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Is the Past Prologue for Democratic Presidential Candidates?

Is the Past Prologue for Democratic Presidential Candidates?

by D.J. McGuire

The events of the last 24 hours (for which we did a special episode – you can listen here) have led many to wax nostalgic over Watergate (euphemism, people, euphemism). It’s also led me to ponder the era between then and now, and I’ve found something that could be ominous for nearly all of the potential 2020 Democratic candidates (including my preferred choice, Congressman John Delaney).

The early 1970s gets harder to remember with every year (the past is like that), but we should not forget that the American people’s revulsion with Washington corruption neither began nor ended with Richard Nixon. This was the era of the Church Committee hearings with subsequent intelligence reforms, campaign finance law reform, and a serious rethink of the structure of economic regulation. Right and left had their own answers to the conundrum of corruption – smaller government for the former, cleaner government for the latter.

One other result that has dramatically impacted the nation has been noticed less: the effect on presidential elections. We’ve had 11 of them since Nixon’s resignation. Here are the highlights:

  • Permanent coalitions are not in vogue: Republicans have won 6 elections; the Democrats, 5. Democrats have won the popular vote 7 times; Republicans, 4. Only once has a party won 3 in a row (GOP: 1980-88). Prior to Watergate, it happened five times.
  • More instability markers: Four times the winner did not win a majority of the popular vote. More to the point, the popular vote winner lost the election twice. That had only happened three times in the previous 184 years.
  • In only six of the the elections did the voters also give the winning party control of the House of Representatives – two of them were in elections where the president elected did not win the popular vote.
  • Yet one consistency came through: the candidate with less experience in Washington was elected nine out of eleven times – including three of the four times an incumbent president was re-elected.

The data point to a clear recommendation for the Democrats in 2020: do not nominate someone with more than four years experience in Washington D.C. Of course, that would rule out nearly every Democrat considering a run: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney, Sherrod Brown, etc. Even Kemala Harris, whose Washington tenure started 17 days before Trump’s, might have pause.

Granted, Trump himself “broke” more than a few rules in 2016, but he didn’t break this one. Moreover, the Trumpenproletariat’s instinct for whataboutism is likely to make voters even less likely to value experience in the nation’s capital. Democrats might want to look to Governors. One of them, Montana’s Steve Bullock, is already considering a run. Moreover, when incumbent presidents have lost in the post-Watergate era (1976, 1980, and 1992), a Governor has defeated them. Every time.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

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