretary of State, but I can’t imagine him parlaying his Cabinet spot into another bid for the White House.

First of all, John Kerry was a terrible Presidential candidate. It’s not that he was unqualified or incapable of handling the actual job of President; it’s that he is literally a bad candidate — he doesn’t campaign well, he doesn’t inspire passion (or even a passing interest) in the rank-and-file members of his party that need to get out the vote in order for a Democrat to win a national election, and whether they respect him or not, Democrats don’t necessarily like him. That’s a recipe for a stillborn campaign.

There’s also the fact that electorates don’t respond well anymore to former nominees who already lost a national election. The days of a Thomas Dewey or Adlai Stevenson losing a Presidential election and running it back four years later are long gone. Candidates who lost a previous bid for their party’s nomination can still make a run in the top spot, but there’s not enough room, time, or money to give a proven national loser another chance at losing.

Even if Kerry did get another shot at the Democratic nomination (which he won’t), it would not be in 2016. Obviously, the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 if she wants it. If not, it’s Vice President Biden’s Should Hillary and Biden both miraculously pass on the nomination in 2016, there are several Democratic Governors waiting in the wings who are just a handful of TV appearances away from being the country’s newest political rock stars (Governor O’Malley of Maryland and Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado, in particular).

Okay, you might say. What about 2020? Not going to happen. John Kerry is 70 years old now. He has no shot in 2016 and even less of a shot in 2020 when he’ll be 77 years old — right around the age President Reagan was AFTER eight years in the White House. Kerry’s window for the Presidency was 2004 and, despite being an awful candidate and making up one-half of one of the worst Presidential tickets in U.S. history, he actually almost won. But that is the closest he will ever be.