January 30, 2019

HE ACTUALLY RESEMBLES WOODROW WILSON MOST:

History Offers the GOP a Path Away From Trump: Decades have passed since a party opponent challenged an incumbent president; it's been even longer since one succeeded. This time could be different. (DAVID PRIESS  JANUARY 30, 2019, The Bulwark)

The 10th president, if only in this one respect, was a trendsetter: John Tyler in 1844 began a six-president cascade of men who failed to appear on their party's ballot in the general election following their first term. One, Zachary Taylor, literally had no choice; like Harrison, he died in office. For the others,  national agonizing over slavery and other tensions within each of the major parties made it difficult for any president to sustain a governing coalition. Only James Polk left with a solid reputation and a ledger of successes.

The three presidents who followed Polk--the forgettable series of Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan--share three characteristics. First, historians routinely rank them among the nation's absolute worst. Second, and related to that, they took no responsibility for resolving the national moral failure of slavery. And third, no matter how they had attained office, they found themselves spurned by their own parties.

The case of Pierce in the 1850s is particularly instructive for potential Republican challengers to Trump today. On one side of the Democratic party, Senator Stephen Douglas stayed out of the administration and undercut the president's bid for renomination by quietly building support among pro-slavery Democrats in the South and West. Pierce's other rival, former secretary of state James Buchanan, served as ambassador in London and used his absence from the United States to duck any blame for the administration's disastrous legislation (notably, the Kansas-Nebraska Act) and lift his own candidacy. Ultimately, that distance from the unpopular president helped Buchanan win the floor fight at the convention--and the presidency in the general election.

The former president whom Trump most resembles, Andrew Johnson, hoped that old Democratic colleagues would reward him with their ticket's top spot in 1868 for the pain he had caused to Republicans after Abraham Lincoln's death. His optimism was misplaced. The party convention instead chose Horatio Seymour, a man who didn't even want the nomination.

Posted by at January 30, 2019 1:22 PM

  

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