The conventional wisdom in the mainstream press is that it will be difficult for the Democrats to win the White House for the third consecutive time in 2016 since that has rarely occurred in the modern era. Leading political analysts like Nate Silver and Charlie Cook are of the opinion that next year’s Presidential election is basically a toss up or a jump ball. Despite their expertise, I would submit that our Democratic nominee can defy history next year and win the White House again.
The last time the Democrats won the Presidential election in three consecutive cycles was back in 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt defeated utilities executive Wendell Wilkie by a margin of 55% to 45% in the popular vote and by 449 to 82 in the electoral college. This victory can be attributed to FDR’s overall popularity and Democratic dominance in the electoral college during that era.
Other factors in FDR’s victory over Wilkie were the war clouds gathering overseas and fresh memories of the Great Depression. The voters preferred FDR’s experience over Wilkie’s – who had never served in public office. Moreover, FDR and the Democrats made reminding the voters about the economic catastrophe during the Hoover Administration a high priority. The electorate was not allowed to forget what had occurred the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress.
The next attempt by a party to maintain control of the White House for a third consecutive term was when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960. JFK’s victory over Nixon was one of the great upsets in American political history since Eisenhower was popular and the country was at peace.
JFK’s excruciatingly close win can be chalked up to the fact he ran a superior campaign and the GOP’s mistakes. Nixon foolishly made and kept a promise to campaign in all 50 states. As a result of that promise, Nixon spent too much time in heavily GOP states. Moreover, JFK performed better in the first televised Presidential debates in history. There was nothing pre-ordained about JFK’s victory in 1960. But for some mistakes by Nixon, the GOP could’ve won the White House three times in a row.
After JFK’s victory in 1960 and LBJ’s landslide in 1964, Vice President Hubert Humphrey attempted to hold the executive branch for a third term in a row in 1968. Despite assassinations, race riots and the Vietnam War, Humphrey came very close to defeating Nixon. The GOP nominee in 1968 won the popular vote by one half of one percentage point. It was one of the closest Presidential elections in history.
The Democrats could’ve won the White House for the third time in a row in the absence of a key mistake by Humphrey and some chicanery from Nixon. Humphrey only separated himself from LBJ’s unpopular Vietnam policies late in the campaign when he called for an end to the bombing and a cease fire at the end of September 1968.
In the closing days of the very close 1968 election, LBJ announced a unilateral U.S. bombing halt in Vietnam and made a serious attempt to get the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Nixon sabotaged those negotiations by sending a signal through intermediaries to the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal from a Nixon Administration.
Nixon’s outright sabotage of the negotiations was treasonous and may have made the difference in the 1968 elections. LBJ knew what Nixon was doing but he didn’t expose it because he learned of it from illegal wiretaps of the Nixon campaign.
Nixon’s Presidency began with scandal and ended with the infamous Watergate scandal in 1974. Nixon’s illegal acts as President made it very difficult for Ford to be elected in his own right in 1976 and win a third consecutive term for the GOP.
Despite the Nixon scandals, the 1976 Presidential election turned out to be very close. Ford had the advantage of the country being at peace and a reasonably good economy. As it turned out, Jimmy Carter won a close election by a 51% to 49% margin in the popular vote and by a 297 to 241 margin in the electoral college. But for the Nixon pardon, Ford very well could’ve won the 1976 election.
The next quest for a three-peat in the Presidential elections was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush easily defeated Michael Dukakis. Bush had the advantages of a country at peace, a reasonably decent economy and a popular incumbent President.
Bush also ran one of the nastiest campaigns in modern history by trashing Dukakis’ patriotism and playing the race card over the Massachusetts prison furlough program. Dukakis played into Bush’s hands by refusing to fight back and allowing Bush’s scurrilous charges to go unanswered. In an interview years after the 1988 campaign, Dukakis candidly admitted that the main reason he lost was his decision “not to respond to the Bush attack campaign, and in retrospect it was a pretty dumb decision.”
The George H.W. Bush Presidency was followed by the very successful Clinton Administration. While he was President, Bill Clinton created 22 million jobs, erased what were then record deficits and passed on a $5 trillion surplus to his successor. During his last year in office, President Clinton enjoyed an enviable approval rating anywhere from 60% to 65%.
That impressive record of accomplishment should’ve given Al Gore a big head start in his 2000 Presidential campaign. Instead, Gore ran a very poor campaign in which he made the mistake of running away from Clinton and his accomplishments. This probably caused many potential Gore supporters to vote for George W. Bush or Ralph Nader. If a Democrat runs away from the party’s achievements, many voters are inclined to believe the party hasn’t really accomplished anything.
As it turned out, the 2000 election was the closest Presidential election in American history. Gore beat Bush in the popular vote by a 48.5% to 48% margin. (Ralph Nader tallied 2.7% of the popular vote which means that Progressive votes totalled 51%.)
The 2000 election came down to Florida’s 27 electoral votes and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans in Florida – led by Jeb Bush – did everything they could to tilt the playing field in favor of George W. Bush. After all of the GOP machinations in Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin stopped the recount in Florida and awarded the Presidency to Bush.
Al Gore’s loss at the hands of five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court turned out to be disastrous for the country. George W. Bush was one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history. By the time, Bush left office, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month and the deficit was a record $1.3 trillion.
By the time campaign 2008 got underway, the GOP really had no chance of winning a third consecutive Presidential term. Barack Obama easily defeated John McCain in the general election and took office with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.
President Obama’s Presidency has been very successful. At the present time, the economy has been creating over 200,000 jobs per month for the last two years. This is the best jobs growth since President Clinton’s second term. What’s more, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has insured 17 million additional Americans and reduced the rate of the uninsured from 18% to an all time low of 9%. During his first term, President Obama took out Osama Bin Laden and brought him to justice.
Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom, the Democratic nominee stands an excellent chance of winning the Presidency next year due to President Obama’s significant record of accomplishment. Our nominee can honestly say that the country is much better off now than it was in 2008. In addition, that nominee can remind the voters that the country was in shambles the last time the GOP occupied the White House.
The Democratic nominee for President should also be the favorite next year because we are now in an era of Democratic dominance in the electoral college. We have won the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections. Moreover, we can also expect the GOP nominee to be wounded by a bruising primary fight and who will be too far to the right to win the battleground states.
Despite these advantages, we Democrats can take nothing for granted next year. The GOP and their billionaire allies will have access to unlimited campaign cash in 2016. They will run a blizzard of dishonest and negative ads in an attempt to return the GOP to power.
Our mission next year is to constantly remind the voters of President Obama’s achievements. We can’t repeat the mistakes of the Gore campaign of 2000 and run away from those accomplishments. What’s more, we need to take a leaf from FDR’s campaigns and remind the voters of how the GOP wrecked the country the last time they held power.
The GOP is counting on mass amnesia to win next year’s election. As Democrats, we must constantly refresh the voters’ memories of recent history. Let’s get it done! I’m c