In less than 100 days, Americans across the country will head to the polls to decide who will be their next president. The first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will take place on September 29 at Case Western Reserve University of Cleveland. Since the countdown for the presidential election has begun, let’s look at some interesting facts about the past runners-ups and their political fate…
George Washington, the first US president, was elected in 1789. He is the only US president elected unanimously, not once but twice. Washington, the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, received all votes from the Electoral College in both the election of 1789 and 1792. The Founding Father of the United States is also the only president inaugurated in two cities: in New York City on the portico of Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1789; and in Philadelphia in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall on March 4, 1793. Washington was neither a democrat nor a republican as neither party existed at that time.
George Washington is the only US president elected unanimously, not once but twice.
Lost And Fought Again
Washington had established a two-term tradition his successors followed. But Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected as the country’s 32nd president in 1932, was elected to not only a third (1940) but a fourth term (1944). He served 12 years in office before his death in 1945. The 22nd Amendment to the US constitution, which was ratified in 1951, prohibited anyone who has been elected president twice from being elected again.
Interestingly, while Roosevelt was the only president to be elected to a third term, Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt had run for third terms but failed. Harold Stassen, the 25th Governor of Minnesota, ran for president 10 times between 1948 and 1992. Henry Clay ran for president four times. William Jennings Bryan and Hubert Humphrey unsuccessfully ran three times.
While it is unthinkable that a serious politician will run multiple times for the presidency, especially after losing a general election, at least 8 losing presidential candidates came back from defeat to win the nomination a second time and 4 of them actually won the race for the White House. Most recently, Ronald Reagan lost the GOP nomination in 1968 and 1976 before his victory in 1980. Richard Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election but emerged victorious in 1968 and 1972.
Closest Presidential Elections Ever
In the history of the United States, many elections were decided by extremely small margins. The 1876 election is regarded as one of the most disputed in American history as Rutherford Hayes beat Samuel Tilden by just one electoral vote. Tilden actually won the popular vote, 4,288,191 to Hayes’ 4,033,497.
The biggest and most unforgettable was the 1960 presidential election in which John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by 84 electoral votes. Kennedy won the popular vote by less than 120,000 votes out of 68.8 million votes cast.
In modern times, the 2000 election was narrowly won by George W. Bush who defeated Al Gore by 5 electoral votes. Gore received 543,816 more votes than Bush, but lost on the electoral map. Four years later, Bush defeated John Kerry by 35 electoral votes. His margin of victory was the smallest ever for a re-elected incumbent president.
2016: A Watershed Moment
Only five US presidents have been elected to the office despite losing the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000, and Donald Trump in 2016. While Hillary Clinton captured 2.9 million more votes than Trump, he won the Electoral College convincingly with 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232.
Of the more than 120 million votes cast in the 2016 election, 107,000 votes in three states effectively decided the election. Donald Trump easily won West Virginia, with 68.5% of the vote, giving him his largest share of the vote in any state. Why did Hillary Clinton lose?
The Atlantic noted that Clinton herself believed that the FBI director James Comey, who notified Congress of his decision of reopening inquiry into her private emails in an October 28 letter, was to blame. Meanwhile, Clinton’s campaign manager cited “a host of uncontrollable headwinds,” asserting her team did all it could in an “unforeseeably difficult environment”. Time Magazine’s national correspondent and former staff writer at The Atlantic Molly Ball explains how fellow Democrats saw the loss:
“Devastated Democrats have settled on a handful of decisions that, in retrospect, might have sealed her fate. First, they contend, Clinton need not have wholly ceded white working-class voters to Trump, who won them by a larger margin than Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide. Meanwhile, she failed to get young people and minorities—the too-aptly-named “Obama coalition”—excited about her candidacy. Both of those weaknesses, critics say, could be traced back to a message that emphasized social diversity over economic fairness. And the Clinton team’s overweening confidence blinded it to her weaknesses.”
What Happens If No Presidential Candidate Wins A Majority?
The 12th Amendment allows Congress to settle disputed presidential elections. If no one gets the majority of electoral votes, then the House of Representatives selects the president from the top three candidates. The Senate chooses the vice-president from the remaining two candidates. This kind of rare scenario has occurred only once. In the 1824 presidential election between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Jackson won the popular vote but Adams won the White House as neither could win the Electoral College.
Last month, David Wasserman’s analysis predicted that Donald Trump could lose by 5 million votes and still win a second term in 2020. He argues:
“Mired at an approval rating in the low 40s, Trump has a narrow path to re-election. But the concentration of demographic change in non-competitive states, particularly California and Texas, threatens to further widen the chasm between the popular vote and the Electoral College, easing his path. Trump could once again win with less than 47 percent, a victory threshold far below the share of the popular vote the Democratic nominee might need.”