Ronald L. Feinman Ronald L. Feinman blog brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 ( Introducing Ronald L. Feinman's Blog and Archiving His Past Articles


Ronald L. Feinman has contributed over 100 articles to the History News Network since 2016. His articles will now appear on this blog as individual entries. 


Ronald L. Feinman received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate School in 1975. His dissertation advisor was Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Dr. Feinman is the author of “Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981) and “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015, Paperback Edition 2017). In addition to this blog, Dr. Feinman has blogged at since 2008 and is a political and historical Commentator on Radio Station WWGH, 107.1 FM, Marion, Ohio. Dr. Feinman has spent nearly a half century as Professor of American History, Government and Politics and is still teaching a US Presidency class at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida every Fall and Spring term.


Here are his previous articles for the History News Network, in alphabetical order. 


12 Months of Horror—1/12/18 (


19 Presidents in a Row Promoted Social and Environmental Programs to Benefit Ordinary Americans, And then Came Donald Trump--5/20/18 (


6 Presidents Who Never Lost An Election--4/30/19 (


A Trump Win Might Wreck the Republican Party—1/17/16 (


After 13,000 Days in Retirement, It’s Time To Reassess Jimmy Carter’s Presidency--12/25/16 (


An Accident of History Gave Us Anthony Kennedy –7/1/18 (


An Account of Presidents Demonstrating Moral Courage on Major Issues Includes These 14 Leaders-2/25/18 (


Another Difference between Democrats and Republicans Is How They Pick Their Veeps – 5/29/16 (


Another Remarkable Thing About the 2020 Presidential Election is that 4 of the Potential Candidates Would Be Over 80 in Office- 9/23/18 (


A Voting History of American Jews From 1916 to Today—8/27/19 (


Barack Obama: Politics and Presidential Rankings --2/16/19 (


Between Hillary and Bernie: Who’s the Real Progressive?-- 2/6/16 (http://historynewsnetowrk/org/article/161928)


Can Trump Work Out a Deal or Two With the Democratic Leaders of Congress?-1/1/17 (


Can We Count on the GOP to End the Trump Presidency?-8/6/17 (


Could Donald Trump Carry the Electoral College and Become President?-5/1/16 (;/162647)


Could Gary Johnson’s Candidacy Cause a Constitutional Crisis in November?-7/31/16 (http://historynewsnetwork/article/163503)


Democrats Are About to Set a Historical Record as the First Political Party to Win Six Out of Seven Popular Vote Victories for the White House-9/11/16 (


Do Donald Trump And Barry Goldwater Have Much in Common?- 8/7/16 (


Does the GOP Have a Moral Obligation to Nominate Trump just Because He’s the Front Runner? -4/3/16 (


Donald Trump Has Created a Constitutional Crisis on the 42nd Anniversary of Richard Nixon’s Resignation – 8/10/16 (


Donald Trump Has to Stop Dropping Hints of Violence Against Hillary Clinton – 9/21/16 (


Donald Trump is Making Richard Nixon Look Good by Comparison -5/24/17 (


Donald Trump is No Richard Nixon – 11/18/18 (


Donald Trump is No Ronald Reagan – 8/14/16 (


Donald Trump is On His Way to Second or Third Shortest Presidency in American History -2/15/17 (


Donald Trump is Worse Than George Wallace - 9/17/17 (


Donald Trump Was the Oldest Elected President in 2016. Are We Ready to Elect the Youngest President in 2020? -9/2/18 (


Donald Trump’s Not the First President to Put Relatives on the Public Payroll, but no Family Matches His in Possible Improper Behavior -12/10/17  (


Donald Trump’s Selling the White House to Corporate America -12/9/16 (


Donald Trump’s Suggestion that He Might Not Accept the Victory of His Opponent is Ghastly -10/2/16 (


Get Ready for California to Dominate Presidential Politics in 2020 -10/28/18 (http://historynewsnetwork/org/article/170292)


Have We Entered a New Era of Political Assassination in America? -10/25/18 (


Hillary Clinton Confessed to Having Both Public and Private Positions? That’s Not Shocking and It Shouldn’t Bother You -10/9/16 (


History Will Clash with History in the 2020 Election -3/17/19 (


How Common is it for Former Presidents to Remain Active in Public Life? -11/23/16 (


How Conservatives Could Steal the Election -5/10/16 (


How Does Trump Compare with the Worse Egotists We’ve Elected to the Presidency? -6/12/16 (


How Likely is it that the Democrats Will Take Back Congress? -2/6/18 (


How Many Contested Conventions Have There Been? -4/28/16 (


If you’re a New Yorker 2016 Is Your Year -4/17/16 (


Is Donald Trump the Most Dangerous Presidential Candidate in American History? -4/24/16 (


Is Donald Trump’s War on Obama Unprecedented? -6/25/17 (


Is Trump Too Old to Be President? -6/11/17 (


It’s Possible Donald Trump Could Win a Smaller Percentage of the Popular Vote than Any Other Major Presidential Candidate -10/8/16 (


Jared Kushner”s Not the First In-Law to Take a High-Profile Spot in an Administration -- 5/28/17 (


Jeff Sessions’s Troubling Legacy—8/20/19 (


Just 43 Republicans Joining with Democrats Could End Donald Trump’s Presidency -8/20/17 (


Mike Pence is No Gerald Ford -5/13/18 (


Netanyahu Finally Has the President He Wants. History Suggests There Will Still Be Problems -5/21/17 (


No Matter Who’s Elected President November 8, They Aren’t Likely to Win a Majority of the Vote -10/23/16 (


No Way Will Either Trump or Sanders Be Elected President -2/12/16 (


Now Bloomberg’s Thinking About Running? -1/24/16 (


Obama Hasn’t Spoken Out Against Trump Yet, But Will He? -3/19/17 (


One Has to Wonder after Hurricane Maria How Trump Would Treat Hawaii and Guam -10/22/17 (


One of These 4 Western Governors Could Be the Next Democratic President -12/2/18 (


One Thing the Democrats Don’t Need to Worry About -5/15/16 (


Our Sad Record When Presidents Get Sick – 9/13/16 (http://historynewsnetwork/org/article/163842)


Religion Could Decide the Election of 2016 -9/18/16 (


Should We Be Worried About Trump’s Brain? -11/26/17 (


Six Times the Failure of a Political Nomination Changes American History- 2/3/19 (


So the Supreme Court is Above Politics? -7/15/16 (


So  You Are Considering Voting for a 3rdParty Candidate for President? -10/30/16 (


So You Think Trump’s Victory Was an Outlier Because the Election Was so Close? -2/16/17 (


The 2 Constitutional Crises We Narrowly Averted in 1948 and 1969 -10/15/16 (


The 2020 Election and Presidential Age -7/2/19 (


The 2020 Election Presents a Unique Opportunity to Elect a “New Generation of Leadership” -7/9/19 (


The Constant Threat of Mass Shootings Requires Increased Protection for Presidential Contenders -8/6/19 (


The Constitutional Crisis We’d Face If Donald Trump Actually Became President -9/4/16 (


The Election of 1940 and the Might-have-Been that Makes One Shudder -3/1/16 (


The Electoral College System Gone Mad -12/16/16 (


The End of the Trump Presidency Now Looms -4/22/18 (


The Expansion of Presidential Power Since 1973 -5/26/19 (


The GOP is Dying -6/5/16 (


The GOP is Fast Undoing the Good Deeds of Richard Nixon -4/30/17 (


The GOP President Historians Say They Like More and More -6/10/18 (


The GOP Wasn’t Always the Party of Right-wingers -12/15/18 (


The Last Serious, Qualified Third-Party Candidate for President Was…? -3/5/17 (


The Long History of Unjust and Lawless Attorneys General -7/28/19 (


The Loss of Republican Principle -5/9/19 (


The Red Scare: From the Palmer Raids to Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump -4/2/19 (


The Republican Party’s Weird 52 Year Curse -3/4/16 (http://historynewsnetwork/org/article/162187)


The Reputations of Presidents Keep Changing -5/5/16 (


The Senate’s Incomplete Hall of Fame -9/9/18 (


The Two Vice Presidents Who Got Along Best with Their Presidents -2/7/17 (


There’s an Ominous Parallel with the Fight Over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -11/26/17 (


These 10 People Might Run for President in 2020 and None Have Government Experience -10/7/18 (


These 11 People Came Close to Being President of the United States -3/22/16(http://historynewsnetwork.org161656)


These 15 GOP Senators From the Past Could Show Mitch McConnell and His Colleague How to Do the Job -9/15/18 (


These 9 Justices Failed to Vote the Way Their Party Expected -10/14/18 (


These Two Midwestern Democrats Could Be Serious Contenders for the Presidency in 2020 -12/9/18 (


These Two Presidents Also Had Bad Starts -7/30/17 (http://historynewsnetwork/org/article/166533)


They Ran For President Before. Will They Run Again in 2020? -9/30/18 (


Three Presidents-Elect We almost Lost: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy -11/13/16 (


Three Unexpected Deaths That Shaped Presidential History -3/10/19 (


Trump Faced Long Odds Winning the White House, but...-1/29/17 (


Trump’s Got No Mandate -12/15/16 (


Trump’s Not the First GOP President with Weak Ties to the Party -8/27/17 (


Trump’s Racking Up the Worst Record on the Environment Since Reagan -10/28/17 (


We Judge Presidents in part by Who Precedes and Follows Them -4/21/19 (


What 2020 Presidential Hopefuls Can Learn From Carter, Clinton, and Obama’s Foreign Policy -2/24/19 (


What Are the Chances that a Member of the House of Representatives Will Be Our Next President? -11/11/18 (


What do Nixon, Reagan and Trump Have in Common? -10/1/17 (


What is it About September that Makes It Disastrous Month For Presidents and Presidential Candidates? -8/27/16 (


What Studying the Presidents Teaches: Even Winners Can Lose -11/10/16 (


What We Learn When We Compare Obama’s Two Victories with This One Election from the Past -9/25/16 (


What Would Other Presidents Have Thought Of Donald Trump? -11/4/18 (


What’s With All of These People Who Attack the White House? -1/10/16 (


Who Else is Trump Like? -4/23/17 (


Who in Their Right Mind Would Wish to be Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential Running Mate? -7/3/16 (


Who Will Win? -11/4/16 (


Why 2019 Marks the Beginning of the Next Cycle of American History -6/4/19 (


Why President Donald Trump Could Be as Bad as Nixon – Or Worse -7/10/16 (


Why the Democrats Are Likely to Become the Majority Party for Decades to Come -7/24/16 (


Why the Midwest is the Key to the Future of American Politics -10/21/18 (


Why This Historian is Worried for His Country -1/12/16 (


Why We Need a Crash Course in the 25th Amendment -1/22/17 (


Why We Need to Be Worried About Mexico -1/15/17 (


Will 2020 Be “The Year of the Mayor” in Presidential Politics? -11/25/18 (


Will Beto O’Rourke Follow the Path of Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush to the Presidency? -1/20/19 (


Will the GOP Crown Paul Ryan as Its Presidential Nominee? -4/9/16 (


Yesterday Was the 100th Anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s Death. Here’s How His Legacy Still Shapes the United States Today -1/7/19 (


You Think History’s Predictable? Consider This -3/12/17 (






























Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The History of Impeachment and Why Democrats Need to Act Now Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Two American presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-1999. Richard Nixon resigned in order to avoid formal impeachment. All three instances produced extreme political division and controversy.  All three occurred with a divided government—the President was from a different party than the Congressional majority.


Andrew Johnson became president after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Lincoln, a Republican, asked the Democratic Johnson to be his running mate in 1864 due to concerns that Lincoln might face a tough reelection campaign against former General George McClellan. Lincoln hoped Johnson would help him gain the support of loyal Democrats who appreciated Johnson’s strong support of the Union.


However, Johnson did not agree with much of Lincoln’s agenda and Republicans in Congress strongly turned against him. The inability of Johnson to work with and get along with the party that had elected him Vice President was made worse by his horrible temper, refusal to compromise, and tendency to use foul language.  No one would defend his prickly personality and racist tendencies in retrospect.


Johnson was impeached and brought to trial for breaking the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which was designed to prevent the President from dismissing cabinet officers without approval of the Senate. Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a major critic and collaborator with Radical Republicans, who wished Johnson to be removed. The law was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Myers V US in 1926, 59 years after the enactment of the law. 


Ultimately, Johnson avoided removal from office by just one vote. Ten Republicans joined with nine Democrats and voted to keep Johnson in office. The final vote was 35-19, one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve removal. Johnson had not abused power or obstructed justice, and the impeachment case was flimsy. While his personality and viewpoints were obnoxious to many, there was no real justification for his impeachment.


Richard Nixon was facing impeachment in 1974 from the opposition Democratic Party in Congress due to strong evidence of abuse of power, obstruction of justice,  contempt of Congress, refusal to cooperate with the impeachment investigation relating to the Watergate Scandal, and other illegal acts discovered in the process of the investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.  


Ultimately, the Nixon impeachment was based on bipartisan support of that committee, with seven Republicans joining the Democrats in backing three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. The Supreme Court also stepped in via the case of US V Richard Nixon, ordering that Nixon must hand over the Watergate tapes demanded by the House Judiciary Committee.  


Additionally, bipartisan support for Richard Nixon’s removal from office was made clear by a visit of Republican leaders of Congress to the White House, including Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes of Arizona, informing Nixon that he had lost the support of the Republicans in the US Senate, and would be unlikely to gain more than fifteen votes of the 34 needed to survive an impeachment vote to remove him.  


With the strong case against Nixon, and the bipartisan move against him staying in office growing rapidly, Nixon realized it was time to leave the Oval Office, and avoid a further constitutional crisis.


Bill Clinton faced impeachment in 1998-1999 from the opposition Republican Party in Congress. Republicans were determined to remove him based on his perjury before a grand jury in the Jones V. Clinton 1997 Supreme Court case regarding Clinton’s extramarital sexual relationships, and the need for the President to testify before a grand jury.


Clinton was impeached on the last day of the 105th Congress in December 1998 and the trial was held by the new 106th Congress in January and February 1999. This violated the rule that an impeachment and trial must be conducted in the same Congress. The trial was part of the policy of Newt Gingrich and other Republicans to do what they could to undermine the Bill Clinton Presidency and plan for the upcoming Presidential and Congressional Election of 2000.  


Ultimately, the Senate voted to determine if Clinton would be removed from office on two counts. On the first count, lying under oath, the Senate voted 55-45, but this was less than the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president. On the second count, obstruction of justice, the Senate voted 50-50 to remove Clinton, again short of the two-thirds majority required. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats on the first charge and five Republicans on the second count. Although some Republicans attempted to hold a vote on another impeachment article on a separate obstruction of justice charge, this failed miserably and was not considered by the Senate.  


The case against Bill Clinton was more similar to the political vendetta of the Republican Party against Andrew Johnson 130 years earlier than Richard Nixon’s offenses.  No one then or since would defend Clinton’s private behavior in the Oval Office or his lying under oath, but it was clearly an unpopular move by Republicans to impeach Clinton, and the President remained popular in public opinion polls at that time.


So, what do these past examples tell us about a potential impeachment of Donald Trump? It is extremely unlikely that Trump would be removed from office because the Senate is Republican-controlled. It is still essential, however, that Democrats push impeachment to make a political point. Just as the Republicans in 1999 pursued impeachment without consideration of how they might appear in public opinion, the Democrats should not worry about public opinion or political ramifications because Trump’s actions require accountability. If Democrats don’t take action, history will record that the Democratic Party refused to see the long term danger of Trump, and it will set a bad precedent for the future. 


As I’ve written before, the case against Donald Trump is overwhelming. Donald Trump obstructed justice to prevent a thorough investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential campaign. His son and others in the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with a foreign nation determined to undermine the candidacy of the opposition nominee, Hillary Clinton. Trump has also violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, by making profits daily on his various hotel properties and other business ventures, as recent reporting has made even more clear.   

He has abused the Pardon power by promising or hinting at pardons for those who break the law and enforce his illegal and unethical actions.  He has engaged in conduct that grossly endangers the peace and security of the United States in foreign policy.  He has advocated violence and undermined equal protection under the law. He has undermined freedom of the press, a threat against American democracy, and has pressured the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute political adversaries. 


Finally, Trump has shown contempt of Congress by refusing to cooperate with their investigation of his administration, a charge that was one of the three brought against Richard Nixon before he decided to resign ahead of a certain impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the US Senate. 


Democrats need to act before the upcoming presidential election consumes even more political energy. It is time for the Democrats to move ahead on what needs to be done:  the impeachment on high crimes and misdemeanors of the 45th President.


For more on impeachment, click on the links below: 

What To Know About the History of Impeachment

George Orwell and Why the Time to Stop Trump is Now

What Should Historians Do About the Mueller Report?

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Demise of the Republican Party Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The Republican Party was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery. It has survived in philosophy and leadership over the past 165 years but now it has reached its demise under Donald Trump. While the Republican Party might still exist in name, it has lost all principle, all purpose, and all reason to exist under its present name.


The new revelations about Trump pressuring the Ukraine President to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for corruption now have put the Republican Party on  warning.  With the movement in the House of Representatives toward impeachment, will any Republicans speak up and condemn what Trump has most recently done, or will they, effectively, go down in disgrace with a President who has never really shown respect for the party and its history?


Today’s Republicans have totally repudiated its great Presidential leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. All four of these outstanding Republican Presidents would certainly be shocked and dismayed by the Presidency of Donald Trump.  But it has also repudiated Congressional giants, including William Seward, Charles Sumner, Robert La Follette, Sr, George Norris, Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, Barry Goldwater, Clifford Case, Mark Hatfield, Charles Mathias, Charles Percy, and a multitude of other luminaries.  It has also ignored the principles and convictions of gubernatorial giants, including Thomas Dewey, Earl Warren, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, William Scranton, and many others.


