The last time a Democratic President was succeeded by another Democrat through an election since the parties realigned was never. It has simply never happened. I’m only going to focus on the last 100 years.
The last time we ran a progressive Democrat after a retiring Democratic President was in 1952 when we ran Adlai Stevenson against Dwight David Eisenhower, the man who literally freed the Jews from Auschwitz. Eisenhower was unbeatable.
In 1968 the would-be nominee Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and Humphrey suffered from opposition to the Vietnam War.
In 1972 we ran the moderate George McGovern who blamed the stagflation of the 1970s on the Great Society. He was running against both Republicans and Democrats and he was utterly destroyed by a crook during a recession.
In 2000 we ran the Vice President of a very moderate administration which failed to pass most of their proposals. Al Gore was burdened by how the Clinton administration did not embrace Democratic policies. This opened room for Ralph Nader to walk in and claim that both parties are the same. After Wall Street Deregulation, the Defense of Marriage Act, and an escalation of War on Drugs, it is easy to understand why people agreed with his message.
In 2016 we ran a candidate who had a decent platform but spent all of her speaking time alienating the progressive base of the Democratic Party.
If Biden was telling the truth about being an “interim president” then we need to try a different approach. We need someone who does not blame all of America’s woes on Democratic policies. We need someone who wants to decriminalize drugs and supports the Democratic Party platform. We need someone who will then go forward when she is President and actually enact popular Democratic proposals, so she has a chance of winning reelection. If she chooses to not run for reelection, we need to make sure the candidate who we run after her will be unapologetically Democratic.
If we look at the Democrats who succeeded Republican candidates:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a strong platform behind him and was running against the Great Recession advocating for the latest economic theory.
John F. Kennedy was literally running against Richard Nixon and had LBJ behind his back. What more needs to be said?
Jimmy Carter was running against the Watergate Scandal.
Bill Clinton won with a massive spoiler caused by Ross Perot.
Obama ran on a campaign of hope and change during a massive recession.
Joe Biden was literally running against an epidemic.
On top of this, the list of Democrats in the last 100 years who have won a majority of the popular vote twice are Barack Obama and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That’s it.
If we look at the Republican candidates over the last century who were not running against an incumbent, most are not very impressive.
- 1928/1932: Herbert Hoover was a career civil servant, unfortunately he was not a skilled politician and failed to pass any significant legislation. He was unwilling to fight for civil rights, and failed to grapple with the Great Depression.
- 1952: Dwight David Eisenhower was the best man the Republicans have run for the Presidency in the last 100 years.
- 1960: What do I need to say about Richard Nixon?
- 1968: Come on, it was Richard Nixon, he literally worked with North Vietnam to keep the war going.
- 1976: Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, making him no less guilty than the crook who he succeeded.
- 1980: Ronald Reagan literally negotiated with the Iranians to keep Americans hostage, which I consider to be treason.
- 1988: George H. W. Bush was complicit and involved in all of the Reagan Administration’s crimes, such as the Iran Contra Affair.
- 2000: George W. Bush had a mixed record as the governor of Texas leading on wind energy, but also being a supporter of the death penalty and violated the Establishment clause.
- 2008: John McCain was a highly respected relatively moderate Republican senator in the eyes of many.
- 2016: Donald Trump was the least qualified major Presidential candidate in the history of the United States, and has countless rape allegations against him.
Eisenhower, and arguably McCain were the only truly decent Republican Presidential candidates over the last century. The caliber of Republican Presidential candidates has been criminal or unconstitutional, and almost all have been of poor character.
Democratic candidates on the other hand have generally been either unwilling to embrace the Democratic platform, or unwilling to really challenge the Republican orthodoxy of the last 100 years. With the exception of Adlai Stevenson, the candidates who did not do that go by the title President.
There are three types of major Democratic Party candidates:
- Failed to embrace or downright blamed Democratic policies for America’s woes, or angered the progressive base with their appeal to the center strategy:
- George McGovern
- Hillary Clinton
- Got lucky with a third party spoiler or ran against a severe crisis:
- Jimmy Carter
- Bill Clinton
- Joe Biden
- Ran a truly progressive campaign:
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- John F. Kennedy
- Lyndon Baines Johnson
- Barack Obama
- Tried to succeeded a very moderate Democrat who enacted many Republican policies
- Al Gore
- The presumptive nominee was assassinated
- Hubert Humphrey
- Ran against a literal war hero
- Adlai Stevenson
Only one incumbent Democrat was defeated in the last century, and that of course was Jimmy Carter.
There has only been one time we ran a progressive Democrat to succeed an incumbent Democrat, and that year was 1952. We almost ran progressive Bobby Kennedy in 1968, a truly insane year with multiple high profile assassinations, including our presumptive nominee, and the nation was reeling from an ongoing conflict and spinning out of control. In 1952 Adlai Stevenson ran against General Eisenhower, who had sky high popularity due to his service in World War II.
I believe that in 2024 we should try running a progressive. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton both failed, and neither are truly progressive candidates. Barring a war hero running on the Republican ticket or our candidate getting assassinated, given the popularity of progressive proposals, I think a pragmatic progressive would be the right choice to lead a winning ticket. We of course need to ensure Democrats do as well as possible down ballot, getting as many progressives as possible to run and win in districts across the country, and that will enable the Democratic President not just to win but also to succeed in passing legislation. Another reality is that with only two exceptions every Democratic President has won fewer votes in their reelection than their initial election. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a larger percentage in 1936 as opposed to 1932, and Clinton won a larger percentage of the vote in 1996. In order to make sure our next President can hopefully run for two terms, we need someone who can really rally the voters out in 2024 with coattails which extend to every state legislature in the country. We will do this by speaking to issues which face real Americans day after day, and that will get people out to vote. Jaime Harrison supports the 50 state strategy, the same strategy which was used by President Obama in 2008, and if we use that then we should be able to keep the Presidency until 2032 at the earliest. If we have a trifecta in 2025 and the President and congress are willing and able to use their power to pass legislation to solve the problems facing America, lack of access to college, and other problems which face our country on a day to day basis, the message will be that the Democrats saved America from the 2008 recession, Democrats rescued America from the COVID epidemic, and went forward and did more than the bare minimum. It will be easier to recruit volunteers, easier to get people to vote, and as long as the Democratic National Committee supports local candidates and builds leadership from the ground up, and congress makes America more equal, more free, and better all around, there is absolutely no reason why the Democrats cannot keep government for the foreseeable future.