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.
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, 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
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.
I had read repeatedly that I was the most conservative President since Herbert Hoover. My feeling was, if that’s true, damn it, the extreme right wing ought to be satisfied. But the truth is they never are unless they lock you in to a little ideological circle that is a miniscule number of voters in the American public. Regardless of the political consequences, I knew that I had to call them as I saw them from the nation’s point of view and at the same time from my own political experience. The facts of life are that satisfying the extreme right dooms any Republican in a Presidential election.
Gerald Ford, on his refusal to cater to the far right-wing of the Republican Party during the 1976 Presidential campaign
It’s really tough. They are the longest hours of your life. You are so tired. You just want the goddamned thing over. The most grueling campaign was 1960 because of the mistake I made with the 50-state strategy…In ‘68, I just drove around on Election Day. The day is the worst because there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do. I watched people drive by, and I thought, ‘How many of these people did I reach?’ You really wonder because inside you are paralyzed with worry. You want to think that all of the effort was worth something to somebody.
Richard Nixon, to Monica Crowley, on what goes through a Presidential candidate’s mind on Election Day, October 30, 1992
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.)
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."
You’re not the only person who gets confused by Presidential succession. I receive a lot of questions about who would become President in this-or-that instance. One particular point that many people seem to be confused by can be answered easily: there is never, ever an instance in which an outgoing President’s term is extended past the date that he is scheduled to leave office. No emergency, no electoral dispute, nothing can ever extend a President’s term other than re-election. If a President is scheduled to leave office at 12:00 PM on January 20th, that’s the end of the line, no matter what happens.
As for your specific question, if the recount or the court battle over Bush vs. Gore in 2000 had continued into the new year and not been resolved by Inauguration Day 2001, the Presidency would have ended up with the person next in the line of succession. President Clinton and Vice President Gore were both scheduled to leave office at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2001, so if the election had not had a result by that point, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, would have become President at that time and served until the 2000 election was decided.
The election dispute in 2000 ended up continuing into December before the Supreme Court ended the recount and Gore conceded to Bush. Throughout Presidential campaigns, the two major party nominees — in this case Bush and Gore — receive CIA intelligence briefings so that they are up-to-date on what is going on around the world and prepared for if or when they become President. As the dispute stretched on, President Clinton actually approved CIA briefings for Speaker Hastert in case he had to assume the Presidency on Inauguration Day.
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.
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”. By midnight, Hughes had won 254 Electoral votes and was 12 short from clinching the Presidency. By winning California, where the votes were still being counted, Hughes would lock up 13 more Electoral votes and be the President-elect of the United States.
Confident that the undecided results would play out in his favor, Hughes went to sleep. The country was 32 years — eight Presidential campaigns — away from the Chicago Tribune’s infamous “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” blunder, but the latest editions of newspapers on November 7, 1916 also jumped the gun. The New York Times and New York World were among many newspapers which either strongly suggested that Hughes was heading towards victory or outright declared him the winner, some of which ran photos of the Republican candidate’s bearded face alongside headlines blaring “THE PRESIDENT-ELECT: CHARLES EVANS HUGHES”.
As the night dragged on into morning, though, it became clear that California would go for President Wilson. When a reporter called the New York City hotel to speak to Charles Evans Hughes, who had gone to sleep confident of a victory, one of Hughes’s still-jubilant aides told the reporter, “The President is sleeping.” The reporter responded, “When he wakes up, tell him he is no longer President.”
By the next morning, Wilson had won re-election with a narrow victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College. The surprising overnight turnaround in President Wilson’s political fortunes resulted in his extraordinary and unprecedented plan for an expedited succession to prevent a lame duck President being relegated to the what-could-have-been pile.
Charles Evans Hughes must have been stunned by his loss. It took him 15 days to send President Wilson a letter congratulating him on his victory and conceding the election. Hughes was approached several more times by the Republican Party to run for President, but he declined. In 1921, he was appointed Secretary of State by President Warren G. Harding and continued on at the State Department under President Coolidge. In 1930, Hughes returned to the Supreme Court, accepting President Hoover’s nomination and serving as Chief Justice until 1941.