Baltimore's Fifth Regiment Armory is a good place to start for some perspective on the recent presidential election. Within its gray stone walls, the tumultuous 1912
We are beset daily with opinions as to why
Of the 30 presidential elections during the last 120 years, 19 involved a sitting president nominated by his party to continue in office, including four instances in which a vice president had succeeded to office during the prior term. In only five of those elections was the incumbent defeated in the general election, and each of those cases — unlike this year's election — shared several of certain factors that are instructive as to the circumstances under which the electorate will turn a sitting president out of office. These include an imperiled economy, a crisis detrimental to trust and confidence, highly charged issues, the dominating presence of a strong personality, a challenge for the nomination, and/or a third-party candidacy. Also, in each case, there was either a compellingly stated message of reform or circumstances that provided a clear recognition that reform was needed.
In the election of 1912, issues included the state of the Progressive agenda that had been promoted by former President
The other defeats of incumbents involved similarly unique circumstances. In 1932, the nation was in the midst of the economic and social devastation of the Great Depression. The New Deal platform of the ever-optimistic and jaunty
The election of 1976 was dominated by a polarizing personality who was not even a candidate.
Four years later, Mr. Carter found himself besieged by inflation, the lingering effects of the Arab oil embargo, and the nightly broadcast images of Americans held captive in Iran. After beating back a formidable primary challenge by Ted Kennedy, he faced the optimistic and buoyant Ronald Reagan, along with John Anderson's independent campaign. Reagan's confidently stated pledge to reinvigorate the American economy and strengthen its military made Mr. Carter a one-term president.
This year, Mitt Romney talked about change but failed to offer a clear agenda that represented a recognizable break with the past. Most informed voters surely recognized that they had heard the promised magical benefits of tax cuts before. In fact, the policy was very recently in place during the administration of George W. Bush, and helped turn a $290 billion budget surplus into a $455 billion deficit, while nearly doubling the national debt from $5.6 trillion to more than $10 trillion. Mr. Romney's assertions that he would reduce spending and close tax loopholes (without meaningful specifics), along with promised defense increases, prevented his ever gaining the credible high ground in the economic conversation. Bill Clinton's retort that "it's arithmetic" probably rang truer with voters than anything offered by the billions of dollars spent on political advertising.
While this year presented an economy still in slow recovery from its 2008 collapse, the other factors present in past presidential defeats were clearly lacking. President
These facts, more than any theories about the rise to prominence of some entitlement-dependent mass bent on turning America into Europe, provide the basis for why the country decided to stay with the guy in office.