Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Incumbent Losers in Brief

The year is 1789. A group of rich, white land owners are gathering together to enact the first of many flawed democratic traditions. Given two votes each, electors chose a guy born in Scotland, some Georgia farmer, and some guy named James Armstrong. More importantly, every single one of them used their other vote on George Washington. Eleven years later (1800), the same fucked up process came one Hamilton arm twist away from putting Aaron Burr in the White House, but more importantly, it was the first time an incumbent, John Adams, had lost re-election.

Adams’ Federalist Party had crumbled, leaving Jefferson’s proto-Republicans in charge through the most stable time in US Political history, ending when John Quincy Adams became president despite clearly losing the election. Andrew Jackson led a four year charge against him until, 28 years after his father’s defeat (1828), JQ became the second Adams and second incumbent to lose re-election.

Only 12 years later, after Jackson spent eight years destroying the economy, an economic panic tanked his successor’s re-election chances, and in 1840 Martin Van Buren lost to a rich drunk the people mistook for a poor drunk.

That drunk died, and his successor wasn’t even re-nominated, a theme in the years to come. The guy after him chose not to run for re-election, which is good since he soon thereafter died. The guy after him died in office. His successor sucked and wasn’t re-nominated. The guy after him fell into a deep depression and didn’t run again. The guy after him hated the job so much he didn’t run again. The guy after him won re-election but then got shot. The guy after him was so racist he got dropped for the war hero who went on to easily win re-election. The guy after him didn’t even win the race the first time, so he got dropped, resulting in a party schism that led to the next guy getting shot. His successor was better than people thought he’d be but he wasn’t re-nominated. The next guy, a full 48 years after Van Buren (1888), lost re-election.

The very next election (1892), Benjamin Harrison lost to the guy he defeated 4 years earlier, Grover Cleveland.

The next guy got re-elected then shot. His successor got re-elected (the first ascended VP to do so). But he promised not to run for a third term, so he picked a successor who undid everything his buddy had done, so he came back with a vengeance, running as a third party candidate. So 20 years after Harrison (1912), William Taft came in third in his own re-election vote.

20 years later (1932) Herbert Hoover fundamentally misunderstood economics and lost re-election. The guy who beat him won 3 more times then died. His VP narrowly won re-election. The guy after him got easily elected twice. The guy after him totally legitimately won the got shot, probably by the guys who had absolutely nothing to do with his victory. His successor won re-election then chose not to run again.

The guy after him won re-election, but sullied the office so bad that he had to resign and his successor had no fucking chance in 1976. And that’s how 44 years later, Gerald Ford lost re-election.

You know what’s worse than losing re-election? when the guy who beats you, Jimmy Carter, also loses re-election (1980).

The guy who beat him did pretty well, even getting his VP elected, first time since Jackson did it for Van Buren, but alas, like Marty before him, George HW Bush lost-re-election 12 years (1992) after losing the primary to Reagan, I mean after Reagan beat Carter.

It is now 28 years later. For the first time since the Era of Good Feelings, three presidents in a row won re-election and managed to not get shot or eat bad cherries. Will this dubious list gain a new member? Or will we have our first four-peat? I’ll update this some time before January... hopefully.

UPDATE 11.07.2020- Like John Quincy Adams before him, four years after stealing the election, and four years of calling everyone losers, Donald Drumpf has done something only one other president has done in the last 128 years, fail to hold the White House for his party for more than four years. HW Bush is the only other president to lose re-election in my lifetime, and he did it after republicans held the White House for 12 years and the country needed a change of scenery.

John Adams -- 1800 (11 years)
John Quincy Adams -- 1828 (28 years)
Martin Van Buren -- 1840 (12 years)
Grover Cleveland -- 1888 (48 years)
Benjamin Harrison -- 1892 (4 years)
William Taft -- 1912 (20 years)
Herbert Hoover -- 1932 (20 years)
Gerald Ford -- 1976 (44 years)
Jimmy Carter -- 1980 (4 years)
George HW Bush -- 1992 (12 years)
Donald Drumpf -- 2020 (28 years)

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6 Comments:

Blogger Nulla Lex Ink. said...