Under Abraham Lincoln and during Reconstruction, the Republican Party was the party of ending slavery and promoting racial equality. It was the party of responsible government regulation of capitalism in the public interest underthe administration of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under Theodore Roosevelt and even Richard Nixon, the Republican party encouraged responsible environmental and consumer legislation to protect the American people.  It was the party of a strong military and promoted national security during the Cold War under Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.  It was the party of responsible international alliances and treaties in the years since the Second World War under all Republican Presidents from Eisenhower to George W. Bush.    


The Republican Party was far from perfect and at times it contradicted these principles. It encouraged monopoly capitalism in the Gilded Age, the 1920s, and has once again since Ronald Reagan. It has ignored and sometimes encouraged racism and nativism. Richard Nixon employed the “Southern Strategy” and the Watergate tapes recordings demonstrated his anti Semitism and racism. Ronald Reagan allowed the “Religious Right’ to have an undue influence in the 1980s. The Republican Party today pushes to end the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, promotes mass incarceration and tough mandatory minimums, and continues the injustice it has done to racial minorities and the poor.  Massive evidence of government corruption under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan previously undermined Republican credibility with the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, respectively.  Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush engineered massive tax cuts, harming the middle class and the poor, and created a new Gilded Age similar to the late 19th century.


But the party always had healthy internal debates: progressive and conservative Republicans clashed in the early 20th century Progressive Era and the New Deal era; liberal and conservative Republicans in the post World War II period from 1945-1980; and moderate and conservative Republicans in the age of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.  If Republican Presidents did not always offer great leadership, members of Congress and state governors often weighed in on policy.  Whenever the Republican Party seemed to have lost its way, challenges came from Republican members of Congress and governors that kept the party viable and respectable. Few felt that the party leaders in Congress and in the states were willing to give up their independence to any President and the party leadership.


But now, that has all changed.  All of the principles of the Republican Party have been destroyed in the age of Donald Trump. The Republican leadership in Congress and the states has simply given up any concept of disagreement or resistance, and have accepted Donald Trump as an authoritarian leader with no limits on his executive power.  This is true of racial and ethnic discrimination; of overlooking massive violations of civil liberties; of abuse of immigrant children and their families escaping from poverty, violence, and bloodshed in Central America; and of giving over total control of the economy to major corporations without any government regulation.  There is no resistance to policies that totally abandon  environmental and consumer regulation and fail to protect national security from the threats of foreign nations with authoritarian leaders who flatter our President like Russia, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The Republican party now supports undermining international alliances and treaties, alienating such close friends as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India.  Additionally, the total abuse of any standard of ethics and morality, including the President’s own scandalous private life is ignored and often denied as reality by the leaders and office holders of his own party.


Months ago Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee and emphasized that Russia interfered in the Presidential Election of 2016; that Donald Trump and his campaign welcomed Russian intervention; and that Donald Trump obstructed justice in the investigation of the campaign.  Still the GOP leadership has no issue publicly with Donald Trump. No matter how outrageous his statements, the extent of his lies, or the harm he brings domestically or internationally, almost no Republican defies Trump. Even Trump’s move to oppose free trade, a long held view of the party, moves ahead without much protest. In fact, it seems as if the Republican leadership and office holders are terrified of our President. Even after the El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa-Midland Massacres, there is mostly silence from Republicans.


Donald Trump has promoted so many policies of abuse and corruption, including undermining the contributions of past Republican Presidents, and yet House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and nearly all Republican office holders defend him, or stay silent.  Only a few Republicans not in office anymore have spoken up and challenged Trump. 


The Republican Party is dead as we knew it, and the question is this: will anyone in that party finally lead a decisive challenge to the abuse of power going on, which threatens the nation and the world at large, or will a new political party emerge, as the Republicans did in the crisis of the 1850s, when they replaced the Whig Party?


American democracy and constitutional government is at stake right now every day!

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Challenge of the Democratic Primary Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency:  From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015). A paperback edition is now available.


The Democratic Party has a major challenge ahead of the 2020 general election. They need to find a Presidential nominee who can defeat Donald Trump by overcoming his strong base  and the likelihood of Russian interference, which he has explicitly stated he would welcome.  Their objective is further complicated  by the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to constrain accessible voting for all Americans. 


Many Democrats wonder which candidate would be the most electable.  Would a white man in his late 70s,  such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Vice President Joe Biden, be electable? Would a younger candidate--such as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, or South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—appeal more to the average American voter?


The latter five would each make history if they were elected president. They would be, respectively, the first white woman, the first mixed race woman, the second African American man, the first Latino man, and the first gay man elected to the presidency.  Some Democrats worry that such a “first” would face great  prejudice and discrimination, especially against  Donald Trump and his solid political base.  Trump’s faithful followers are comprised of folks who are seemingly opposed to the concepts of a woman, a person of color, or a gay person being the next occupant of the Oval Office.


What about Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, who would be the third oldest potential nominee within the Democratic Party? If elected, Warren would be older than Donald Trump was in 2017 upon her inauguration. A woman who has sparked some controversy with her political platform and cultural heritage, Warren poses a unique challenge in gaining the Democratic nomination and election victory in the present American political climate.


Many would think that fresh and younger nominees such as Klobuchar, Harris, Booker, Castro or Buttigieg could be the better alternatives. But would they be able to overcome the barriers to election, or would one of the older white men (Sanders or Biden) have a better chance of besting Donald Trump in the 2020 election? This is not a minor matter, as for many Americans, the idea of Donald Trump having a second term would be insufferable and a threat to the stability and integrity of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.


To be clear, there is no room for error in this matter.  Trying to determine a tenable strategy for 2020 is a crucial project that requires creativity and decisiveness. This weighs heavy on the minds of many who see Trump as a threat to the survival of the nation and in what is considered as the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Should We Care About Presidential Age? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


In 2020, America may decide to elect the oldest first term President in its history. Three Democratic candidates will be older than Donald Trump was on Inauguration Day in 2017 and Ronald Reagan was on Inauguration Day in 1981.


As I’ve written before, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will be 79 years and 4 months old by Inauguration Day in 2021 and former Vice President Joe Biden will be 78 years and two months old.  Sanders would be older for his first term than Donald Trump would be at the end of a second term, and Joe Biden would be just three months younger at the beginning of his first term than Trump would be at the end of a second.


Age seems even more important after Sanders suffered a heart attack earlier this month. Sanders also had stents put in his heart. In his debate performances and campaign trail appearances, Biden has also showed signs of aging. His mental acuity has seemed off at times and his ideas seem to hearken back to the past rather than the future.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be 71 years and 5 months at inauguration, making her the third potential President who would be older than Donald Trump was in January 2017 by a full year. Warren would be in her late 70s by the end of a second term in the Oval Office. 


Historically, few world leaders have served in their 80s. Most famously, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 81 years old when he left office in 1955 and he suffered two strokes before he resigned. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was 87 when he left office in 1963.  Only Adenauer was older than Sanders or Biden would be at the end of a second term in the Presidency in January 2029.


Of course, there have been Kings and Emperors who were in office beyond the age of 80.  Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain is 93.  Japanese Emperor Akihito was 85 when he retired earlier this year. Several Popes have reached their 80s in office, including Pope John Paul II who died at age 84; Pope Benedict XVI, who retired at age 85; and the present Pope Francis is 82. But none of these leaders have or had the stress level and burdens of office of an American President.  


Ronald Reagan seemed to be declining mentally in his second term.  Many believe Trump has mental issues that may be related to age. One has to be concerned that Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden reaching their 80s early in their first term might be dangerous in theory for the nation. Since Warren would be in her mid-70s at the end of the first term, one has to be similarly concerned.


So the issue of age cannot be ignored and it is clear that if Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, or Elizabeth Warren are nominated and elected President in 2020, it is essential to have a much younger, more vibrant and energetic Vice Presidential running mate ready to take the helm in any emergency situation that might arise.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Jimmy Carter's Presidency Contrasts Sharply with Trump's Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



October 2019 has been a good month for the Carter family. On October 1, former President Jimmy Carter celebrated his 95th birthday and has lived longer than any other previous president. On October 17th, Carter and Rosalynn Carter surpassed George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush and now hold the record for the longest Presidential marriage (73 years and counting). His Vice President, Walter Mondale, will turn 92 in January 2020, making Carter and Mondale the longest surviving Presidential-Vice Presidential team in American history.


This month was also another milestone: Donald Trump reached his 1000th day in office on the same day that the Carters celebrated the longest Presidential marriage. As we celebrate president Carter’s legacy this month, it’s valuable to compare the 39th and 45th Presidents.


Carter was elected with a majority of the popular vote, while Trump lost the popular vote by 2.85 million, the worst popular vote loss for a winning President in American history.


Carter has the longest marriage in Presidential history. Trump has been married three times and divorced twice. Trump has a record of extramarital affairs, while the worst statement that can be made about Carter’s marriage was his awkward statement in an interview with Playboy in 1976. He said he had “lust in his heart”.


Carter’s devout faith was a cornerstone of his presidency and his humanitarianism in the years following his presidency. Carter regularly leads services at his Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.


Meanwhile, Trump’s pandering to the religious right is well-documented and he claimed in an interview with CNN on July 18, 2015 that he has no need to pray or confess his sins since he believes he has never sinned. Trump’s charitable work through the Trump Foundation is under investigation for misuse of funds. 


Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for diplomacy, promotion of peace, and human rights advocacy.Trump has alienated our allies, undermined American diplomacy, and has ignored human rights concerns as he creates allies out of dictators. 


Carter had strong relations with Latin America. He negotiated the Panama Canal Treaty which restored control of the Canal to Panama in 2000.  He also promoted human rights and held Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua accountable for their violations of such rights by suspending military and economic aid.  Meanwhile, Trump has insulted people from Latin America (particularly those from Mexico and Central America), and received condemnation from their leaders. He embraced the rightwing government of Brazil.


Carter achieved a major breakthrough in the Middle East with the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. On the other hand, Trump’s close association with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his curtailment of American participation in the Iran Nuclear Agreement destabilized the region. Now,Trump has now abandoned the Kurds in Syria leading to immediate bloodshed.  


Carter diplomatically recognized the People’s Republic of China and worked to strengthen trade between the two nations.Trump’s trade war with China has led to ever-increasing tariffs that harm economic and diplomatic ties.


According to environmental experts, Carter was the third best president for the environment, behind only Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. In a 2012 survey reported in the NY Times, experts ranked Carter as the best one-term President for the environment, praising his development and use of alternative energy sources, including wind and solar. Carter tried to move away from oil, coal, and natural gas.


Meanwhile, Trump has the worst record on the environment in American history, surpassing Ronald Reagan. Trump has encouraged the oil, coal, and natural gas industries and describes global warming as a “hoax.” 


Carter promoted the creation of the Health and Human Services Department, Education Department, and the Energy Department, while Trump has undermined all three Cabinet agencies and their missions.


Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have built housing for the poor through Habitat For Humanity for the past 25 years. Trump is a real estate developer who built resorts and hotels for the rich and powerful. 


Finally, Carter has become more respected and honored as time has passed, while each year brings more details of Donald Trump’s corruption and lack of moral character. 


Carter will always be considered a better president by historians and political scientists. By the American public, Carter will always be considered a better man. 

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
What If Mike Pence is the 2020 Republican Presidential Nominee? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Could the House vote to impeach Donald Trump by the end of the year? The tumult over the Ukraine telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. The impending impeachment trial will take place after Thanksgiving, if not later. While it seems unlikely at this point, if Trump was removed from office or if he resigned, Vice President Mike Pence would become president with less than a year remaining in the present Presidential term. 


The latest in any Presidential term that a President has left office was in 1963. After John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, Lyndon B. Johnson became President with slightly less than a year until Election Day 1964 and approximately one year and two months left in JFK’s term. 


As the 1964 presidential election approached, LBJ’s only challenger for the Democratic Party nomination was Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace was a nationally known, controversial figure, after he opposed the admission of two African American students to the University of Alabama in June 1963.  Wallace was unable to put a dent into Johnson’s primary campaign, however.


The only other potential obstacle to LBJ’s presidential campaign was Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who was still in the cabinet until the summer of 1964. RFK wished to be Johnson’s Vice Presidential running mate, but Johnson had “bad blood” with RFK from the beginning of the JFK Presidency. LBJ did not want RFK to have any influence in his full term bid, and so he chose Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey as his running mate instead.  In the election, Johnson received an all-time high of 61.1 percent of the vote and 486 electoral votes. He defeated Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona by winning 44 of 50 states.


After Warren G. Harding died on August 2, 1923, his successor became president with the second least amount of time left in a presidential term. Calvin Coolidge became president with about nineteen months left until the next inauguration, and about fifteen months to Election Day 1924. 


Coolidge faced the opposition of progressive California Senator Hiram Johnson, who competed in a number of primaries, but only won in South Dakota. Progressive Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, Sr. ran a vigorous third party campaign as the revived Progressive Party nominee, winning his home state, and 16.6 percent of the total national vote. Ultimately, Coolidge easily defeated his two opponents, La Follette, and Democratic Presidential nominee John W. Davis by winning 54 percent of the vote.


If Trump is removed from office, Mike Pence would likely become president with the least amount of time left in the previous president’s term. To understand Pence’s potential chances in 2020, President Gerald Ford’s experience succeeding Richard Nixon after he resigned in August 1974 might be more relevant. Nixon resigned after the Supreme Court ordered him to hand over the Watergate tapes in the case of US v Richard Nixon.  While Ford became president with nearly two and half years left in Nixon’s term, a full year more than Calvin Coolidge had after Warren G. Harding’s death and 15 and a  half months more than Lyndon B. Johnson had after John F. Kennedy’s death, the effect on the Republican Party and Gerald Ford was extremely detrimental due to the Watergate Scandal and Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon a month into his Presidency and two months before the midterm election of 1974.  


This contributed to the Democratic Party gaining 49 seats in the House of Representatives securing a two-thirds majority in the 94th Congress. The Democrats also gained four members in the US Senate, to a total of 60 seats, making the political situation for Gerald Ford very tough for the remaining two years of the term. The Nixon pardon and the bad economy undermined Ford, and led to his defeat for a full term in the Oval Office in 1976.


It is seemingly a long shot that Trump will be removed from office, as only Senator Mitt Romney has hinted he would support such an action, and 20 or more Republicans would need to vote for removal in the US Senate. But there clearly are others who might vote to convict, making for a majority of the Senate advocating Trump’s removal, and as more evidence comes out, and discontent grows with Trump’s Syrian policy and his insults and character assassination of everyone imaginable, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to create an untenable situation that could make conservatives in the Republican Party prefer a person closer to their hearts and views, Vice President Mike Pence.


Therefore, it’s worth considering what might happen if Pence became president and tried to run for a full term as President while defending his connections to an ousted Trump. 


Would anyone in the Republican Party challenge President Pence in primaries or caucuses, if few were arranged already, or deadlines had passed for registration to participate in such primaries or caucuses?  Would a John Kasich, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney or others who formerly contended for the Presidency enter the race?


Would anyone attempt to make the nomination a convention struggle in August 2020 at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, something that has not occurred in decades?


And how would this affect the Democratic Presidential nomination battle which would be in full throttle, especially in February and March 2020 when a majority of the scheduled primaries and caucuses will take place?


Would this scenario favor an establishment candidate, such as Joe Biden; or a more leftist candidate, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren; or a fresh face from the moderate wing, such as Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, or Cory Booker? Or would it lead to others to announce their candidacy, such as Hillary Clinton or Michael Bloomberg?


Could a third party or independent candidate further complicate the political field, such as Independent Justin Amash running as a Libertarian? 


This is all uncharted territory, and creates the possibility of total chaos in an election year, potentially greater than in 1968.


So we could be on the way to an election year like no other since the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the tumult around the Vietnam War, and no one can possibly predict who will be inaugurated President on January 20, 2021.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Massive Influence of Northern California Democratic Leaders in American Politics Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015)  A paperback edition is now available.


Northern California Democrats have played a major role in American politics in recent decades, and have reached a peak in the time of President Donald Trump.


Past Democrats from Northern California, particularly around San Francisco, included Governor Eugene (Pat) Brown (1959-1967), and Senator Barbara Boxer (1993-2017), who also served in the House of Representatives (1983-1993). 


Additionally, Pat Brown’s son, Jerry Brown, served as Governor when he was young (1975-1983) and again three decades later (2011-2019), along with being Oakland Mayor (1999-2007) and California Attorney General (2007-2011). Jerry Brown also sought the Presidency three times, in 1976, 1980, and 1992.


Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer has been a major liberal influence in his 25 years on the high Court since confirmation in 1994, by appointment of President Bill Clinton.


Presently, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is in her second round as the highest ranking woman in American government history. Pelosi has served in Congress since 1987 and was previously the Speaker of the House from 2007-2011. Pelosi is setting the standard on how to control her Democratic majority and also deal with the danger and threat presented by President Donald Trump as the impeachment inquiry that she so craftily developed moves forward.


Two San Francisco based members of the House of Representatives have also played a major role in present impeachment efforts. Congressman Eric Swalwell (2013-present) serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Judiciary Committee, both key posts involved in the impeachment effort, and briefly sought the Presidency.Congresswoman Jackie Speier (2008- present) is also on the House Select Committee on Intelligence in the present impeachment investigation.


Further, former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein (1978-1988) has served in the US Senate since 1992 and is Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee when the Democrats had control before 2015.


The other California Senator, Kamala Harris, came to the Senate in 2017 after serving as California Attorney General from 2011-2017, and District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004-2011.  She recently ended her candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2020.


Additionally, Governor Gavin Newsom, who took office in 2019, was previously Lieutenant Governor under Governor Jerry Brown (2011-2019), and also served as San Francisco Mayor from 2004-2011.


