“What Ifs” Of Presidents Defeated For Reelection

The game of “What If” is a fun game, trying to imagine what would have changed history!

An example is to wonder what changed circumstances would have caused Presidents defeated for reelection to have won reelection.

Since World War II, three Presidents have been defeated when running for another term—Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush.

What are the common bonds among these three Presidents that caused them to lose?

Presidential Primary Opposition—Gerald Ford from Ronald Reagan in 1976; Jimmy Carter from Ted Kennedy and Jerry Brown in 1980; George H. W. Bush from Pat Buchanan in 1992.

Bad Economy and Recession—Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush

Third Party Candidate Opposition In Election Campaign—Jimmy Carter from John Anderson in 1980; George H. W. Bush from Ross Perot in 1992.

Communication Problems With the American People—Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush.

Additionally, Gerald Ford had the problem of the Richard Nixon Pardon, which hurt him; and Jimmy Carter had the problem of the Iran Hostage Crisis, which dogged him through Election Day and beyond.

Finally, all three Presidents had the problem of an opponent who became very appealing as an alternative—Gerald Ford with Jimmy Carter; Carter with Ronald Reagan; and George H. W. Bush with Bill Clinton. Carter and Clinton represented a generational change–eleven years between Ford and Carter, and 22 years between Bush and Clinton, while Reagan represented a charismatic actor who had a loyal following able to overcome doubts by the perceived weaknesses of Carter.

One has to wonder what might have been had Ford been elected in 1976, preventing a President Carter; what might have been had Carter been reelected, preventing a President Reagan; and what might have been had Bush been reelected, preventing a President Clinton.

Reagan might still have succeeded President Ford, but after what would have been 12 years of Nixon and Ford, one wonders?

Would Ted Kennedy have had an open season to win in 1980, or Jerry Brown, or who else, as a result? If Reagan had not been President, would Bush have been so, and if not, would his son, George W. Bush have been President? Unlikely, but also if father Bush had defeated Clinton, who would have been the likely front runner for the Democrats in 1996, after what would have been 8-16 years of GOP control?

And would we be speaking about Hillary Clinton as a likely Presidential candidate, and even winner, now in 2013?

This is all food for thought, and a fun game, and a great novel, in the lines of Jeff Greenfield”s book on a “Second Kennedy Term”, due out on the book market very soon!