In today’s political arena, being the losing nominee is a virtual political death sentence. John Kerry will not be the man for the Democrats in 2016, nor will John McCain be so for the Republicans. Few politicians have come close to winning the coveted prize, but have fallen away, only to return and take it at a later date. The American public, despite its almost rabid adoration for David and Goliath scenarios, simply hates losers. Nominees-or near nominees-who fail their parties are never even slightly considered for the Presidential ticket ever again. Too much dirt has been dug up, and the other side has already rehearsed its lines well. If the American voters reject a politician once, then why would they suddenly embrace the same candidate four, eight, twelve years later? Things used to be different. Few liberals or conservatives recognize that their deified standard bearers-Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan-weren’t as flawless when reaching for the highest office in the land. The past three Presidents have only run once-the time they were elected. But for some of America’s most revered leaders, the second time was the charm.
1. Andrew Jackson
The election of 1824 was one of the most bizarre in American history. It was one of few times that the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, due to the lack of a majority in the Electoral College. This scenario was caused by four candidates: Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. Jackson has actually received the most electoral votes (99), but it wasn’t enough to keep House Speaker Clay from using his clout to swing the decision in Adams’ direction. Months later, when Clay was appointed to be Adams’ Secretary of State, the Jacksonians were livid. They accused Adams and Clay of “bargain and corruption”, a criticism that Jackson rode all the way into the White House four years later.
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Few know about Roosevelt’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for Vice President in 1920, because it is a political black eye on what otherwise was an illustrious career. Roosevelt had been serving as the young and effective Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and was a popular choice for the vice-presidential nomination. He proved to be an energetic campaigner alongside the Presidential nominee, James Cox. However, Roosevelt made a critical gaffe when he bragged about writing the constitution of Haiti while in the Navy Department. Cox and Roosevelt were buried by the Republican ticket, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, that November, receiving only 34.1% of the popular vote, because of the highly unpopular League of Nations, which Cox and Roosevelt supported. But twelve years later, the American voters embraced FDR to become the President, in the midst of the Great Depression.
3. Ronald Reagan
Even though Reagan never lost as the actual GOP nominee, he very well could have. In 1976, Reagan, hungry for the Presidency, challenged incumbent Gerald Ford for the nomination, and came nearly sixty delegate votes away from succeeding. Ford was politically handicapped in the midst of an economy that was sub-par, and had suffered in the polls after pardoning Nixon. He nearly lost the Republican nomination to Reagan, and lost the election a few months later to Jimmy Carter. Had Reagan succeeded in acquiring the nomination, he might have been less likely to win against Carter, and a conservative legacy might not have been born four years later.
Why does it matter?
Should losing nominees run again, in today’s political environment? Should Gore, Romney, Kerry, and McCain actually be considered viable choices again? What does this recent trend, that of discarding political losers, reflect about the American political culture? I am interested to see what you all have to say about this issue, as well as the legacies of these three men. Your comments are highly appreciated.