It is rare for one city and one area of any state to have as great of an impact on American life as San Francisco and Northern California have had. The impact of these political leaders will still be significant in the 2020s.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Trump Is the Most Corrupt President in History Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015). A paperback edition is now available.


As President Donald Trump was impeached Wednesday, December 18th, journalists and historians are reexamining the history of presidential corruption. After carefully reviewing this history, I believe Trump’s presidency is the most corrupt in American history. 


Before I get to that conclusion, it’s important to review the presidential scandals that precede Trump. One might argue that every presidency has some episodes and personnel that might be considered corrupt, but seven presidencies particularly stand out for their scandals.  For this analysis, I am not including  accusations of sexual liaisons as they did not affect government policies and enforcement. Thus,  the dalliances of Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Bill Clinton are not considered in this discussion of Presidential corruption. One Democrat and six Republicans make up this unfortunate list: Democrat Andrew Jackson and Republicans Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.  


Andrew Jackson infamously introduced the concept of the “spoils system” to American government. Jackson believed the mantra “to the victor belongs the spoils” and nearly 40 percent of all government employees were replaced by party loyalists. Many of these new appointees had minimal or nonexistent credentials for their jobs.  


Martin Van Buren, a “Kitchen Cabinet” advisor who served as Secretary of State and Vice President under Jackson, created  the Albany Regency political machine in New York and pushed Jackson to give jobs to political allies. Newspaper editors who favored Jackson were granted special favors and malfeasance of political appointees in handling government funds was common.  Jackson ushered in a fifty year period of widespread cynicism about the commitment of government workers to conduct the public business in an ethical manner.


The worst excesses of the Jacksonian spoils system occurred during Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency. Scandals emerged in the Navy, Justice, War, Treasury, Interior, and Post Office Departments, as well as the New York Customs House. Grant was very naïve about people’s motivations, and allowed himself to be manipulated by military associates and people who flattered him in order to gain access to lucrative financial deals at a time of great transformation and development of the industrial economy. Grant was never proven to be directly involved with the scandals, but his association with some people of questionable character, and his acceptance of personal gifts, undermined his reputation and presidential legacy.  


The 12  scandals under Grant led to four cabinet members and first term Vice President Schuyler Colfax’s removal from office. This corruption is often labeled as the Credit Mobilier scandal, but it actually began before Grant was in office and continued through his administration.  The Black Friday, Gold Panic, New York Custom House Ring, and Whiskey Ring scandals also occurred during Grant’s presidency and reveal the endemic and disgraceful level of corruption. The Liberal Republican Movement of 1872 was a reaction against the Grant Administration scandals, and ultimately led to the civil service reform movement promoted by the Mugwump faction in the party led by Carl Schurz, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Mark Twain, E. L. Godkin, and Thomas Nast, among others.


With the establishment of the Civil Service Commission in 1883 by the Pendleton Act under President Chester Alan Arthur, corruption did not plague the presidency again until Warren G. Harding in the early 1920s. Like Grant, Harding was naïve about the intentions of the “Ohio Gang,” Ohio politicians he appointed to high political office. The Ohio Gang’s Teapot Dome scandal embroiled Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, and Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, Attorney General Harry Daugherty, and Bureau of Veterans Affairs head Charles Forbes in scandal.  Investigations of these corrupt officials were in full swing when Harding suddenly died on August 2, 1923, just 2 years and 5 months into his term. Harding was aware of the moral and ethical collapse of his administration and was depressed about that reality. 


50 years later, Richard Nixon came into office with distrust of the news media and a desire to get revenge on his “enemies” in government and journalism. For Nixon, fighting his enemies meant using every tactic, including wiretapping, break-ins, bribes, and encouraging the Internal Revenue Service to  audit his opponents. Nixon was so brazen he even had tape recordings of everything occurring in the Oval Office, including discussion of illegal activities.  


What ultimately brought Nixon to resign was the burgeoning Watergate Scandal, the attempt by Nixon operatives to bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to find out their tactics and strategies for the 1972 Presidential campaign. The Washington Post sent Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to investigate the unsuccessful break in on June 17, 1972.  With the help of Deep Throat, Deputy Head of the FBI Mark Felt, the reporting helped spur a Congressional investigation in 1973 and 1974, leading to an impeachment inquiry. After the Supreme Court decided in US. V. Nixon that the President must hand over the Watergate Tapes to the Special Prosecutor and to Congress, Nixon soon resigned on August 9, 1974. A total of 76 government officials were charged with crimes in the Watergate Scandal, and 55 were convicted, and 15 served prison sentences. Nixon avoided prosecution when he was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, on September 8, 1974.


When Ronald Reagan came into the Presidency, he revived the role of corporate influence and malfeasance reaching into the cabinet and other government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.  Reagan appointees--including Attorney General Edwin Meese, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Advisers Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter, HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Secretary of the Interior James Watt, White House Press Secretary Lynn Nofziger, Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, EPA head Anne Gorsuch Burford, CIA Head William Casey, and Oliver North--were engrossed in multiple scandals involving money and law breaking.  Many of those involved in scandal were indicted (26), convicted (16), and sentenced (8). Several of the indicted officials were given clemency by incoming President George H. W. Bush, who denied any personal involvement or knowledge of the scandals.


Although the Reagan Administration surpassed the Nixon presidency in the number of well-known figures who were embroiled in corruption, Reagan left office with strong public approval. His personality and public image helped him survive in office.  


Under President George W. Bush, there was great controversy that developed over the roles of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Advisor Karl Rove, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, and other government agencies and individuals involved in the planning and execution of the Iraq War, Afghanistan War, reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and the economic meltdown that led to the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Bush administration officials received 16 indictments, 16 convictions, and 8 prison sentences.  


This led to Bush’s rapid drop in public opinion ratings and Bush was the most unpopular President since Richard Nixon when he left office.  Bush hurt his party and undermined any possibility of 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain winning the election.


Now, in the time that Donald Trump has been in office, and as Donald Trump faces an impeachment trial in the US Senate, the level of corruption and scandal is the greatest since Nixon and Reagan.  Just to recap: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign over contacts with Russian government officials and his lobbying activities during the Presidential campaign. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from any investigations of Russian hacking during the Presidential campaign of 2016.  We have seen convictions not only of Michael Flynn, but also of Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Roger Stone, and many more are likely to come. 


 Many other cabinet members have come under fire for incompetence or conflicts of interest, including Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, Wilbur Ross, William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and past appointees Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt. Trump, himself, has broken the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prevents any President from making profits on his personal business ventures while in office. While all politicians can be accused of lying and deceit at some point in their careers, Donald Trump has set a record that has caused many observers to contend that he is the “Liar in Chief” as he has lied more than 15,000 times in less than three years, as recorded by the Washington Post.  


While the presidency has often been embroiled in scandal, Donald Trump’s impeachment and other methods of corruption stand out in history. 

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Chief Justice John Roberts' Predecessors: The Supreme Court Chief Justices Who Presided Over Previous Impeachment Trials


As the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump looms, many aspects of the trial are still undetermined. Will the parties call witnesses? How long will it last? How seriously will Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell take it? 


One aspect that is determined but often misunderstood is who presides over the trial. As Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, readies himself for his historic role as the presiding judge over the trial, it is instructive to look back at the experiences of the two prior Chief Justices who presided over the trials of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and of President Bill Clinton in 1999.


Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice from 1864-1873, and William Rehnquist, Chief Justice from 1986-2005, both faced great pressures as presiding judge over the highly partisan impeachment trials. Neither one would be considered noncontroversial in his career, but both had the responsibility to uphold the Constitution at times of great turmoil, and both did so, after an early period of controversy around Salmon P. Chase.


Salmon P. Chase’s career reflected the realignment of political parties in the mid nineteenth century. He was a member of the Whig Party in the 1830s, the Liberty Party of the 1840s, the Free Soil Party from 1848-1854, the Republican Party from its founding in 1854 to 1868, and finally, the Democratic Party in the last five years of his life, while still serving as Chief Justice by appointment of Abraham Lincoln.


Chase helped recruit former Democratic President Martin Van Buren to run as the Free Soil Presidential candidate in 1848; helped found the Republican Party on the same principles of antislavery activism; sought the Republican nomination for President in 1860 before Lincoln was selected by the Republican National Convention; and he sought the Presidency on the Democratic Party line in 1868 and the Liberal Republican line in 1872 while still serving as Chief Justice.  He had a varied career as Ohio Senator (1849-1855), Governor (1856-1860), and Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln (1861-1864).


Chase attempted to establish the concept of unilateral rulings on procedural matters during the early days of the trial of Andrew Johnson, but he was overruled by the Senate majority, controlled by Radical Republicans, and quickly gave up trying to control the trial. He moved toward neutrality and simple presiding as the trial moved forward after early turmoil.


William H. Rehnquist could not have been more different than Salmon P. Chase in his political leanings.  As far “left” as Chase was in his times, Rehnquist was far ‘right”, starting his political career as a legal advisor to Republican Senator Barry Goldwater in his failed campaign for President of the Arizona Senator in 1964.  Rehnquist was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel in 1969 by President Richard Nixon. 


Nixon nominated him for the Supreme Court in late 1971 and he was confirmed and sworn in the first week of 1972. Rehnquist served nearly 34 yearson the Court and was elevated to Chief Justice in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He was regarded as the most conservative member on the Warren Burger Court and was one of the most consistently conservative Justices in modern times. Rehnquist recused himself from participating in the US V. Nixon Case in 1974, where the President was ordered to hand over the Watergate Tapes to the Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, leading to Nixon’s resignation on August  9, 1974.


Presiding over the Bill Clinton Impeachment Trial in the Spring of 1999, Rehnquist chose to  limit any attempt to influence the trial that was being promoted by a strong conservative Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde.  Despite his strong conservative credentials, Rehnquist managed always to get along well with his Supreme Court colleagues, and there were no controversies about his handling of the Clinton Impeachment Trial. 


He was, despite his right wing credentials and voting record on the Court, seen as fair minded, approachable, and a far more unifying leader of the Court before and after the Clinton Impeachment Trial than Chase was before and after the Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial.


Now, Chief Justice John Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist in 1980-1981, is faced with the same challenge of presiding over a highly charged impeachment trial.


Roberts worked in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations in the Justice Department and the Office of White House Counsel, then as Principal Deputy Solicitor General,followed by private law practice before his appointment to the DC Court Of Appeals by George W. Bush in 2003.  In 2005, he was nominated to replace the retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but before hearings could begin on the nomination, Chief Justice Rehnquist died. Roberts was then nominated to replace Rehnquist. 


Roberts has been very clear in his desire to run a Court that has the respect and regard of the American people, and while he has a strong conservative judicial philosophy in his 14 plus years on the Court, he has also come across as having a willingness to work with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc, and is seen as the “swing” vote on the Court since Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.  


He has surprised many liberal commentators with some of his votes, including the preservation of “ObamaCare.” He is seen as comparatively more moderate and conciliatory, and he has been somewhat critical of utterances by President Donald Trump regarding bias of Justices appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.


 It is clear that Roberts wants to have a good historical reputation as only the 17th person to head the Supreme Court, and while he will work to avoid controversy in the upcoming Trump Impeachment Trial, he will wish to preserve respect for the Constitution, democracy, and the rule of law, and will be the center of attention in the coming weeks and months.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
It's 2020. Here's Six Facts About the History of Presidents Running for Reelection. Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations. Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

As the presidential election year of 2020 begins, many news outlets will discuss the history of past presidential elections and attempt to find parallels between the past and present. Here are six interesting facts about past elections.


1. 63% of Sitting Presidents Running for Reelection Won

17 Presidents sought reelection and were rewarded with a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland (but non consecutive terms), William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt (4 terms), Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

The following 10 Presidents sought reelection and lost: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland (but won the next term), Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford after finishing Richard Nixon’s second term, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush

Historically, 17 out of 27—63 percent—of presidents who ran for reelection won. 


2. Five Presidents Couldn’t Seek Reelection Because They Died in Office

What about those who never ran for reelection? Five presidents (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James A. Garfield, Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy) all died in office in their first term, so were unable to run for reelection.


3. Three Presidents Ran for a Third Term

Since the 22nd Amendment was not ratified until 1951, more presidents than just Franklin D. Roosevelt could have run for a third term. In fact, Ulysses S. Grant attempted a failed comeback in the 1880 Republican convention after four years out of office.  Theodore Roosevelt, after declining to run for a second full term after succeeding the assassinated William McKinley, came back and ran for President with the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party in 1912. Both failed to be President for another term. FDR began a fourth term in 1945, but soon was succeeded by Harry Truman upon his death.


4. Three Presidents Ran for Reelection With a Third Party

In addition to Teddy Roosevelt, two other presidents ran as third-party candidates. Martin Van Buren ran for president with the Free Soil Party in 1848. After losing the Whig nomination in 1852, Millard Fillmore ran for president as the American (Know Nothing) Party’s candidate in 1856. Both campaigns impacted the results. Van Buren harmed fellow Democrat Lewis Cass in New York, helping to elect Zachary Taylor. Fillmore managed only to win the state of Maryland, but won 21.5 percent of the national vote. A shift of a few thousand votes to Fillmore in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky, however, would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives at a very tumultuous time, and could have led to the defeat of Democrat James Buchanan and the election of John C. Fremont. Fremont would have been the first Republican President, instead of Abraham Lincoln four years later in 1860.


5. Five Presidents Were Unable To Secure Their Party’s Nomination for a Second Term 

Four former vice presidents who became president after the death of their predecessor were denied the opportunity for another term. Such was the case for Presidents John Tyler (1844), Millard Fillmore (1852), Andrew Johnson (1868), and Chester Alan Arthur (1884).  Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson, and Arthur had no public or party support, and all four had alienated party leaders by their policies and utterances. However, Fillmore ran with  a third party line, as outlined above, in 1856. In the case of Arthur, the fact that he was bypassed by the Republican Party in 1884 was a lucky event, as he died twenty and a half months after his term ended.  

Franklin Pierce was simply too unpopular after the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 led to the split in the Democratic Party, the destruction of the Whig Party, and the creation of the Republican Party. The party passed on him for nomination for another term in 1856.


6. Five Presidents Chose Not to Run for Reelection

James K. Polk chose not to run for reelection in 1848. Polk made it clear early in his presidency he would not run for reelection. Polk was a very hard working President who hardly ever slept which may have contributed to his health issues that were present throughout his term. He died 105 days after leaving office in 1849, the shortest retirement of any President who completed his time in office.

James Buchanan also decided he would not seek reelection after his tumultuous and divisive term (1857-1861) on the eve of the Civil War. In the 1860 election, the Democratic Party split in half, and Southern Democrats nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge and the mainstream Democratic Party nominated Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, who had split with Buchanan during his term of office.

Rutherford B. Hayes, contentiously elected in 1876 after he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by a quarter of a million votes, did not seek reelection in 1880. The Republican Party opposed his fight to change the corrupt spoils system, and his wife Lucy Hayes, an anti-liquor feminist, alienated many, so Hayes chose not to run again. 

Calvin Coolidge chose not to run in 1928, likely because of the effects of his younger son’s tragic death on his psyche.  His personality changed from gregarious to “Silent Cal” during the summer of 1924 when his son passed away.  Although he was already nominated for a full term after succeeding Warren G. Harding, Coolidge decided to pass on a second full term nomination..

Lyndon B. Johnson had announced his candidacy for a second full term, but party division over the Vietnam War led to his withdrawal in March 1968. 


Most of those who decided not to run for reelection were in office at very tumultuous times:  party divisions over slavery in the case of Polk and Buchanan, the end of Reconstruction and the growth of widespread political corruption inAmerica in the case of Hayes, and the Vietnam War in the case of Lyndon Johnson.

Now, Donald Trump enters the 2020 Presidential Election as an impeached President. While the odds historically may favor an incumbent’s reelection, only time will tell. 

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Who Deserves the Credit for a Good Economy? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

In the State of the Union speech, President Donald Trump emphasized the strength of the American economy and took credit for an economic boom. As this claim will likely dominate Trump’s reelection campaign, it’s valuable to examine the last 50 years of presidential and economic history. 


The long economic expansion of the 1960s under Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson ended in 1969 during the Nixon Administration, with a nearly year long recession until late 1970, followed by a longer recession under Nixon and Ford from late 1973 to early 1975. It was directly caused by the Arab Oil Embargo, after the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Israel in October 1973, and caused high inflation as well as rising unemployment.


The short recession of the first half of 1980 under Democrat Jimmy Carter was also related to the second Arab Oil Embargo, which led to high inflation in 1979 and 1980, as in 1974-1975,  with both recessions and inflationary spirals major factors in the electoral defeats of Ford in 1976 and Carter in 1980.  Of course, Ford was also harmed by the pardoning of Richard Nixon and Carter was unpopular for his handling of the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the year before his reelection campaign.


In the Reagan Presidency, a more serious recession occurred, leading to the highest unemployment rate since 1939, provoked by the Federal Reserve’s effort to rein in the high inflation that still existed after Carter lost reelection.  Fortunately for Reagan, the recovery that came about in 1983-1984 led to a landslide reelection victory in 1984. 


During the first Bush Presidency, a recession occurred in the last half of 1990 into early 1991, caused by the tough economic restraints of the Federal Reserve and the effects of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 on real estate. This led to a lingering high unemployment rate.  Despite many people’s approval of Bush’s handling of the Gulf War, the troubles in the economy plus the independent candidacy of H. Ross Perot in 1992 influenced Bush’s 1992 loss.


During the administration of George W. Bush, two recessions occurred. The first lasted from March to November 2001 and was caused by the dotcom bubble, accounting scandals at major corporations, and the effects of the September 11 attacks. The economy quickly bounced back and Bush won reelection in 2004. 


However, a much more serious economic downturn called “The Great Recession” took effect from December 2007 to June 2009 and was caused by a major housing bubble. This hurt John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 as many people wanted a change in leadership.  This economic collapse was worse than the Ford or Reagan recessions in its long-term effects, and it posed a major challenge for Barack Obama as he entered office with the worst economy of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.


