May 26, 2018


History Suggests Double Trouble for Incumbent Trump (Paul Brandus, April 19th, 2018, Crystal Ball)

 In the last half-century, there have been four times when a weak presidential incumbent invited a primary challenger from within his own party. None of these weak incumbents -- Lyndon Johnson (1968), Gerald Ford (1976), Jimmy Carter (1980), or George H.W. Bush (1992) -- was re-elected (or in Ford's case, elected, given that he became president when Richard Nixon resigned). Let's take a closer look:

-- 1968: Growing opposition to the Vietnam War took Lyndon Johnson's approval (Gallup) from 79% in early 1964 to 41% four years later. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) challenged him for the Democratic presidential nomination, nearly upsetting the president in the New Hampshire primary. Johnson's arch-enemy Robert F. Kennedy then declared his candidacy. LBJ, seeing the writing on the wall, announced that he would neither seek nor accept the Democratic nomination.

-- 1976: Gerald Ford was a weak incumbent for two reasons: his pardon of Richard Nixon and a terrible recession. Former Gov. Ronald Reagan (R-CA) took him on in the Republican presidential nomination contest. After a tooth-and-nail fight that went all the way to the GOP national convention, Ford won his party's nomination. But Ford was badly weakened, and he lost to Jimmy Carter that fall.

-- 1980: Thanks to a recession and a hostage crisis with Iran, it was Carter's turn to earn an intraparty challenge, this time by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Carter vowed to "whip his ass," and did -- only to be crushed by Reagan in a November landslide.

-- 1992: After winning the Gulf War in a rout, George H.W. Bush's approval soared to 89%. A shoo-in for reelection, right? But Bush, backing away from a major 1988 campaign pledge, supported a tax hike to lower the deficit. That, along with a mild recession, caused his approval to collapse. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan challenged him for the GOP presidential nomination and won nearly a quarter of all primary votes. A weakened Bush survived to make the general election, but lost in a three-way race that November to Bill Clinton.

If that's not ominous enough for Trump, consider this: He's at or below the approval of all four of those unsuccessful incumbents at this stage (Trump is at 39% approval in Gallup right now). Gallup approval 15 months in:

Johnson (Feb. 1965): 68%
Ford (Nov. 1975): 44%
Carter (April 1978): 40%
Bush (April 1990): 67%
History is also against Trump in another big way: he's the fifth president to lose the popular vote but win the Electoral College. So what happened to the other four when they sought re-election? Only one was successful.

John Quincy Adams (1828): crushed by Andrew Jackson
Rutherford Hayes (1880): declined to run again
Benjamin Harrison (1892): lost to Grover Cleveland
George W. Bush (2004): won reelection

And Bush's 2004 win wasn't exactly a landslide. He got 50.7% of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Posted by at May 26, 2018 7:43 AM