As I have said before, anything can happen in politics. Despite the "science of politics," it's not rocket science. It's not even meteorology.
But historically the American voter has been kind to incumbant Presidents. Consider this post-war history with which I begin my column this week.
George W. Bush served two terms in spite of being bogged down in Iraq and delivering painfully embarrassing debate performances. Of course, John Kerry was a godsend for him.Today the New York Times reported some widely circulated politics-prediction data that bears on the president's re-electability. "No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent." This looks very bad for BHO. The current unemployment rate is around 9 percent and not heading south, at least not with anything near the speed it would have to maintain to get him into the victory zone. What are the chances, however, that this economy will suddenly start generating on balance 400,000 jobs a month?
Bill Clinton went two terms despite a stream of scandals. Granted, he had Bob Dole campaigning for him.
The elder Bush went down after just one term in 1992. But he didn’t really want to win, and Ross Perot’s candidacy allowed Clinton to squeak in with less than majority support.
Ronald Reagan won his’84 landslide with an economy trembling toward recovery. But Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience helped.
Look what it took to unseat Jimmy Carter. Runaway inflation and through-the-roof interest rates, gas shortages, hostages in Iran, people burning our embassies around the world, and a challenge from within his own party by Ted Kennedy. But even given all that, he still might have won had it not been for the “Debacle in the Desert,” his failed attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages in Tehran. It also took a master campaigner (”Let’s make America great again,” “There he goes again”) to dislodge him.
It took the fallout from Watergate to defeat Gerald Ford, including his pardon of Richard Nixon.
Speaking of Nixon, he won reelection in the midst of Vietnam . . . and big time! George McGovern and his 3 a.m. convention acceptance speech is not enough to explain the win.
Lyndon Johnson declined to run for a second complete term.
John F. Kennedy? It’s too sad to mention.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: two terms. No problem.
According to the NYT, the Federal Reserve has pumped for than $2 trillion into the economy initially to save it from collapse but then in its Keynesian wisdom to jump start and rev up the economy to re-election speed in time for 2012. No sign of life yet, but the bill for the treatment has a lot of people concerned.
We like isolated facts like this because it gives us the illusion of scientific control over what continues to be the maddeningly, sometimes frighteningly, and yet also excitingly unpredictable political future. Have you heard, for example, that no Republican candidate has ever won the White House without first winning the Ohio primary? I think that's how it goes. Until Reagan beat the bullet in 1981, everyone since Abraham Lincoln elected to the presidency in a year ending in zero died in office. The Zero factor! Science never lies!
This 7.2 Factor is not as clear as it seems. Rooted Cosmopolitan notes this:
■Since FDR only Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bush’s have been elected president and then sought reelection. It’s hard to draw big conclusions from a sample of seven.Well, I've reviewed some other reasons that Carter and Bush lost their races.
■Since FDR, only three times has a president been up for reelection when the unemployment rate was as high as 7.2%. Two of those presidents–Carter and Bush I–lost. The other, Reagan, won. For those who weren’t counting, that a sample of three.
■When presidents have sought reelection when the unemployment rate was over 7.2 and lost, the winner prevailed with 50% (Reagan) and 43% (Clinton). Maybe, just maybe, there was a third-party factor that was at least as significant to the incumbent’s loss as the unemployment rate?
Nonetheless, high unemployment is a big drag on a campaign, especially after a $2 trillion investment and boastful promises of bringing us back to happy days in no time at all.