Barack Obama rose to the challenge and presided over the most dramatic drop in unemployment rates in modern economic history. The unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in the fall of 2009. By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the unemployment rate had fallen to  4.7 percent. The stock market rose by about 250 percent in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 2009 to 2017.


By comparison, Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office with a 24.9 percent rate of unemployment in 1933. Unemployment dropped every year through 1937 to 14.3 percent, but then rose with a new recession causing the unemployment rate to rise to 19 percent in 1938 and 17.2 percent in 1939. The unemployment rate then went down to 14.6 percent in 1940, 9.9 percent in 1941, and finally, with World War II in full swing, it lowered to 4.7 percent in 1942 and under 2 percent for the remainder of the war years. 


Clearly, Donald Trump has benefited from what is now the longest economic expansion in American history. The unemployment rate has dropped to as low as 3.4 percent. The question that lingers is who deserves the credit? Much of the hard work that created economic recovery came under Obama’s administration, and is simply continuing for now under Trump, which may benefit him in November 2020.

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What do Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Bernie Sanders have in common? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


What do Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Bernie Sanders have in common? All have switched parties at some point during their lives. There are numerous other examples of famous politicians who changed political parties. 


Perhaps the three best known include two who ran as “Progressives" in the early part of the 20th century and set a standard for third-party reform candidates, and a controversial segregationist in 1968, who in many ways foreshadowed Donald Trump’s campaign.


Theodore Roosevelt, former Republican President, ran in 1912 as the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party nominee, and won 27.5 percent of the popular vote, 4.1 million votes, 88 electoral votes, and six states. This was the best all time performance by a third party nominee.


Republican Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin ran for President in 1924 as the Progressive Party nominee, similar to the Progressive Party of 1912. He won 16.6 percent of the popular vote and the 13 electoral votes from his home state. 4.8 million citizens voted for him, and Franklin D. Roosevelt later gave LaFollette credit as a forerunner of the next decade’s New Deal programs.  

Democratic Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, a infamous segregationist, ran in 1968 as the American Independent Party nominee, and won 13.5 percent of the popular vote, 9.9 million votes, 46 electoral votes and five states, the second best performance in electoral votes and states behind Theodore Roosevelt.


Beyond these three well known cases, there are 14 others worthy of attention.


Herbert Hoover worked in the Woodrow Wilson administration and was at Versailles with the President in 1919.  He was seen as a potential Democratic Presidential contender in 1920, and was even endorsed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.  However, he served as Secretary of Commerce under Republican Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, before being the Republican Presidential nominee in 1928, serving one term as President, then losing to FDR in 1932.  The old friendship was gone; Hoover became a vehement critic of FDR in both domestic and foreign policy, and was never invited to the White House by his successor during the more than twelve years of Roosevelt’s time in the Oval Office.


When FDR ran for his third term in 1940, he chose Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace as his Vice President. Wallace was a former Republican, who converted to the Democratic Party when he served in the Roosevelt cabinet. Later, Wallace would run as a third party nominee of the Progressive Party in 1948 against President Harry Truman, but having far less impact than earlier “Progressives”, Theodore Roosevelt and Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., as Wallace gained no electoral votes, and only won 2.4 percent of the popular vote.


Also in 1940, FDR’s Republican opponent was a former Democrat, businessman Wendell Willkie, who was critical of the spending and federal intervention of the New Deal programs, and while he performed better than FDR opponents Herbert Hoover and Alf Landon in previous campaigns in 1932 and 1936, he still was unable to triumph over FDR in his third term bid.


In 1947-1948, when Truman’s public opinion ratings were at a low point, Truman proposed that World War II General and D-Day national hero Dwight D. Eisenhower should consider running for President as a Democrat with Truman as his Vice President. Eisenhower, then a publicly non partisan figure, chose not to take up the unprecedented offer. In 1952, Eisenhower abandoned his political neutrality, ran for president as a Republican, and was Truman’s successor. 


South Carolina Democratic Governor Strom Thurmond opposed Truman in 1948, running as a segregationist candidate with the States Rights Party. Thurmond won four states and 39 electoral votes, at the time the second best third party performance, but later surpassed by George C. Wallace in 1968.  In 1964, Thurmond, then a US Senator, switched to the Republican Party in support of Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. In the following years, many Southern Democrats switched to the Republican Party.


In 1980, John Anderson of Illinois, the third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Republican Conference,  announced his retirement. He then ran for President as an Independent against Republican nominee Ronald Reagan and Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Anderson won no states, but did win nearly seven percent of the vote, attracting primarily liberal Republicans, some independents, and some disgruntled Democrats including historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  He also was able to have one debate with Ronald Reagan, but President Carter refused to participate in a similar debate with Anderson.


His Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan, was a Democrat while he was an actor in Hollywood. Reagan supported FDR and Truman, but switched to the Republican Party due to the influence of his wife, Nancy Davis, and her father.  He became nationally recognized as a political figure after his speech supporting Barry Goldwater in 1964. 


In 2004, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean seemed the front-runner in the early Democratic Primary season before his fall from grace.  After finishing third in the Iowa Presidential caucuses, he became infamous for a screaming declaration that he would succeed in future primaries and caucuses, ironically leading to his rapid decline. Dean came from a wealthy Republican family and was a Republican as a young man. He switched to the Democratic Party while at Yale University.


Hillary Rodham Clinton was a Republican while in high school in Illinois and during her early years in college. She supported Barry Goldwater in 1964 due to the influence of a high school history teacher, but she converted to the Democratic Party while a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. After first serving as First Lady under her husband, Bill Clinton, she served eight years in the US Senate, lost the Presidential nomination in 2008, and then served as Secretary of State, and became the Democratic nominee in 2016, losing the electoral college but winning the national popular vote by 2.85 million votes over Donald Trump.


Donald Trump also switched parties a number of times. He started as a Democrat, switching  in 1987 to the Republican Party, then becoming a member of the Reform Party in 1999, back to the Democratic Party in 2001, and then back to the Republicans in 2009.  Along the way, he contributed to many Democratic and Republican politicians, and flirted with running for President in 1988 and 2000, but was not taken seriously until 2015, when he announced his campaign for President.


Ironically, his Vice President, Mike Pence, started off as a Democrat and voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. Pence was inspired by fellow Catholic John F. Kennedy. In college, he became an evangelical Christian and a supporter of Ronald Reagan.


The 2020 primary features two Democratic contenders who have notably changed their affiliation. Elizabeth Warren was very conservative and a registered member of the Republican Party from 1991-1996. While teaching law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a tenured professor, her colleagues described her as a “die hard” conservative and a believer in laissez faire economics. After 1996, her views changed and she joined the Democratic Party.  

Michael Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat until he switched registration to the Republican Party to run for New York City Mayor in 2001. Then, he became an Independent in the middle of his second mayoral term, and ran as an Independent for his third term in 2009. He remained an independent until  2018, when he again became a Democrat and announced for his candidacy for President in November 2019. Bloomberg had considered a Presidential run in 2012 and 2016, but passed on both possibilities until finally becoming a major factor in the present 2020 campaign.


And the ultimate Independent, Bernie Sanders, was never a Democrat until he decided to run for President in 2016, having the longest career of any Independent in Congress in both chambers in American history.  Sanders switched back to Independent status in 2017, and again became a Democrat when he decided to run for President again in 2019.  While avoiding party identification throughout his career, except recently, he always caucused with the Democratic Party and voted with the caucus most of the time over his long career in Congress since 1991.


So party loyalties have changed in these notable 14 instances in the past one hundred years, beyond the better known cases of Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., and George C. Wallace.


Party changes can reflect the will of individual candidates. Sometimes a person’s world view changes, or they sense a political opportunity by changing parties. In other cases, party switching might indicate, in hindsight, a deeper change in the party system. Though a third party candidate has never won the Presidency, they have influenced outcomes and often pushed ideas into the mainstream of one of the major parties (like with the incorporation of aspects of Progressivism into the New Deal or of Thurmond and Wallace’s racial conservatism to the Republican Party).

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Eleven Jewish Presidential Contenders Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

The Presidential Election of 2020 has seen the rise of a number of Jewish presidential contenders in the Democratic Party. One of them is still in the race, and might very well be the challenger to President Donald Trump in the fall.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, dramatically different in their careers and records in office, were until recently both hotly contending for President from different perspectives.

Sanders is the ultimate Independent, having had the longest career in national politics of any such declared politician, in all of American history.  Styling himself as a “Democratic Socialist,” Sanders served 16 years in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007, and now is in his 14thyear as a US Senator. He caucuses with the Democrats but has been officially an Independent, except when he was contending for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and again now in 2020.  Sanders can also claim eight years as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981-1989 before his thirty year long Congressional career.  The fact that he is proud of his “Socialist” appellation could be a major problem in attracting Independents and non Trump Republicans, and he is the reason why Michael Bloomberg entered the Presidential race belatedly.

Bloomberg would be easily the wealthiest president in history had he been elected in November, as he is worth an estimated $60 billion or more, having a long career as a self made businessman, philanthropist, and three term Mayor of New York City, arguably the second most difficult political position after the Presidency itself.  A Democrat until he switched parties to the Republicans to win the mayoralty in 2001, he became an Independent in the middle of his second term in 2007. He reverted to Democratic affiliation in 2018 as he mulled running for President to save America, in his terms, from a second Donald Trump term in the White House. His views are seen as moderate centrist, totally different on just about every imaginable issue than Bernie Sanders.

Besides Sanders and Blomberg, 2020 has also seen Colorado Senator Michael Bennet enter the race. Bennet’s mother was Jewish and a Holocaust survivor. Bennet had served in the US Senate since 2009, but gained no traction and has withdrawn. He has acknowledged his Jewish roots, though he was not brought up in an observant household. 

Also, Marianne Williamson, an author, spiritual leader and activist, who has always stayed loyal to her Jewish heritage, entered the race, while not being generally paid much attention, and has now endorsed Sanders’s campaign.  

Additionally, billionaire Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager, philanthropist, environmentalist, liberal activist, and fundraiser, who first became noticed leading the movement to impeach Donald Trump way ahead of any such action by the Democratic House of Representatives, was contending for President.  He had a Jewish father, who was non practicing, but Steyer was married in a ceremony presided over by a Presbyterian clergyman and a rabbi, and appreciates his Jewish heritage.

The reality that we have had five people of Jewish heritage competing in the Democratic primary for the Presidency in 2020 may reflect American Jews being consistent backers of Democratic party goals and candidates; seventy percent of American Jews do not support Donald Trump and his agenda. And yet Jews are divided over the proper direction for the party, which explains the ongoing battle between Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg, who have widely varying views and approaches to what is achievable or advisable in domestic and foreign policy for the 2020s, as well as the path to defeating Donald Trump.

Earlier in time, Massachusetts Senator and 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry also had a Jewish paternal heritage through grandparents, while his Democratic opponent the same year, retired General Wesley Clark, also had a Jewish father who died when he was very young, and he was not informed until many years later of his Jewish heritage.

Other Presidential candidates of Jewish background include Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who announced for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination, but made little progress, despite having been Al Gore’s Vice Presidential running mate in the Presidential Election of 2000; Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who tried in 1996 for the Presidency; and Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Milton Shapp, who ran a six month campaign for the 1976 Presidential nomination, but failed to gain any significant support.

Finally, Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, who was the opponent of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 Presidential Election, had a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother. He practiced his mother’s faith, but often acknowledged his Jewish roots.

So of the total of eleven Jewish contenders since Goldwater in 1964, only he and Arlen Specter ran as Republicans, and only Goldwater and Kerry actually were the nominees of their parties for the Presidency. Now in 2020, there is a possibility that we will see another Jewish candidate for President on the ballot in November.

Candidates with Jewish heritage have only been actually the nominee of the party in two cases—Goldwater on the Republican side in 1964 and Kerry on the Democratic side in 2004--but both had Jewish ancestry through one parent, and it was not a factor in their candidacies.  One could say that Kerry came closer to victory than Goldwater, who lost in a landslide. 

The element of antisemitism might still rear its ugly head if Sanders actually ends up as the Democratic nominee in 2020.  With white supremacists seemingly a growing threat, we could see a very ugly campaign, which could undermine either Sanders or Bloomberg from winning the Presidency.

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Donald Trump is no Herbert Hoover Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


This author and historian has previously published articles comparing President Donald Trump to former Presidents Richard Nixon (2017, 2018) and Ronald Reagan (2016), as well as Presidential candidates Barry Goldwater (2016) and George Wallace (2017).  In all five articles, it was made clear that, despite the faults and shortcomings of all four men, they were all superior by comparison to Donald Trump.

The same can now be applied to any comparison of Donald Trump, with the Great Depression President, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933).  Some observers have begun to look at the economic collapse in 1929 and the coming of the Great Depression, at a tumultuous time at the end of March 2020, as our economy and our health care system are in free fall, and sense that Donald Trump is another Herbert Hoover, which, sadly, makes Hoover, already condemned by many in history as a villain, look even worse than he should.

So let us look at the life and career of the 31st President. Born to unfortunate circumstances in a rural community in Iowa, and orphaned by the age of ten, he was taken into a relative’s home in Oregon having learned what unfortunate circumstances many people face through no fault of their own. Hoover went on to Stanford University as a very bright, intelligent and motivated student, and pursued a career in geology and mining engineering. He went on to success over the next two decades, spending much of his work life in Australia, China, and Russia.  By the age of 40 he was a multimillionaire, and dedicated himself to public service.

Hoover became engaged in promoting relief for war-torn Belgium after the German invasion of August 1914 began the Great War. He developed a reputation as a humanitarian, devoting himself to those victims of war who were starving and in need of support.  Based on that involvement, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to lead the US Food Administration in 1917, ensuring that the food needs of the nation were met in wartime.  Besides the domestic efforts, much food was also provided to the Allies fighting alongside US soldiers in 1917-1918.  When the war ended, Hoover headed the American Relief Administration, providing food aid to central and eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war, including assistance given to the defeated Germans, and even to the Soviet Union, where people faced starvation during the civil war between the Bolshevik government and its opponents. Hoover generally refused to play politics when dealing with starving populations and likely saved millions of lives that way.

Hoover had also served Wilson as an adviser at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and was rumored to be a potential Democratic Presidential candidate in 1920, despite having no elected experience, since his business and social service career had been so impressive. Both parties admired him, and Republican President Warren G. Harding named Hoover Secretary of Commerce, an office he retained for eight years under Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding in the White House in 1923.  Hoover would gain a reputation as one of the most outstanding cabinet officers in American history, shaping Commerce into one of the most influential departments of the decade. 

Hoover helped to develop radio broadcasting, aviation, and the highway system, which encouraged the rapid growth of the automobile and related industries, contributing to great economic growth during the 1920s.  Then, the Mississippi River flood of 1927 brought him more attention as he marshalled relief efforts, while President Coolidge mostly sat on the sidelines. Hoover’s profile already overshadowed Coolidge’s when the latter announced he would not run for President again in 1928.

So Hoover had a substantial record of public service, in addition to his successful business career, when he announced for President in 1928.

Hoover’s misfortune was to inherit economic policies of Coolidge and the Republican Party, which would be totally inadequate to deal with the depression following the stock market crash of October 1929.  Believing in laissez faire economics, Hoover was slow to react to the growing unemployment crisis and bankruptcy of many businesses, generally meeting with businessmen and publicly assuring Americans that “prosperity is around the corner.” This was not the case.  Losing control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1930 made life much more difficult, and Hoover finally agreed to abandon laissez faire as the 1932 election was on the horizon.  

Hoover implemented a limited federal public works program and led the passage of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to assist efforts to keep many corporations and businesses in operation, but the effort was much too little and too late.  And the Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930, which many economists begged the President to veto, only worsened the economic conditions, so Hoover was faced with failure, despite his impressive earlier credentials. The routing of the Bonus Army of World War I veterans in Washington in the summer of 1932, led by General Douglas MacArthur (an overreaction not ordered by Hoover) ultimately doomed the President’s chances for reelection.

Herbert Hoover was dogged for the rest of his life for his failures in the Great Depression, and he would be a lifelong critic of his former friend and successor in the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Hoover came to be perceived as a bitter old man, but despite this, and his low ranking in Presidential polls of historians and political scientists, it is still totally unfair to compare him to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump did not have a distinguished business career as Hoover had, but instead multiple bankruptcies.

Donald Trump had never done humanitarian work or served in any government agency as Hoover did in several positions, and with brilliance.

Donald Trump did not serve as a cabinet member for any President, while Hoover was a distinguished, and arguably great, cabinet member for eight years.

Donald Trump did not run for President in a dignified manner as Herbert Hoover did, and Hoover never went out of his way to attack his critics in the horrible way Trump has done since his Presidential announcement in June 2015.

Donald Trump never offered to serve for a President for the public good, as Herbert Hoover served President Harry Truman after World War II, heading the Hoover Commission to promote a more efficient federal bureaucracy, after his earlier work with Woodrow Wilson.

Donald Trump never spent any time on charity or assistance in an emergency, while Hoover engaged in a lot of both activities, based on his commitment to his Quaker faith. Instead, Donald Trump has utilized his connections to right wing evangelical Christians to promote only his own advancement and their divisive social agenda.

Donald Trump has constantly demonstrated his massive narcissism and lack of concern for those less fortunate, while Herbert Hoover led a life dedicated to public service; many conservatives have even criticized Hoover as a “progressive” developer of programs that were later kept and expanded by his successor.

Donald Trump has demonstrated his total lack of common decency throughout his life, while Herbert Hoover, despite his failures in the Presidency, was never perceived as personally nasty and mean spirited.

So, in conclusion, Donald Trump is no Herbert Hoover, and Hoover does not deserve to be compared to him in any sense.  The same as saying Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon; no Ronald Reagan; no Barry Goldwater; and no George Wallace.

