Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How do we elect presidents?

I'd say the most sure-fire way would be to assess the economy in the year before the general election. If people feel better about their jobs, the value of their homes, their finances, etc. they'll vote for the incumbent or the candidate of the incumbent party. If not, throw the bums out! In modern times, think Eisenhower in 1956, Johnson in 1964, Reagan in 1984, Bush in 1988, Clinton in 1996 and Obama in 2012. On the flip side, what doomed Carter in 1980, Bush in 1992 and McCain in 2008? I'd say in part the economy.

This isn't air-tight, of course; it's hard for the incumbent party to win a third consecutive term. Think Nixon in 1960, Humphrey in 1968, Ford in 1976, Gore in 2000 and McCain in 2008. (And Hillary in 2016?)

There are intangible factors as well: the nation fell in love with a young, charismatic Kennedy in 1960, Goldwater was just too extreme in 1964, and everyone was worn out by the unrest of the Vietnam years under LBJ in 1968, disgusted by Watergate in 1976, ready for the optimism and nationalism of Reagan in 1980, turned off by Clinton's shenanigans in 2000 and the Republicans' incompetence in 2008.

But there's still one other thing that affects the way we elect our presidents. Americans often seem to want just the opposite of what came before. Think Kennedy in 1960, Carter in 1976, Reagan in 1980, Bush in 2000 and Obama in 2008.

If that holds true in 2016, who would be the opposite of President Obama? I would argue Donald Trump: he's loud, aggressive, shoots from the hip and seems completely intuitive rather than intellectual. I hate to say it, but in many ways it reminds me of Reagan following Carter: an outsider whom many people dismissed who sees the world in simple terms and in which every problem has an easy answer vs. a highly-intelligent, nuanced gentleman who is realistic about the world.

From Maureen Dowd's column in the Sunday Times (my emphasis):

“Trump is the proverbial strongman,” David Axelrod says. “There’s no one more opposite to Obama. Bush had been impulsive and reckless, so voters wanted someone who was thoughtful and deliberative. Now they’ve had enough of gray and they want to go back to black and white, and that’s Trump. He knows nothing else.”

It has me thinking: Is a President Trump possible?

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