Pierce also sort of belongs on this list too. He tried for renomination in 1856 and lost it to Buchanan, which as far as I'm aware makes him the only elected incumbent president outright denied renomination by his party. The only others were those who ascended or ran who a non consecutive term, like Van Buren in 1844 and Grant in 1880. Some would include Truman and Lyndon Johnson since initially it seemed like they would run, but after faring poorly in the primaries (which didn't matter much back in those days), they announced they weren't running and "withdrew" from the race. Anyways, great analysis as always!

November 17, 2020 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger Daroff said...

How the hell did I not know that? I’ve been to the Pierce homestead. I should know these things. Thanks for the heads up. I’m going to do a little re-writing

November 21, 2020 at 9:34 AM  
Anonymous Daroff said...

On further research, I'm going to let it stand as is. Yes, he's the only ELECTED president to lose re-nomination, but Tyler and Fillmore, despite how they got into office, still also sought re-nomination and failed, making them functionally the same. The umbrella here is sitting president who fails to hold the White House for their party, how they got there is irrelevant. Further muddying the point is how Pierce lost re-nomination but his party still held the White House. So yes, you are correct, and thank you for a piece of trivia I didn't know, I'm going to stand by my list as is.

November 21, 2020 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Nulla Lex Ink. said...

I gotcha man, hope I didn't come across like I was pointing out a problem or anything. Pierce being the only elected president to lose renomination is just one of my favorite lesser known presidential fun facts to bring up. It makes him unique among the losers, haha. At least the likes of Fillmore and Arthur can say "Hey, we were just supposed to balance the ticket. We didn't expect to get this job!"

And no problem on the fact sharing! One of my favorite things about reading up on the presidential elections is that it seems like I'm always learning something new and I love to spread that knowledge as much as I can. I've got a huge list of presidential election fun facts that I'd like to put up some day, and that I actually need to update here soon.

Speaking of learning new facts, that's interesting about John Tyler. I had always heard he opted instead to form his own party (which he called the "Democratic-Republican" party, if memory serves, to invoke Thomas Jeffeeson) because of his expulsion from the Whig party. He only pulled out because Andrew Jackson promised him that James Polk would annex Texas. Looking into it further, it seems he only did this as a ploy, sort of as a threat to the Polk campaign - "Agree to annex Texas or I'll siphon enough votes from you to hand the election to Clay." So, thank you for pointing me down another rabbit hole! :)

Have you ever considered doing another Elections in Brief when you get the time? If so, I'd like to suggest 1844. It's one of my favorite elections because of the candidates, how close it was, how crazy its conventions were and how much crazier it could have been. Seriously, Joseph Smith (Yes, THAT Joseph Smith) ran that year and got killed on the campaign trail. Whenever I get to writing my own presidential elections project it will probably be one of the first ones I cover, but I'd love to see it "recapped" in your style some time :)

November 21, 2020 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger Daroff said...

No worries, man. All good.

I thought about 1844, but the narrative didn’t do much for me. Ultimately, it came down to Henry Clay’s THIRD run, which was like, eh. Sarah Polk, though, is fascinating. I’ve had her biography sitting on my shelf for months, it’s just not very well written.

I’m probably never doing another election. I didn’t even finish this series. Ultimately the style never came together for me.

But I do appreciate your comments. You’re like my one fan. Ha

November 21, 2020 at 6:23 PM  
Blogger Daroff said...

No worries, man. All good.

I thought about 1844, but the narrative didn’t do much for me. Ultimately, it came down to Henry Clay’s THIRD run, which was like, eh. Sarah Polk, though, is fascinating. I’ve had her biography sitting on my shelf for months, it’s just not very well written.

I’m probably never doing another election. I didn’t even finish this series. Ultimately the style never came together for me.

But I do appreciate your comments. You’re like my one fan. Ha

November 21, 2020 at 6:35 PM  

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