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The Election of 2020 is the Most Significant Since 1940 Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015). A paperback edition is now available.



Every Presidential election in American history appears at the time to be the most significant election ever to have occurred.

But, in reality, very few elections are truly turning points in American history, moments when the future of the nation is at stake.

When one surveys all 58 Presidential elections from 1789 to 2016, it seems clear that four of those elections were crucial to the survival of the nation and its protection from long term harm.

And now, the Presidential Election of 2020 will, in this author’s and scholar’s estimation, join the other four in an all time list of turning point elections.

So which four elections were the most crucial, and why is 2020 so significant is the topic of this article.

Chronologically, the first election that tested the ability of the nation to survive was the 1860 election, when Abraham Lincoln faced three opponents—Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell—and won the Electoral College with 180 electoral votes, by winning the entire Northern free states except for a divided electoral vote with Douglas in New Jersey.  Lincoln also won 39.8 percent of the national vote, not winning any slave states. He came to office in a divided nation that was on its way to the Civil War, which raged throughout his term, except for the first six weeks and the last six days. The challenge of how to preserve the Union, and how to wage a war in which the South had tremendous advantages on military leadership, made the job of Abraham Lincoln ever more difficult, along with the divisions in his own Republican party on goals and strategies during a war that lasted four years.

The following election, that of Lincoln against his fired General George McClellan, as the Democratic nominee in 1864, was also crucial, as had Lincoln lost, there was no certainty that the Union would have won the war, since McClellan seemed willing to negotiate with the Confederacy,  rather than pursue a war that had reached a turning point toward ultimate victory.  In many ways, McClellan showed the disrespect for the Commander in Chief that General Douglas MacArthur later exhibited toward President Harry Truman during the Korean War in 1951. So McClellan running against Lincoln in 1864 was a crucial moment in a personal way as well as for the nation.  

It led to Lincoln deciding to remove Vice President Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate for reelection, in favor of Andrew Johnson, who sadly came to be seen as a disaster in the White House after the Lincoln Assassination.  Had Lincoln been able to realize that he would win easily over McClellan, he might have retained Vice President Hamlin, and the Reconstruction history of the South might have been different, in a more positive way. As it worked out, Lincoln won all but three states, and a massive Electoral College victory 212-21, and 55 percent of the popular vote.

Once the Civil War was over, while many elections certainly mattered in their outcome, it would be in 1932, in the worst moments of the Great Depression in the administration of Herbert Hoover, that an election would truly take place in a crisis atmosphere on the level of the Civil War.  Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the alternative of the New Deal, as the American capitalistic system was collapsing, and he would win an easy victory with 57.4 percent of the popular vote, an Electoral College victory of 472-59, and 42 of 48 states. Many scholars have asserted that the nation would likely have been in a revolutionary mood had Hoover remained in office, and the economic conditions could have become even worse in such circumstances.

While the New Deal did not solve the issue of the Great Depression, economic conditions did improve, but by 1939, the danger of Fascism and the Second World War presented a new challenge to FDR. The threat of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan helped to promote a strong isolationist movement in the United States, a reaction to the disillusionment of the US engagement in the First World War. So by 1940, the America First Committee, the most powerful pressure group in American history at that time, formed, backed by many prominent people in politics, business, entertainment, and public life.  

As Nazi Germany began the bombing of the United Kingdom after the defeat and occupation of France in June 1940, FDR came to feel that he needed to remain as President. There was no constitutional limitation to prevent a third term, but the idea would cause great division in the nation.  Most of the candidates interested in the nomination for 1940 were promoting isolationism, and lack of concern for the survival of the UK, and that became the major issue.  The nomination of businessman Wendell Willkie as the Republican nominee in 1940 led to the issue of experience vs a newcomer to government, and the nation voted for FDR with 54.7 percent of the popular vote, 38 states to 10, and 449-82 in the Electoral College.  

A year later, the nation was in World War II, as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the nation, despite the earlier divisiveness, united, and the Great Depression was finally over. And while Wendell Willkie united in support of FDR and went on missions for him during the next few years, one has to wonder what would have happened had Willkie won, as he died in October 1944, a crucial time after D Day in June 1944 and weeks before the Presidential Election of 1944.  Further, his Vice Presidential running mate, Oregon Senator Charles McNary had died before him in February 1944, and there was no provision before the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 for a replacement Vice President.  So FDR’s victory in 1940, was more urgent and significant than likely anyone at the time realized.

Now we are coming to the Presidential Election of 2020, as President Donald Trump, highly controversial and divisive, faces a reelection contest in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the greatest health crisis in American history since the Spanish Flu Pandemic under Woodrow Wilson in 1918-1919. As the First World War was ending, and the Versailles Peace Conference was in process, Wilson suffered for two weeks in Paris from the flu. He recovered, but it possibly affected his behavior and actions.

Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, present the oldest combined age of any pair of Presidential opponents, with Trump 74 and Biden 78 this year. With the nation deeply in an economic collapse that clearly is the worst since the Great Depression 90 years ago, and both men being senior citizens, the group seen as most likely to be victims of the COVID-19 virus, the nation is in crisis.  This reality, along with the alarm felt by tens of millions about the actions, policies, utterances and behavior of Donald Trump in this crisis, and his controversial record, including an impeachment trial and fears of his desire to wield absolute power and defy the Constitution and rule of law, make this election the most dangerous and profound election America has faced in the past 80 years.

So this upcoming election is crucial in so many ways to the survival of American democracy and the preservation of our Constitution and the revival of economic prosperity.

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The Myth of Vice-Presidential Irrelevancy Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


As former Vice President Joe Biden ponders who should be his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2020 Presidential election, the old myth--that the Vice Presidential choice has no effect on the election that follows or how the new administration governs--has arisen yet again.

But it is a pure myth, as history tells us numerous times.

Examples of Vice Presidents mattering, in a good or detrimental manner, abound, as in the following cases:

William Henry Harrison in 1840 had John Tyler, a Democrat abandoning his party and running as a Whig, as his Vice President. Clearly, the circumstances of Harrison’s death a month into office transformed the Presidency, as Tyler claimed, rightfully, that he was President, despite not having been elected to that office (challenging Henry Clay, who claimed he had no right to that title).  This would become the norm; eight more times a Vice President would assume office knowing that there would be no serious challenge, as Tyler faced, to his legitimacy.

Abraham Lincoln chose in 1864 to drop Hannibal Hamlin, his Vice President in his first term in favor of Andrew Johnson, unknowingly affecting the course of history. Johnson turned out to be a disastrous choice, facing impeachment due to his stubborn refusal to deal with the racial violence in the South after the Civil War. Johnson, whether planned or not, undermined and weakened the Presidency for the rest of the 19th century. He also helped to create the tragedy of racial division which would stain the South for the next century, negating the purpose of Lincoln in his Emancipation Proclamation.

When William McKinley had Garret Hobart as his Vice President in his first term, the two men and their wives got along splendidly, and Hobart actually became very active in pursuing the President’s agenda in Congress.  So when Hobart died tragically in 1899 of heart disease, there was a need to find another Vice Presidential running mate for McKinley’s reelection campaign in 1900.  Theodore Roosevelt ended up, unwillingly, as the running mate, and history tells us the dramatic effect he had upon the nation when he succeeded the assassinated McKinley in September 1901. TR revived the Presidency, and set a model for many future Presidents, which might not have happened if a different person had been chosen to succeed Hobart.

Franklin D. Roosevelt might have faced tougher electoral prospects in 1932 had he not chosen the sitting Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner of Texas, as his Vice Presidential running mate.  Although Garner seems to have been insignificant in office, winning solid Southern support against Herber Hoover, the first Republican to win Southern states since Reconstruction, was a crucial factor in FDR’s electoral success.

FDR also made a fateful choice when he abandoned third term Vice President Henry A. Wallace, due to Southern discontent within the Democratic coalition in 1944. FDR's death gave the nation President Harry Truman only 82 days into Roosevelt's fourth term. Most scholars would argue that the left-leaning Wallace would have been disastrous in the Oval Office as the Cold War with the Soviet Union developed (although there are some historians who would vehemently disagree).

It is a well known fact that John F. Kennedy could not have won the Presidency in 1960 without his choice for Vice President, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson.  Being a Roman Catholic and perceived as a “liberal” from the Northeast, JFK would have been unable to win the White House without the powerful influence of LBJ over the South.

While LBJ won easily over Barry Goldwater for a full term in the White House in 1964, he was a Southern Democrat who many Northerners did not fully trust. Thus, his choice of Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, the leading liberal in Congress, as his Vice Presidential running mate, actually was crucial to his victory and the promotion of the Great Society.  Sadly, he ignored and did not utilize Humphrey properly in the next four years, but Humphrey still played a major role in promoting Johnson's domestic agenda, while being, unfortunately, captive to the President’s Vietnam policies.

When Richard Nixon, in the midst of Watergate, was forced by the 25th Amendment to choose a new Vice President after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in October 1973, his choice of House Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Michigan, was crucial.  Ford had good relations with the majority Democratic party, and there was little contention as to his nomination. And Ford proved to be the right person to follow Nixon, although it took a quarter century for most observers to look back on his time in the Presidency and recognize he was a healing force.

Jimmy Carter, with no background or experience in Washington, DC  (he had not even visited the national capital before becoming a national political figure), was smart to choose Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a protégé of Hubert Humphrey, as his Vice Presidential running mate in 1976.  In a close race, Mondale mattered, and proved to be a true partner and close friend of the President, and would go down in history as the most active Vice President, unofficially a “co-President”, and a model for Joe Biden later.

Ronald Reagan was smart in choosing George H. W. Bush as his Vice Presidential running mate in 1980, as Bush represented foreign policy experience and appealed to moderate Republicans alarmed by Reagan’s strong conservatism. Bush proved to be an active and engaged Vice President, whose performance helped him become the first Vice President in 152 years to be directly elected to the Presidency.

Bill Clinton, in selecting Tennessee Senator Al Gore, as his running mate in 1992, followed Carter's example of picking a Washington DC “insider” to assist him in winning, but also governing. Gore also had a direct influence on Clinton regarding environmental issues.  Being a governor of a Southern state required Clinton, as with Carter, to pick someone with solid credentials in national politics.

George W. Bush needed a person with strong foreign policy credentials and DC experience also, and therefore, his choice of Dick Cheney, who had formerly been Secretary of Defense under Bush’s father, made a lot of sense, and may have had an effect on the election results in 2000 in close races,  including in Arkansas and Tennessee, the home states of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Barack Obama needed an experienced, knowledgeable Vice Presidential choice in running for President in 2008, and found such a person in Delaware Senator Joe Biden, who had been in the Senate for 36 years, and had been chairman at different times of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The relationship between Obama and Biden was the closest and most active since Carter and Mondale three decades earlier.

Despite the enduring myth, the Vice Presidential nominee has had a major impact on American history in so many cases, and in so many different circumstances.

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Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 1) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Thirty-Three Presidential offspring played an influential role in American life and deserve the term “Shining Star,” or in some cases, “Rogue” for their contributions to public life. 

John Quincy Adams was of course the son of 2nd President John Adams, serving as the 6th President of the United States, having earlier served as ambassador to several European nations, US Senator, and Secretary of State.  After his Presidency, he served for 17 years as a Congressman from 1831-1848, fighting the evil of slavery.

His son Charles Francis Adams served as US Ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War, helping to prevent British recognition of the Confederate States of America.  He also was the Vice Presidential candidate on the Free Soil Party in the Presidential Election of 1848, continuing the fight of his late father, who died earlier in 1848.  He also built the first Presidential Library in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1870, on the land of the Adams National Historical Park.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Sr (son of 10th President John Tyler), was for thirty years the President of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and published many historical works.  He became controversial as an historian in the 1910s with his regular and constant criticism of Abraham Lincoln (informed by sympathy to the Confederacy), and two of his sons are still alive at this writing in 2020, making them the only surviving grandchildren of any 19th century President.

Robert Todd Lincoln served as Secretary of War for Presidents James A. Garfield and Chester Alan Arthur from 1881-1885, and then was US Ambassador to Great Britain under Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland from 1889-1893.  He was also President of the Pullman Car Company from 1897-1911, and participated in the dedication ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

Harry Augustus Garfield served as President of Williams College in Massachusetts from 1908 to 1934, and was head of the Federal Fuel Administration under President Woodrow Wilson from 1917-1919.  He also practiced law and taught history and politics at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and at Princeton University, where he first met Wilson.

James Rudolph Garfield served as Commissioner of Corporations at the Department of Commerce and Labor from 1903 to 1907 under President Theodore Roosevelt, conducting investigations of the meat packing, petroleum, steel, and railroad industries.  Then, he was Secretary of the Interior under Roosevelt from 1907-1909, gaining a reputation as a leading environmentalist.

Abram Garfield became renowned as a major architect, who practiced in Cleveland, Ohio, and contributed a substantial number of major works on the National Register of Historic Places, specializing in residential architecture, including the Garfield Library in Mentor, Ohio, at the National Historic Site of President Garfield.

As the 20th century began, we saw the first controversial “rogue” child of a President, and the first woman to gain public notice.  Alice Lee Roosevelt, born to Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife on Lincoln’s Birthday 1884, and losing her mother two days later, would grow up to be highly popular and controversial at the same time. A beautiful debutante who became a fashion icon and instant public celebrity, Alice went out of her way to be controversial in her utterances and actions, and often was seen as scandalous in her behavior.  She married the future Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth, but it became later known that her only child, a daughter, was fathered by Idaho Republican Senator William Borah, rather than her husband.  She became a major critic of her cousins, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and ridiculed the looks of the future First Lady from a young age onward.  She was strongly conservative Republican in her political views in her later life. She was truly a character, unique in many ways, among children of Presidents, and she died at the advanced age of 96 in 1980.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr, oldest son and first child of his father’s second marriage, carried the burden of his father’s name, a heavy burden at times.  But Ted Jr. served honorably and significantly in both World Wars, including landing at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, sadly dying of a heart attack a month later.  He also served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge for three and a half years from 1921-1924, as well as Governor of Puerto Rico under President Herbert Hoover from 1929-1932, and Governor General of the Philippines during 1932. These posts he resigned when his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt won the Presidency, and they remained rivals hereafter.

Kermit Roosevelt, the second son of his father, also served in both World Wars, and as a young man had traveled with the former President on his African Safari and Nature Expedition in 1909-1910. He later went on his father’s Scientific Expedition into the Amazon River Basin in Brazil in 1913-1914.  His father almost died on that expedition from malaria, and Kermit also was very sick and became depressed, a condition that would remain with him all of his life. Sadly, he committed suicide by a gun shot to the head while on base in Alaska in 1944.

Ethel Roosevelt Derby, youngest daughter and fourth child of her father, kept a low profile while her father was President, very different from her half-sister, Alice.  She did not like to draw attention to herself.  She served as a nurse in France in World War I, and in the Red Cross in World War II.  She also worked to make Sagamore Hill a National Historic Site, and was one of the first women to serve on the Board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History. She was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, just like her first cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was noted as a “liberal Republican” in her political views.

Archibald Roosevelt, the third son of his father, also served in both World Wars and was wounded in both, including in the Pacific campaign against Japan in World War II in Australia.  He received many honors and awards for his military service.  After World War II, he engaged in many controversial conservative political causes, including joining the right wing John Birch Society, and speaking out against “socialism” on college campuses, including Harvard University.  He also expressed racist statements in public speeches and publications, and referred to the ongoing McCarthyism accusations of a great “international Communist conspiracy”.

Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son and child of his father, was only 20 when he was killed in air action in France during World War I.  He was a pursuit pilot in the US Army Air Service, killed in aerial combat over France on Bastille Day (July 14, 1918), and is the only child of a President to die in combat.  His father never recovered from his youngest son’s death, and passed away less than six months later on January 6, 1919, at the age of 60. Many wonder whether Quentin would have pursued public office had he lived.

William Howard Taft’s son, Robert Alphonso Taft, became a United States Senator from Ohio, serving from 1939 to 1953, and being a potential Presidential candidate in 1940, 1944, 1948 and 1952.  He gained a reputation as “Mr. Conservative,” seen as the national leader against more liberal East Coast Republicans, who steered the Republican Presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and 1948, and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.  Taft gained a reputation as an opponent of the New Deal, and a noninterventionist before American entrance into World War II, and he sponsored the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.  He also opposed foreign aid, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and US involvement in the Korean War under President Harry Truman.  He served a few months as Senate Majority Leader in 1953 before cancer led to his death in July of that year.  A Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon was constructed on Constitution Avenue north of the US Capitol in Washington, DC in 1959.  The US Senate in 1957 honored Taft as one of the five greatest US Senators in its history, with portraits adorning the President’s room off the Senate floor.

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Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 2) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

For part 1 of this series, see here


Franklin D. Roosevelt had five surviving children, all of whom were in some way involved with their parents, with the four men all serving the military in World War II, and all controversial in some way or other for their business dealings.  Outside observers thought they took advantage of their political position as sons of the President, and it rings true upon examination.  And all had multiple marriages.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the only daughter and namesake of her mother, lived at the White House in 1944-1945, and kept the secret that her father had resumed his earlier affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, which caused alienation from her mother after she revealed the truth upon FDR’s death in April 1945. His daughter had accompanied her father to the Yalta Summit meeting with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in February 1945.

James Roosevelt, FDR’s oldest son, served in the House of Representatives from 1955-1965.  Earlier, he had served as Administrative Assistant, Secretary, and White House Coordinator for eighteen government agencies between 1936 and 1938.

Elliott Roosevelt served as Mayor of Miami Beach, Florida from 1965-1967, and wrote books giving intimate details of the life and affairs of his father. He was seen as scandalous, and was accused of and investigated for scandals by Congress, but no action resulted against him.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who looked the most like his father, served as a New York Congressman from 1949-1955, and as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1965-1966, as well as earlier serving on the President’s Committee on Civil Rights for President Harry Truman in 1946.

