Thursday, August 1, 2019

Challenges to Incumbent Presidents

This year former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced he was running for President in the Republican primary against President Donald Trump. He may not be alone. Former Ohio Governor John Kasich is reportedly considering running as well. The last time an incumbent President was challenged by someone from within his own party, was 1992.  That was when former Nixon and Reagan aide Pat Buchannan challenged President George H. W. Bush.
Since 1916, when the presidential primary system began there has only been a few times an incumbent has been challenged.  Historically speaking, no President has won re-election, even if he successfully fends off a challenger in the primary, he loses in the November general election. There has, however, been one time when this rule didn't hold true.  In 1940, incumbent Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. was challenged by his vice-president.  Consequently, the vice-president was replaced at the convention.  Below we will look at each of those primaries.

The Challenges

Year President Challenger Challenger #2
2020 Donald Trump (R) Bill Weld (R) ---
1992 George H. W. Bush (R) Pat Buchannon (R) ----
1980 Jimmy Carter (D) Ted Kennedy (D) ----
1976 Gerald Ford (R) Ronald Reagan (R) ----
1968 Lyndon B Johnson (D) Eugene McCarthy (D) Robert Kennedy (D)
1952 Harry Truman (D) Estes Kefauver (D) ----
1940 Franklin Roosevelt (D) John Garner (D) ----

2020 - Taking on President Trump

The Republican primary has yet to begin, but already there has been a candidate declare himself as a candidate in the GOP primary. That challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Weld, which some are saying that Weld won't be a serious challenge.  The fact is they don't know, but they are saying this because of a claim that no serious primary challenge has been overcome by the incumbent.  In other words, they are saying that President Trump will easily win in the 2020 General election.  While I have my own personal view regarding the election, I am staying neutral, in my writing.  In short, I am taking a wait and see attitude.  Though, I do think it will be a fascinating election to watch. Will the Republicans retain the White House, or will the Democrats regain control?  Who will the president be, come 2021?

1992 - Wins all 50 States in Primary, but loses in November

George H. W. Bush, was the President this year. Considered by some as a third term, to former President Reagan's presidency. His challenger former Nixon aide Pat Buchannon. Buchannon never won a single primary but drew enough descent that the father of a future two-term President, lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton.

1980 - the President, Falls to an Actor 

Jimmy Carter had been elected President four years earlier against the nations only unelected President. He was relatively unknown when he was elected. In 1980, however, he was unpopular and he was challenged by Ted Kennedy. Kennedy the brother of the late President John Kennedy and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, ended up losing to Carter in the primary. However, Carter lost to former California Governor Ronald Reagan.

1976 - Future President Falls to the Incumbent

The 1976 Republican primary saw Ronald Reagan come very close to denying renomination to Gerald Ford.  President Ford had been appointed as vice-president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, then ascended to the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. Ford went on to lose narrowly to Jimmy Carter in the general election, and Reagan succeeded Carter four years later.

1968 - Incumbent Withdraws After Narrow Primary Win

This is one I debated with myself, whether to actually include. Even though it is included in my research on the topic, the President actually withdrew from campaigning and was replaced by his Vice-President.
That year, Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy held Lyndon Johnson to a surprisingly narrow victory in New Hampshire; with polls showing McCarthy would likely defeat Johnson in the next major primary in Wisconsin, and with LBJ focused on the Vietnam War’s damage to his legacy, he folded his tent. With his withdrawal, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy his Vice-President Hubert Humphrey jumped in the race and won the Democratic nomination, but the Democrats lost the White House.

1952 - Incumbent Loses New Hampshire and Withdraws

In 1952, Harry Truman was running for reelection, Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver beat Truman in the New Hampshire primary which, lead to Truman deciding not to continue to seek a full term.

1940 - the President versus the Vice-President

The 1940 Democratic Presidential primaries saw incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt was selected, as the nominee through a series of primary elections and caucuses culminating in the 1940 Democratic National Convention held from July 15 to July 18, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois. He faced the opposition of Vice President John Garner in the primaries. Garner lost the primaries and during the convention was excluded from vice-presidential nomination in favor of Henry Wallace.

  1. Washington Post
  2. Business Insider
  3. CBS News
  4. NPR
  5. 1976 Republican Primary
  6. 1980 Democratic Primary
  7. 1982 Republican Primary
  8. NPR - The Unthinkable 
  9. 1940 Democratic Presidential Primary

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