John Aspinwall Roosevelt, the youngest son, veered away from his family’s politics, becoming a Republican, alienating his mother and brother Elliott.  He was the only son who did not seek elective office, but was controversial as the other brothers in his business dealings.

Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Harry and Bess Truman, became notable as a concert singer, actress, and journalist, but also wrote historical biographies of her parents and a well received series of murder mysteries centered around government buildings.

John Eisenhower, the only surviving child of Dwight D. Eisenhower, spend his career in the military, and then as Ambassador to Belgium from 1969-1971 under President Richard Nixon.  He also wrote several military histories, and a short biography of President Zachary Taylor.

Caroline Kennedy gained more attention as a Presidential daughter than anyone other than Alice Roosevelt.   Being in the White House from ages 3-6, she was regularly the center of attention, and had to bear the loss of her father, later the loss of her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, and then the tragic death of her brother, John F. Kennedy, Jr in a small plane accident in July 1999.  Her public contribution was as US Ambassador to Japan under President Barack Obama from 2013-2017.  

Her brother had published a political magazine, George, from 1995 until his death. He was often considered a potential political candidate for the Senate, and maybe, the Presidency. In that regard, he can be compared to Quentin Roosevelt, TR’s son, tragically killed in World War I, but thought of as likely to have a future political career.

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, became notable as a conservative talk show host on radio, and as a political commentator and author. 

 His half brother, Ron Reagan, Jr, the son of  Reagan’s marriage to Nancy Davis, has been a liberal political commentator and radio talk show host, and they have been in regular conflict over the legacy and record of their father.

George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara had three children who became notable,  George W. Bush became the 43rdPresident of the United States from 2001-2009, and both parents survived to see him in office throughout both terms, and were the only Presidential couple to do so, as JQ Adams only had his father alive when he was elected, and the elder Adams died in the second year of his son’s one-term presidency. Before his presidency, George W. Bush had served six years as Texas Governor from 1995-2001.

Additionally, Jeb Bush served as Governor of Florida from 1999-2007, and sought the Presidency unsuccessfully in 2016.  Many political observers thought it would have been Jeb, rather than George W., who would have sought the Presidency in 2000, if he had not lost his first race for Florida governor in 1994, the year his brother won the Texas governorship. 

Neil Bush became controversial from his business dealings, personal contacts, and the business of his educational corporation under the “No Child Left Behind” policy promoted by his brother during his years in the White House.

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of her parents, has been involved in the activities of the Clinton Foundation, and is an author of several children’s books.  She also campaigned actively for her mother in her 2008 and 2016 Presidential campaigns.

Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of George W. Bush, has been a public figure as a news personality, author and journalist, and presently cohosts the Today show on NBC, after being a contributor to the show since 2009.  

Finally, three children of Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana have become highly prominent and controversial. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have been responsible for the Trump Organization activities, but also have engaged in constant political disputes, promoted conspiracy theories and false information, and have aroused anger among environmentalists with their publicity surrounding their big game hunting in Africa of endangered species, including elephants and leopards.  Also, Donald Jr. was involved in Trump Tower meetings with agents from Russia, discussing spreading misinformation about Hillary Clinton, his father’s 2016 Presidential opponent.

Ivanka Trump, married to Jared Kushner, is a Presidential advisor to her father, along with her husband. Both are unpaid, but have a great impact on public policy that is seen as controversial due to ethics concerns. Their roles ignore the nepotism law of the US government passed in the mid 1960s, banning White House activities of relatives. She has gained business dealings, particularly trademarks in China, while serving as Senior Advisor in the Oval Office.

So the major “rogues” in some form were Alice Roosevelt and Archibald Roosevelt, both children of Theodore Roosevelt; the sons of Franklin D. Roosevelt; George H. W. Bush’s son Neil Bush; and the three older children of Donald Trump.  And when history is recorded in the future, it may well be that the Trump children will stand out as more “roguish” than the others.

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Presidential Rivalry and Bad Blood in American History (Part 1) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Rivalries, conflict, and “bad blood” between presidents are part of the story of American history, whether in the course of a competitive campaign or after the election has been resolved.

Most of the time, the presidents involved have been direct rivals in the same election, but not always. Sometimes their conflicts and “bad blood” receded over time, but at other times, the presidents go to the grave with strong unresolved emotional conflict.

So how many such cases are part of the history of the American presidency? This scholar finds 12:

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were rivals in the presidential campaigns of 1796 and 1800, with Adams winning the first time and having Jefferson forced on him as his vice president under the unsettled rules of the Electoral College in this first contested election.  There was plenty of criticism and vicious attacks, and then they faced each other again. In 1800, Jefferson vanquished Adams, embittering Adams such that he left Washington before the inauguration, fearing for the future of the nation.  But after Jefferson retired, the two men reconciled and wrote extensive correspondence back and forth for 17 years from 1809-1826. Their renewed friendship, which had existed before the 1790s, was a remarkable moment of reconciliation.

John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson were rivals in the presidential campaigns of 1824 and 1828. Adams, who finished in second place in both popular and electoral votes, was chosen by the House of Representatives over Jackson in 1824. Jackson alleged a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Henry Clay resulting in the first presidency not won by the national popular vote winner (it would happen another four times).  The bitterness continued in 1828 when Jackson soundly defeated Adams. Like his father, John Quincy Adams did not attend the inauguration, and feared for the future of the nation.  

Adams decided he needed to return to the nation’s capital and keep a watch over a man he considered a demagogue, running for and serving nine terms in the House of Representatives from a Boston seat. He actively engaged in criticism of Jackson’s attacks on the Second National Bank, opposition to abolitionism, and forced removal of five Native American tribes to Oklahoma, over what became known as “The Trail of Tears.”  Even after Jackson left office, the two men continued to be sharp enemies and critics for the rest of their lives.

These types of personal political rivalries between presidents did not occur again until the 20th century, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt and his two successors in the Oval Office, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

TR and Taft were great friends. Taft was appointed Secretary of War in the Roosevelt cabinet, and then promoted as TR’s successor in the presidential election of 1908.  But Taft sorely disappointed TR in his handling of the political issues that he faced, including the protective tariff, and even more importantly, TR’s major commitment to the environment and conservation, which Taft didn’t share.  By 1912, TR had decided to challenge his own handpicked successor, coming back to oppose him for the Republican party nomination, and, when that failed, running against him as the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party candidate.  The two men were vicious in their attacks during that campaign, including personal insults unbecoming of two former presidents. Their anger was unleashed, and it was shocking to many observers.  Their old friendship was never rekindled, and only once did they cross paths and shake hands during the six years before TR passed away at the young age of 60 in January 1919.

The TR-Wilson rivalry was also a major conflict. Roosevelt resented both that Wilson claimed to run as a “progressive” in 1912 and that Wilson benefited from the split in the Republican Party to win the White House with only 42 percent of the national vote. When Wilson adopted many ideas of TR’s “New Nationalism” program and added it to his own “New Freedom” agenda in 1915-1916 to gain some Republican and independent support in his reelection campaign of 1916, TR resented it as if Wilson had stolen his ideas, rather than being flattered that he was adopting more progressive reforms beyond those he had run on in 1912.  TR’s anger was greatly increased when Wilson rejected his advice to go to war against Germany after the Lusitania and Sussex incidents in 1915-1916.  Any possibility of cooperation ended when TR visited the White House, anxious to form a regiment to go to war against Germany when Wilson might decide to do so.  Wilson responded  that he had no such intention, and in any case, would not allow TR—then in his late 50s—to seek the national attention he craved by once again leading troops into battle abroad.

The rivalry between Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt followed their original warm friendship during the Wilson years, when Hoover served as the head of the US Food Administration during World War I and FDR was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. FDR was so impressed with Hoover’s humanitarian work that he floated the idea that Hoover, who was nonpartisan at the time, should be considered for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1920. Instead, FDR became the vice presidential nominee, and Hoover went on to be Secretary of Commerce under Republican Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and then the Republican nominee and winner of the presidential election of 1928.  With the Great Depression coming on in late 1929, the contrast between Hoover’s laissez-faire policy, and FDR’s “Little New Deal” policies, pursued as the governor of New York, encouraged FDR to challenge Hoover for the Presidency in 1932. After Roosevelt’s a landslide victory, bad blood boiled to the surface.  Hoover wanted FDR to support Hoover’s policies during the interim between the November election and the March 4 inauguration; FDR wanted Hoover to allow Roosevelt to lead as unemployment mounted.  Hoover refused, and on Inauguration Day kept a sour expression, refusing to communicate with FDR as they traveled by automobile to the inaugural ceremonies.  

Hoover became an unrelenting critic of FDR, labeling him as a “Socialist” or a “Communist.” He opposing not only the New Deal, but also FDR’s foreign policy. Hoover was an outspoken isolationist and major speaker for the powerful America First Committee before the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  The two men never spoke to each other over the 12 years of FDR’s presidency, and Hoover was never invited to the White House at any point until FDR’s death.

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Presidential Rivalry and Bad Blood in American History (Part 2) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


For part 1 of this blog series, read here. 


Harry Truman had two famous feuds with other presidents: his successor Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, who as a Congressman from California accused Truman of being “soft on Communism,” even before the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Truman and Ike originally got along well. Truman at one point made a stunning proposal to Ike that he run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1948 with Truman, who had low public opinion ratings, serving as his vice president.  But Ike was then nonpolitical and uninterested, and turned Truman down.  Later, when the Korean War was raging, Ike agreed to run for the Republican nomination in 1952. Even though Truman quickly ended his reelection campaign, the two men were now at loggerheads, as Ike was critical of Truman’s Korean policies.  So the two men did not get along during the Eisenhower Administration, and only met and agreed to reconcile at the 1963 funeral of John F. Kennedy. They were never close again in the six years before Eisenhower passed away in 1969.

The Truman-Nixon hatred was clear in 1948, when Nixon rose to prominence as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating Alger Hiss. At that time, Truman crudely insulted Nixon, then a freshman Congressman from California, whom he did not personally know.  And when Nixon was vice president under Eisenhower, Truman was a regular critic, most specifically when Nixon ran for president in 1960 against John F. Kennedy.  But when Nixon finally won the Presidency in 1968, he decided to make the first move to heal the bad blood, determining that he would bring the White House piano used by Truman (it was still in the White House as Nixon also played), to be permanently settled in the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.  The scene of Nixon meeting with Truman, then 85 years old, was a nationally televised event, and Truman seemed not very thrilled, but accepted the gift, and it made Nixon look more presidential to overcome the rivalry. But after Nixon was forced out of office in 1974, two years after Truman’s passing, comedians joked that the dirt moved over Truman’s grave in Missouri, as if Truman in heaven was laughing that Nixon had received his “just desserts”!

Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter competed against each other in 1976. Ford was very bitter about his defeat, and considered joining Ronald Reagan as his vice president against Carter in 1980.  Ford was critical of Carter’s record, but in a short time after Carter’s loss to Reagan, the two men and their wives became fast friends, visited each other and their presidential libraries, and held symposiums together. Some considered this rapprochement, the most impressive since that of Adams and Jefferson in the early 19th century.  The two men agreed among themselves that the survivor would give the eulogy at the deceased’s funeral, and Carter did precisely that in December 2006.

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan also had a major rivalry in 1980. The two men did not get along or interact during the Reagan Presidency. One famous moment displaying their continued rivalry occurred when Reagan ordered the solar panels that Carter has installed on the White House roof removed. But Carter went to the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat in 1981 by Reagan’s invitation, and also attended the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in 1991 and the funerals of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 2004 and 2016 respectively. So in a sense, there was a mild reconciliation.

The same situation occurred between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton during the presidential Election of 1992, and over the next eight years. A reconciliation came during the administration of George W. Bush, whose father and Clinton became close to the point that the senior Bush and his wife Barbara jokingly said Bill Clinton was an adopted son from another mother. Clinton and the elder Bush engaged in Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005, with Clinton offering his sleeping quarters on their shared plane to the older Bush. 

Finally comes the story of Donald Trump’s rivalry with both Bill Clinton and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, and the conflict between Trump and Barack Obama.

It may be hard to imagine, but Trump had invited the Clintons to his wedding to Melania in 2005, and had said good things about both of them, but then turned against both, to run a vicious campaign of insults in 2016.  The Trump attack on both Clintons has continued to this day, as has the totally nasty and bitter Trump attack on Obama beginning with the “Birther” conspiracy that Obama is not an American citizen and was born in Kenya, but continuing incessantly ever since.  

Trump has set out to destroy everything that Barack Obama has accomplished in both domestic and foreign policy during his eight years in the White House. Trump has accused Obama and all of the people in his administration of treason, and no attack by him or his two older sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, on Obama and his wife is beyond the pale.  And now, the baseless accusation that Trump calls “Obamagate” is becoming the newest line of attack in the 2020 presidential campaign against Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden. So anything is possible in the campaign of hatred and division being waged by the 45th president against the 44th president and his vice president. It’s probably no coincidence that this is happening in the midst of the Coronavirus driven collapse of the American economy from the peak of recovery accomplished under Obama after the Great Recession of 2008, arguably the greatest economic recovery in American history (surpassing FDR’s after Herbert Hoover).

While presidential rivalries have happened before, they have reached a new peak with the current president, more vicious and divisive than any other in American history.

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The Potential for Crisis Between Election Day and Inauguration: Then and Now Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The period between Election Day and Inauguration Day is tumultuous, particularly when a new president has been elected. At four times in American history (after elections in 1860, 1876, 1932 and 2000) it has been especially tense with danger and suspense.  This year’s election may initiate a crisis far greater than any the nation has seen. Prior crises were resolved in a peaceful manner (though in ways with lasting consequences), which may not be the case after November 3. 

After Abraham Lincoln won a plurality of only 39.8 percent of the total national vote (he had three opponents and ten southern states did not even list him on the ballot), the nation was in a very tenuous position. Seven states started the process of secession, and had completed the process before Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861.  The outgoing President James Buchanan was reluctant to take any action that might inflame the South and stood by, refusing to enforce federal law or protect federal military property.  Lincoln had no power or authority, and there was great and justifiable concern that he would be in perpetual danger once he left Springfield, Illinois for Washington on a whistle-stop train tour lasting from February 11 to 23.  Lincoln brought a security force including Allan Pinkerton and five of his detectives, including Kate Warne, the first woman Pinkerton, to travel through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and finally, Maryland, including the Confederate-friendly city of Baltimore.  

Protecting Lincoln, especially during the final harrowing 24 hours from Harrisburg to Washington by way of Philadelphia and Baltimore, was the most urgent task.  Pinkerton’s agents had reported to him of a “Baltimore Plot,” headed by local barber and Confederate sympathizer Cipriano Ferrandini (called the “Captain’ of the conspiracy). While subsequent researchers have disputed the severity of this threat, Lincoln was nevertheless taken through Baltimore in the middle of the night, avoiding any chance of meeting crowds as he had elsewhere along the route.  Lincoln was safely escorted to the Willard Hotel in Washington on February 23, where he remained under security watch until the inauguration nine days later.  Critics ridiculed Lincoln for being unwilling to appear publicly in the rebel city of Baltimore, but it ensured his safety as he readied to take on the most stressful possible situation of a nation on the brink of civil war.

In 1876, as southern elites and their northern allies demanded an end to Reconstruction, the presidential election was the closest ever in American history. The results in three southern states (South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida) were contested. White Democrats objected to the presence of Union Army troops in the states, which supported black voters' access to the ballot, and partisans of both sides raised charges of a fixed election.  Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden came one Electoral College vote short of a majority (with contested votes excluded, he led 184-165), and had 253,000 popular votes more than Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes. With the contested electoral votes in those three Southern states and also one contested elector in Oregon, the country faced a constitutional crisis. This was made worse by the fact the Congress was divided, with a Democratic House of Representatives and a Republican Senate; applying the Constitutional process to resolve the disputed election would be impossible to achieve without conflict.  

The Congress set up an Electoral Commission on January 29, 1877, that allowed a 15 member group of Congressmen, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices to determine, with a deadline of about a month, which candidate should rewarded the disputed 20 electoral votes.  The Electoral Commission had 8 Republicans and seven Democrats, all of whom voted the party line, with no real way to be sure that state vote counts were accurate.  This gave Hayes victory, despite being a quarter of a million votes behind Tilden, with the narrowest possible majority of 185 electoral votes to 184.  There was concern that a renewed civil war might erupt, but it was averted by a political deal, known to history as the Compromise of 1877.  

This agreement ended occupation of the three southern states by the Union Army, allowed for political appointments to be controlled by a Democratic Postmaster General under a Republican President as a concession, and pledged federal subsidies to build a southern transcontinental railroad and encourage industrialization in the South (much of which was not completely fulfilled).  The compromise, considered a “raw deal” by many, kept the peace in the nation, at the price of Republican abandonment of the political and civil rights of African Americans in the South.

The next time the nation was in danger after a presidential election was in the throes of the Great Depression, which reached its lowest depths in the months between the defeat of Herbert Hoover in November, 1932 and the swearing-in of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the last March 4 inauguration (Congress passed the 20th Amendment and quickly ratified it by the end of 1933, designating January 20 as the date of future inaugurations). 

Hoover was bitter over his defeat and refused to cooperate with FDR during the four-month interim, even as unemployment grew from 12 million to 13 million, an all-time high rate of 24.9 percent.  Hoover wanted FDR to take actions that he proposed, while FDR insisted that he should take the lead since he was the President-Elect.  So the nation was faced with paralysis, and even on Inauguration Day, Hoover refused to speak directly to FDR, sitting glumly in a car as the two men made their way from the White House to Capitol Hill for the inaugural ceremony.  Fortunately, FDR gave a rousing address, considered one of the most inspiring of all time, and set the goal of a “New Deal” for the American people.

The last time that the interim between the election and the inauguration of a President created such tension was after the 2000 election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. Gore won the national popular vote by 544,000 votes, but the disputed results in Florida (where Bush’s brother Jeb was the governor) led to a 36 day legal battle over recounting the vote. Only intervention by the United States Supreme Court stopped the state vote recount and declared that Bush had won Florida’s presidential election by the smallest margin in the state’s history, 537 votes out of about six million votes cast. The final Electoral College vote was 271-266, with one elector who should have voted for Gore having left his ballot blank.   

This December 12 decision of the high court was then implemented on January 7, 2001. Al Gore, the outgoing Vice President, ironically declared his opponent the victor in the election, despite some protests by House Democrats.  The election remains highly controversial even a generation later, but was fortunately resolved peacefully (notwithstanding incidents like the "Brooks Brothers Riot" in which Republican operatives disrupted election officials' work to ensure that a recount would fail to meet a court deadline and be nullified), despite significant bitterness and anger on the Democratic side, among whom many criticized Gore's statesmanlike concession.

Now in 2020, we may face a crisis worse than any of these previous four which, arguably, ended as best they could given the circumstances and personalities involved. No participants encouraged armed rebellion against the ultimate results. The same cannot be predicted for Donald Trump should he lose.  Would Trump accept a defeat, or encourage his minions to provoke violence and bloodshed, or refuse to leave the White House on January 20, 2021? Would Trump also refuse to cooperate with the transition planning and details that would surround the presumable President-Elect Joe Biden?

If the Electoral College margin is close, one can be certain there will be a move to have a recount and consideration of the close votes in whatever states had them.  But would the Supreme Court intervene again as in 2000, which many at the time believed was inappropriate?  Would they be fair and just, or just vote party line Republican, with two of the five Republican appointed Justices being chosen by Trump?  And if the Electoral College majority was wide for Biden, would Trump still claim it was a hoax, and declare the election a farce and null and void? 

At this point, with the growing mental instability displayed daily by Trump, would he consider declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution? What would be the reaction of the military, intelligence agencies, the Cabinet, Republicans in Congress, and the Trump base?  Would the outbreak of civil war be possible, and create an opportunity for white supremacists to have the excuse to go after Jews, African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and those seen as liberal or progressive, in the midst of what is likely to be a continuing COVID-19 pandemic?   And the possibility that Donald Trump could provoke a war with China or Iran as a means to refuse to give up office is also a horrifying prospect.

Previous succession crises were resolved peacefully (albeit at great cost to some Americans). The nation may not be so fortunate the next time.                  

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Trump is a Combination of George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy and John C. Calhoun Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



As this year moves on into the summer, just a few torturous months from the presidential election, Donald Trump is demonstrating for everyone to see that he is in the league of disgraceful historical figures including Alabama Democratic Governor George Wallace (1919-1998), Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), and South Carolina Democratic Senator John C. Calhoun (1782-1850).  The horrifying thing to realize is that Wallace sought the Presidency in 1968 and won five states in the Electoral College and 46 electoral votes, the second most of any third party nominee in history; and that Calhoun was Vice President under two Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and was, therefore, a heartbeat away from the Presidency for nearly eight years.  And there were supporters of Joseph McCarthy who, until his political downfall in 1954 due to his horrid performance in the Army-McCarthy hearings of that year, imagined him as a future candidate.

Now we have Donald Trump, who five years ago announced his presidential candidacy on June 16, 2015, with a vicious racist attack on people of Hispanic ancestry and later justified the white supremacist mobs at Charlottesville in 2017. Further actions and utterances on a multitude of matters have occurred since then, culminating in using force on peaceful demonstrators in Washington DC on June 1, 2020, and now choosing to hold a campaign rally in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially endangering all participants in Tulsa Oklahoma on June 19. The location—Tulsa, Oklahoma—is the site of the worst race riot in American history, and the date—June 19th or “Juneteenth”—celebrates the anniversary of the end of slavery announced by military leaders to the freed slaves of Texas in 1865.  Could the president be any more tone deaf than this?

Trump’s actions and language echo George Wallace at his racist peak in 1968. Wallace’s own daughter a half century later has repudiated what Trump has been doing for the past five years.  The nightmare of Wallace was averted by the fact that he was a third party candidate.  Who would have thought that a mainstream political party would end up supporting such a candidate as their nominee in 2016, or that many of those who repudiated Trump then have now embraced him, and overlooked, or ignored, or justified his horrendous behavior, no matter how outrageous it is?

Another demagogue, Joseph McCarthy, stopped at nothing to divide, promoted instability and chaos, and demonstrated he had  no ethics, morals, or scruples in destroying many lives in his quest to gain power and influence based on lies and deception.  And McCarthy had as his chief aide a vicious opportunist named Roy Cohn, who ended up being an influence on Donald Trump,  promoting his own worst traits on the young, impressionable publicity seeker. Trump has often said how important Roy Cohn was to his life story, and now, Trump has Stephen Miller, a vicious racist, who has become the new Roy Cohn in Trump’s life, out to promote racism and division.  

And we see John C. Calhoun, often called the man who brought us the Civil War, even though he passed away a full decade before the war began.  But Calhoun promoted slavery, states rights, white supremacy, and secession, all of which were embraced by the political and military leaders of the Confederate States of America. The nation has overlooked the fact of their violations of human rights and their treason and commemorated these figures by constructing monuments and statues, and naming ten military bases and innumerable streets, towns, and schools after them. This is now a new issue in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, and the recognition is growing that such high regard for these historical figures is totally inappropriate. 

But what is Donald Trump’s reaction?  It is to indicate that he opposes any change in the Confederate impact on American history, a century and a half after the war that killed two thirds of a million Americans, slaughtered over the issue of slavery and basic human rights of all people.  One would think that Trump was from a Southern tradition, but he is from New York City, and yet embraces the worst traditions of the Old South.  

In so doing, he has engendered opposition from many military and political leaders, including in the party that he has been hijacking from the traditions of its founders, including Abraham Lincoln, and 19th century Congressional leaders of the Republican Party, formed in opposition to the expansion of slavery, and including many abolitionists amongst them.

So the worst traditions and most despicable political figures of American history are joined together in one man, who has the potential to do further harm in the next few months to the election, and for the two and a half months after the election.  But even more terrifying is what if Trump overcomes all of the polls showing him losing support, and somehow is declared the winner.  What kind of America will we have from 2021-2025 with an emboldened, and much more unaccountable President, who will feel he can say or do anything even more outrageous than he has wrought in the past four years?

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Four Controversial Presidential Sons-in-Law Ronald L. Feinman is the author of  Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

This author has already published on significant Presidential Offspring in American history in a two part series.


Now sons-in-law of presidents have become a subject of discussion due to the controversies that have arisen around the role of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, married to his older daughter Ivanka.

Which other sons in law of Presidents have featured prominently in American history? There are arguably three other presidential sons-in-law who deserve attention and focus.  All four, including Kushner, became significant and controversial.

The first case is that of Jefferson Davis, who was married to Sarah Knox, the second daughter of Zachary Taylor, the 12thPresident, before his presidency. Sadly she died after a few months of marriage from either malaria or yellow fever in 1835 at age 21, and Davis was severely ill for a number of months.  Taylor had not approved of the marriage, but later hailed Davis’s military involvement in the Mexican War in 1847.  But Davis was not supportive of any limitation on slavery expansion, and opposed the Compromise of 1850. Ironically, the rumor was that his former father-in-law was ready to veto the compromise bills, and to send troops into the South if any state tried to secede.  But Taylor’s sudden death on July 9, 1850, prevented any open conflict between the former father in law and son in law.  Davis went on to become Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce from 1853-1857, a US Senator from Mississippi, and then President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Therefore he was and is rightly considered by many to be a traitor to the nation and one of the most reprehensible public figures in American history.

The second case was that of Nicholas Longworth, who married Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice Lee Roosevelt. Longworth was an Ohio state legislator from Cincinnati before being elected to serve in the House of Representatives from 1903 to 1933, with one two-year term out of office from 1913-1915 after losing re-election. He married Alice Roosevelt in a widely publicized White House wedding in 1906.  Despite the family connection, Longworth supported incumbent William Howard Taft when TR challenged him as the Bull Moose Progressive Presidential candidate in 1912. This caused a breach in his marriage, which still survived, but made many think it remained a marriage of convenience, not love, since Alice was always outspoken in public on every topic imaginable.  It would later be revealed that Alice’s one daughter was fathered by Idaho Senator William Borah and not by her husband.

Longworth, in  his long career in the House of Representatives, graduated to being the Republican House Majority Leader in 1923, and was Speaker of the House from 1925-1931. He became as dominant a figure as Joseph Cannon had been earlier in the century, and worked to punish the more progressive elements in the Republican caucus by exercising total control over the House Rules Committee. Longworth even came into conflict at times with President Herbert Hover during the early days of the Great Depression.  Despite his controversial career, a new House office building was named in his honor in 1962. 

The third case was that of William Gibbs McAdoo, who married Woodrow Wilson’s youngest daughter, Eleanor Randolph, at a White House wedding in 1914 (they divorced in 1935).  McAdoo had already been enlisted to help Wilson win election in 1912, and after his wife died that same year, he sought a marriage with Wilson’s daughter.  McAdoo had a business and legal career in Knoxville, Tennessee and New York City and was deeply engaged in transportation projects. He left these enterprises when he became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1912, and then joined the Wilson Administration as Secretary of the Treasury.  He was engaged in the setting up of the Federal Reserve Banking System and was credited with preventing a depression in America following the 1914 outbreak of World War I by shutting down the New York Stock  Exchange for four months. His actions ensured that the United States in the future would be a creditor nation, rather than the debtor nation it had been before the war broke out. He also set up the U.S. Railroad Administration once the world war broke out, and held dual responsibility as he remained Secretary of the Treasury, until his resignation at the end of 1918 after the war came to an end.  

A believer in racial segregation from his upbringing in Georgia and Tennessee, McAdoo promoted racial segregation in the Treasury Department, and implemented Jim Crow laws endorsed by his boss and father in law. He ran for President in 1920 and 1924, failing both times to secure the nomination, but caused controversy as the “Southern” candidate against northern urban “progressives”  such as New York Governor Alfred E. Smith (who was a Roman Catholic).  In the 1924 Democratic National Convention, the longest in history at 103 ballots, McAdoo was the Ku Klux Klan endorsed candidate. John W. Davis became the nominee after a record 103 ballots, and went on to lose to Republican President Calvin Coolidge. In both conventions, McAdoo had been the front runner, but party rules required a two-thirds majority. The failed nomination bid ended McAdoo’s Presidential ambitions.  He went on to be elected to the Senate for one term from California from 1933-1938, when he was defeated for renomination.  His generally perceived good looks, energy, and enthusiasm were not enough to sustain him beyond his heyday under his father in law.

Today Jared Kushner, the son in law of President Donald Trump, has become highly controversial in the three and a half years Trump has been President. Some say he is the second most important figure in the Administration to the president himself. Kushner has overruled and outlasted many other officials who have resigned or been fired, and many suggest his impact has been negative. Kushner draws no salary; Lyndon B. Johnson signed a nepotism law, likely inspired by his poor relationship with former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, which forbids a government salary being paid to anyone related to the President of the United States.  

Despite the implication of nepotism, Kushner has become a central figure, which few would have forecast in 2017. His specific title is Senior Adviser to President Trump, and he has been given responsibility for a myriad of issues, none of which most political commentators believe he has successfully addressed.  He was a real estate developer, investor, and newspaper publisher before he planned the digital, online and social media strategy for his father-in-law in the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as being speech writer and de facto campaign manager during much of that campaign.  A Democrat in earlier years, and then an Independent, he became a Republican in 2018, and is the chief strategist in the 2020 campaign for Trump. 

Kushner has been the center of controversies. He worked with potentially sensitive information without a security clearance, which was not granted until May 2018 under questionable circumstances. He is accused of mixing government with business and creating conflicts of interest, using private email for government business, being involved in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, promoting a Middle East peace plan that favors Israel and has been rejected by the Palestinians as not balanced, and managing Trump’s response to the COVID-19  pandemic. Of the last, Kusher has said it was a great success even as deaths mounted in April and May to more than 100,000.  He also has been seen as the major protector of nativist adviser Stephen Miller and his emphasis on limiting immigration into America.

There have also been accusations of his involvement with Russian agents during the 2016 campaign, conflicts of interest over his real estate dealings, and gaining favored treatment for his wife in obtaining Chinese trademarks.  Additionally, Kushner has been accused of being a slumlord, mistreating tenants in housing projects in Maryland.  His public persona has been very standoffish, and he has rarely spoken before news cameras.  It has been said that anyone working for Trump who angers Kushner will soon be gone, and Trump has indeed had more turnover in his Presidency than anyone in a first term.  

Kushner’s latest reported effort is to reduce the Republican platform to just a few basic ideas at its upcoming convention this summer, attempting to transform permanently the Republican Party image.  But there are many people quietly behind the scenes criticizing Kushner as a force who is undermining his father-in-law, and adding to his own unflattering public image, which he seems not to be concerned about.  All the time, Jared and wife Ivanka are enriching themselves in their personal assets, and some think when Trump leaves office, Kushner might face prosecution.  

So as controversial as Jefferson Davis, Nicholas Longworth, and William Gibbs McAdoo were in public life, only McAdoo was directly involved with his father in law in government during the Presidential term, and his most controversial times were in the 1920s, after Wilson had left office. Jared Kushner’s actions during Trump’s administration seem to be setting up much more news and controversy in the future.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Youngest History-Makers in the U.S. Senate Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The US Constitution sets the minimum age to serve in the US Senate at 30 years.  Very few senators have taken office at the minimum age, but a few of them have made history as significant figures.

Two of these senators were selected by state legislatures in the early 19th century, without attention to their precise age, and actually came to the Senate before turning 30, while five others, elected by the voters of their states after passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, served at the minimum age of 30.

The youngest senator ever to serve was John Henry Eaton of Tennessee, who entered the Senate at age 28 years, 4 months, and 29 days, serving from 1818-1829.  He was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson, serving with him in the War of 1812, including the Battle of New Orleans, and was a strong critic of John C. Calhoun and his opposition to the protective tariff. When Eaton was named Secretary of War (1829-1831) under Jackson, it led to controversy over the fact that Eaton had married Peggy Timberlake very rapidly after her husband had died. This became a sex scandal, known as the “Petticoat Affair,” which riled Jackson, led to bad blood with Calhoun and his wife, who accused the Eatons of engaging in unseemly behavior, and helped to lead to the Nullification Crisis over the protective tariff in 1832-1833.  It was the first known sex scandal in American presidential history.  Eaton later served as Florida Territorial Governor from 1834-1836, and as US Minister to Spain from 1836-1840.

Henry Clay, arguably the most famous US Senator of all time, served in the Senate from Kentucky for a total of 15 years, over four periods of time: 1806-1807, 1810-1811, 1831-1842, and 1849-1852.  When first in the Senate, he was about four and a half months short of the legal age of 30. He became the youngest Speaker of the House of Representatives when he was six weeks short of age 34, serving in that body from 1811-1821 and from 1823-1825, most of that time as the leader.  He also served as Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams from 1825-1829, and was a presidential nominee who lost three races, in 1824 to John Quincy Adams, 1832 to Andrew Jackson, and 1844 to James K. Polk, and was considered a serious contender a few other times.  Clay was a leader of a Congressional group known as the War Hawks, which helped to lead America to war in the War of 1812 against Great Britain.  He helped promote the “American System”, a strong federal government, a strong National Bank, a high protective tariff, and federally sponsored internal improvements.

Clay also became known as the “Great Compromiser,” involved in the promotion of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 over the issue of slavery expansion; the Nullification Crisis Compromise which prevented civil war over the protective tariff dispute between President Andrew Jackson and former Vice President John C. Calhoun in 1833; and as one of the negotiators of the Compromise of 1850 (with Daniel Webster and Stephen Douglas), averting civil war once again.  Clay was also one of the founders and promoters of the Whig Party as the opposition to Jacksonian Democracy.  In 1957, the Senate chose Clay as one of the five most significant members in its history, and a poll of scholars in 1982 ranked him in a tie with Wisconsin Progressive Republican Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. as the most influential senator of all time.

In the modern era of the US Senate, five 30 year old senators were significant in the history of that body, with the first being Robert M. LaFollette, Jr, son of the famous “Fighting Bob”, LaFollette of Wisconsin, who is one of the five most acknowledged senators of all time, and who also ran for President as a Progressive in the Presidential Election of 1924.  Upon his death in June 1925, his son succeeded him by election at age 30 and approximately eight months, and served for the next 21 and a half years (from 1925-1947), until he was defeated in the Republican primary by the infamous Joseph McCarthy.  

“Young Bob” became an acknowledged leader of the progressive wing in the Republican Party, as his father had been, and with his younger brother, Philip LaFollette (who in 1931 became the youngest governor theretofore elected in Wisconsin), formed the Progressive Party of Wisconsin in the 1930s.  LaFollette Jr. supported much of the New Deal, as demonstrated in this author’s book, “Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).  But he turned against Franklin D. Roosevelt on foreign policy, and was a leader of the isolationist bloc in Congress.

Rush D. Holt, Sr. of West Virginia was elected to the Senate at age 29 and five months in 1934, and had to wait until June 1935 to take his seat at the minimum required age of 30. He served one term of five and a half years, proclaiming himself a spokesman for the common man and a critic of privately owned utility corporations.  Although beginning as a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, he rapidly became a conservative critic, more of a traditional populist liberal, ranked by one scholarly estimate as the third-most conservative Democratic senator between the New Deal and the end of the 20th century. 

 He became much more newsworthy for his strong isolationist stands on American foreign policy in the late 1930s. He was a spokesman for the America First Committee in 1940, after having supported the Neutrality Acts of the mid 1930s, and opposing membership in the League of Nations, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements, Naval Expansion legislation, and the Selective Service Act.  His controversial outspoken rhetoric led to his defeat in the Democratic primary in 1940, when he ended up a poor third in the vote.  He sought election to the Senate again, but his national career was over.  His son, Rush D. Holt, Jr., served in the House of Representatives as a Democrat from New Jersey from 1999-2015.

Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, son of the famous and also infamous “Kingfish”, Governor and Senator Huey Long, served in the Senate from age 30 years and almost 2 months, for a total of 38 years from 1949-1987.  He became the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee for 15 years, and due to his seniority and commitment to the elderly, disabled, the working poor, and the middle class, he came to be regarded with respect by his fellow Senators.  

He had a major role in much of the Great Society legislation under President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, including Medicare, and had a major impact on all tax legislation for decades.  However, his Achilles heel was his regular opposition to civil rights, including his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although he modified his opposition in later years.  He was also a major critic of the Earl Warren-led Supreme Court in the wake of the pathbreaking school integration case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.  But his influence, despite these perceived negatives, was massive.

Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts came to the Senate in November 1962, at 30 years and about eight months, serving a total of 47 years and eight and a half months until his death in August 2009, making him the fourth longest serving US Senator in American history.  Part of the Kennedy political dynasty, he was the brother of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and he sought the presidency unsuccessfully against Jimmy Carter in 1980.  Long expected to be the heir of his brothers in presidential attainment, he finally gave up the opportunity to pursue the presidency in his last three decades, and instead became respected and admired as the “Lion of the Senate,”  respected by both fellow Democrats and Republicans across the aisle, often working on legislation with such Republican leaders as John McCain of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah.  His major commitment was to health care reform, immigration reform, civil rights, gun regulation, and social justice at home and abroad.  

At times highly controversial, he was also acknowledged as the voice and conscience of American progressivism, and as a strong and effective speaker and debater.  He and his Senate staff authored about 2,500 bills, of which more than 300 were enacted into law, and cosponsored another 550 bills that became law.  Any listing of outstanding US Senators would have him in the top ten of modern times.  His bipartisanship efforts did not stop the opposition from often portraying him as a polarizing figure, but a lot of it was simply political posturing, with a deep level of respect from many who bitterly opposed him in debate on the Senate floor.  His battles against Supreme Court nominees of Republican presidents made him highly controversial, as well as his stands on foreign policy issues, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, and Israel.  His strong efforts on the environment and gay and transgender rights issues also made him notable and seen as highly principled.  Few senators have had the impact of Kennedy, and his death left a void in the Senate that proved hard to fill.

Finally, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware was elected to the Senate before his 30th birthday in November 1972, not reaching the minimum age until late in that month. Biden took the Senate oath at age 30 and about seven weeks, but at a time of great personal tragedy; his first wife and daughter were killed in a traffic accident a month after his election, and his two sons were severely injured.  He thought of giving up his senate seat, but senior members of the senate convinced him to take the oath and helped him emotionally to overcome the horrible adversity, and still manage to spend a lot of time with his two sons as they recovered from the tragedy.  He would later marry his second wife, Jill, and have a daughter with her, and would go on to have one of the longest periods of service in the US Senate, 36 years from 1973 to 2009. Biden left as the 18th longest serving senator, and he was seen as a strong and effective speaker and debater.

Had Biden remained in the Senate, he might today be approaching the longest service of any senator in history.  But he was called upon by Barack Obama to be the 47th Vice President of the United States from 2009-2017, regarded as one of the two most active, engaged and influential Vice Presidents, along with Walter Mondale, who served Jimmy Carter.  The Obama-Biden team was seen by some supporters as a “bromance” of two unlikely friends, and it was assumed that Biden might run to succeed Obama in 2016, but the tragic death of his older son Beau in 2015 derailed such plans. There was no certainty in any case that Biden would have been able to overcome Hillary Clinton for the nomination.  

But now, in 2020, Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for President, with a record of accomplishments that is hard to match, including leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for four years and Senate Judiciary Committee for eight years. With such a long record of experience in the Senate, Biden can be criticized for some policy positions and votes and for verbal gaffes, but he stands out as genuine, kind, generous, decent, and as a person of true empathy and concern for others, rare in any politician.  He has had great contacts with foreign government officials, and knows how to work across the aisle, as he often did in the Senate and as Vice President, helping to smooth conflicts with his diplomatic style.  Biden is perceived as a moderate centrist progressive more than others in his party, such as his former 2020 primary opponents, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The fact that he is seen as “less progressive” than them seems to have promoted his present standing as far ahead in public opinion polls for the Presidency as of the end of June 2020.  

Whether Joe Biden can go on to become the 46th President of the United States will be decided in the next four months. If it happens, he will become the President who first held national office at a younger age than any other, while also being, ironically, the oldest first term President at age 78 and two months on Inauguration Day 2021.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Three Political Prodigy Governors of the 20th Century Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Three 20th century state governors came to office in their early 30s with Presidential ambitions and potential, but two of them faded fast after dramatic early years in public office.  Both Republican Philip LaFollette of Wisconsin (1931-1933, 1935-1939) and Republican Harold Stassen of Minnesota (1939-1943) made a lot of news in their short, meteoric careers as major public figures. The third, Democrat Bill Clinton (1979-1981, 1983-1992), stumbled on his way to a presidential campaign but ended up having a massive impact on the American people in a presidency portrayed in intensely positive and negative terms.  His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, became a major figure as First Lady, then as Senator from New York and Secretary of State in the first term of President Barack Obama.

Philip LaFollette was the younger son of “Fighting Bob,” Wisconsin Governor, Senator, and 1924 Progressive Party Presidential nominee Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., who was acknowledged by historians as one of the greatest state governors and US Senators of all time. Philip LaFollette was also the brother of Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Jr., who was one of the major progressive figures in the tradition of his father, and an influential figure during the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His significance and that of his brother Philip is described and fully developed in my monograph, Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

Philip LaFollette was the youngest governor elected in modern times.  He was about 33 years and 8 months old, and he followed the tradition of Wisconsin progressivism that had been established by his father thirty years earlier.  He was much more outspoken and assertive than his brother, but when their father died in 1925, Philip was only 28, while “Young Bob” had reached the minimum age of 30, so the latter ran for his father’s Senate seat, while Philip was already serving as District Attorney of Dane County (which included Madison, the state capital) from 1925-1927.

Philip LaFollette was, surprisingly, defeated for reelection after his first two year term which ended in 1933, but came back and won the Wisconsin Governorship a second and third time (1935-1939), forming the Wisconsin Progressive Party as his political vehicle, and the LaFollette brothers were at their peak at the height of the New Deal.  But the rivalry between the brothers, the much quieter Bob and the more assertive Phil, led to growing opposition to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, and particularly to criticism of any move to abandon the isolationist mentality that gripped much of the nation and the Congress in the late 1930s.  

The threat of Germany and Japan grew to cause a major split between the President and the LaFollette brothers.  Phil decided to form a third party movement, the National Progressive Party of America, and had plans to run for President in 1940, as he assumed FDR would not run for a third term.  But the third party effort failed to get off the ground, and he lost massively to his opponent in the gubernatorial race, 55 to 36 percent in 1938. He never sought political office again, and his involvement with his brother in the America First crusade in 1940-1941 undermined his public reputation.   

Phil LaFollette did serve in World War II under General Douglas MacArthur, however, and promoted the lost candidacy of MacArthur in the Republican Presidential nomination battle in 1948.  His brother would manage to keep his seat in 1940, but would then lose in the Republican primary in 1946 to future Senator Joseph McCarthy, accused not being a true Republican having kept the Progressive tag even after the failed third party movement in 1938.  Phil engaged in private business in later years, wrote his autobiography, and died at age 68 in 1965.  His widow, Isabel, lived on to 1973, and was interviewed by this author in Madison, Wisconsin, while he was doing research on his book on Progressive Republican Senators in the summer of 1970.

Harold Stassen was elected Governor of Minnesota at the youngest age in modern American history, being only 31 years and about 9 months old, when taking office in 1939.  He had been a child prodigy, graduating high school at age 15, and gained his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota at age 20, and that university’s law school degree at age 22.  He was elected District Attorney of Dakota County, part of the Minneapolis-St, Paul metropolitan area, taking office in 1931, while still age 23, and was reelected in 1934.  He became active in state Republican politics, and announced his plans to run for Governor in 1938.

Becoming known as the “Boy Governor”, he became extremely popular during 1939, and some saw him as a potential Presidential candidate, although he was not old enough in 1940. He had high public opinion ratings even from non-Republicans, who saw him as a future nominee.  He gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention when he was only 33 years old. After being reelected to second and third two-year terms in 1940 and 1942, he resigned early in his third term to report for active duty in the US Navy in the Spring of 1943, and served under Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Stassen was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service as Commander in that position.  He was promoted to the rank of Captain in September 1945, and released from active duty in November 1945 after two and a half years of service.

No one looking at Stassen’s meteoric rise would have thought that he would never again hold elective office while pursuing perennial failed presidential campaigns. Over time he became a national joke and embarrassment.  He ran for President nine times---1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980. 1984, 1988, and 1992.  His only serious effort was in 1948, when he won some early primaries over New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, the eventual nominee, and participated in a political debate the night before the Oregon Primary, the first such debate in modern times between contending Presidential candidates.  But he was third in delegates in early ballots at the Republican National Convention, and withdrew after the second ballot.  

In 1952, the Minnesota delegation abandoned Stassen and backed Dwight D. Eisenhower, who went on to defeat Ohio Senator Robert Taft for the nomination.  Stassen worked in the Eisenhower administration as Director of the Mutual Security Agency from January to August 1953, and as Director of the US Foreign Operations Administration from August 1953 to March 1955.  He also served as President of the University of Pennsylvania from 1948-1953 before his service for President Eisenhower.

Stassen also ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1982, Governor of Pennsylvania in 1958 and 1966, US Senate in Minnesota in 1978 and 1994, Mayor of Philadelphia in 1959, and US Representative in Minnesota in 1986.  Stassen was always perceived as a liberal Republican, a liberal Baptist who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the March on Washington in August 1963.  He spoke up against an embargo on Cuba, and against the Vietnam War escalation, and participated as a delegate in the founding of the United Nations in 1945. He supported that institution throughout his long life, until passing away at the age of 93 in 2001.   

Bill Clinton, the only “Boy Governor” to become president, was elected Arkansas Governor at age 32, older than Stassen, but younger than Philip LaFollette.  Clinton first ran for public office at age 28, losing by 52-48 to an incumbent Republican Congressman, but then was elected Arkansas Attorney General at age 30 in 1976, and Governor in 1978.  He would lose his Governorship two years later, just as Philip LaFollette did, but came back in 1982 to the position, keeping it for the next ten years and serving a total of three two year and two four year terms, with the last term cut short by his election to the presidency.  

Clinton was a “New Democrat”, more centrist and moderate than Democrats in the 1980s, and he was not originally seen as a serious Presidential contender, particularly after his long winded nomination speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, which led to cheers when he finished.  But in a stroke of luck, including better known Democrats choosing not to run, he overcame an early loss in the New Hampshire primary and private scandals, emerged as the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1992, and was elected over President George H. W. Bush and Independent H. Ross Perot, with only 43 percent of the total national vote. Therefore he became our third youngest president at inauguration at age 46 and five months, with only Theodore Roosevelt (42) and John F. Kennedy (43) being younger when taking the oath. 

Clinton would go on to have a very controversial presidency in many respects, and face impeachment during his second term for his private life scandals, but would overcome it and finish his two terms of office with a very high public opinion rating, rare for a president leaving office.  The assessment of his presidency has put him in the top third of all Presidents, most recently being rated number 15 in the C-Span Historians Poll of 2017.  

His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would be equally controversial, going on to lose the Democratic nomination for President in 2008 to Barack Obama, become the nominee of her party in 2016, and lose in the Electoral College to Donald Trump despite a nearly 3 million popular vote victory. The Clintons have been a major part of the American political scene on the national level now for three decades, and assessments of both Bill and Hillary Clinton remain a controversial topic in the new decade of the 2020s.

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Prepare for Massive Turnover on the Supreme Court in the Next Four Years Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The Supreme Court of the United States has tremendous power and impact on all Americans. The future membership of the Court will likely be determined in the next term, and it could be a massive change.

The three youngest of Justices, Elena Kagan (appointed by Barack Obama in 2010), Neil Gorsuch (appointed by Donald Trump in 2017), and Brett Kavanaugh (appointed by Trump in 2018), are 60, 53 and 55, respectively, seem in good health, and are likely to be on the Court for a long time.

Much attention is, of course, paid to the oldest member, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 87), who has served on the Court for 27 years since being appointed by Bill Clinton, and has had five bouts with cancer (to date recovering from all and continuing to be able to work).  Democrats have prayed for Ginsburg to stay healthy enough to remain on the Court in the hope that Joe Biden becomes President in 2021.  It is imagined that she will retire next year if Biden is President, but stay on, if she is able to, if Trump is reelected.

But then, there is also Stephen Breyer (age 82), appointed by Bill Clinton, who has been on the Court for 26 years. While he is in good health, it seems likely that he will leave in the next presidential term.  If both Ginsburg and Breyer leave the Court with President Biden in office, it would preserve a 4 Justice liberal bloc that has occasionally drawn an ally from the more conservative side, but if Trump replaces them, then the Court would become much more right wing, with a 7-2 conservative majority.

But this is not the end of the issue of the future Court as, realistically, there might be up to four other Justices departing by 2024.  This would include Clarence Thomas (age 72), appointed by George H. W. Bush, and Samuel Alito (age 70), appointed by George W. Bush, with Thomas on the Court for 29 years, and Alito having served 14 years.  There have been rumors that either or both of them might leave the Court now, so that Donald Trump can replace them, but apparently as the summer moves on toward a regular October opening, it seems not to be happening.  The point is that if either or both left the Court, Trump could replace them with younger, more ideological conservatives, while if Joe Biden were able to replace them, the Court would move substantially to the left.

But then, we also have Sonia Sotomayor (age 66), on the Court for 11 years after appointment by Barack Obama. It has been publicly reported that she has problems with diabetes, which might, in theory, cause her to resign from the Court in the next term.  Sotomayor has been a Type 1 diabetic since age 7, and  had a paramedic team come to her home in January 2018 to deal with an incident of low blood sugar.  If Trump were able in the next Presidential term to replace her, the conservative majority could be as strong as 8-1 by 2024.

And then, finally, we have Chief Justice John Roberts (age 65), who has led the Court for 15 years since appointment by George W. Bush. Roberts is as much of a “swing vote” as there is among the conservative Justices, surprising many with some of his decisions and utterances regarding Donald Trump.  The problem is that Roberts has had health issues involving seizures, in 1993, again in 2007, and most recently in 2020.  In 2007, after two years as Chief Justice, Roberts collapsed while fishing alone on a pier at his summer home in Maine, fortunately not falling into the water and drowning.  In June 2020, he fell and hit his forehead on the sidewalk, receiving sutures and an overnight hospital stay. In this case, a seizure was ruled out as the cause of the fall, but the possibility that Roberts might leave the Court has become a subject of speculation.

So while the future of these six Supreme Court Justices is for the moment just speculation, the odds are good that two or more might leave the Court, and potentially as many as six, which gives either Joe Biden or Donald Trump the ability to transform the ideology of the majority of the Court until mid-century.

So the Presidential Election of 2020 is not just about who might be in the Oval Office, or which party might control the US Senate, but also a potential revision of the Supreme Court’s role in American jurisprudence, and its impact on 330 million Americans.

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Tumultuous Transitions in the American Presidency Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Three months from now America will once again experience the tumult and stress of presidential transitions, if one believes the polls that show former Vice President Joe Biden thwarting President Trump’s attempt to win a second term in the White House.  Trump has already made clear his intention to fight tooth and nail, no holds barred, to win a second term, including legal maneuvers with no limits, plus threats simply not to concede.  This could create a constitutional crisis that would surpass any previous presidential transition.  America has certainly had a lot of experience in difficulties in the change of governments in the last two centuries.  An examination of such tumult and stress is instructional.

When John Adams lost to Thomas Jefferson in 1800 the two men, once friends, and later to be such again, had condemned each other during the campaign in every imaginable manner.  The stress became ever greater when Adams had the opportunity to name John Marshall Chief Justice with only a few weeks left in his term. Jefferson argued that a “lame duck” President should not be able to transform the Court after being defeated.  Marshall, who ironically was a cousin of Jefferson, would go on to serve as the most significant Chief Justice in American history, and also its longest serving Chief Justice. He is often considered to have had the greatest influence on the Court’s entire history through the doctrine of judicial review.  

But this period of transition, which also saw Adams not attend his successor’s inauguration on March 4, 1801, was also complicated by the reality that Vice Presidential nominee Aaron Burr claimed a tie in electoral votes, opening up the possibility of Burr being elected by the House of Representatives. This necessitated a multi-ballot battle in 1801, until Jefferson was selected with the backing of the losing Federalists. Alexander Hamilton lobbied for the election of his ideological rival Jefferson over Burr, whom Hamilton considered a dangerous man with no ethics or principles.  This would, of course, ultimately lead to Burr killing Hamilton in a gun duel in 1804, marking Burr as one of the prime villains in early American history.

John Quincy Adams was elected the 6th president over Andrew Jackson when the 1824 election was decided by the House of Representatives early in 1825, the second and last time that the House was saddled with the need to choose the winner. This led to accusations by Jackson of a stolen election.  Jackson had ended up first in popular and electoral votes, in the first test of popular vote strength in a presidential election, but in a four person race, the election went to the House of Representatives since Jackson had not won the majority of the electoral vote.  It led to a four year campaign by Jackson accusing John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay of a “corrupt bargain” when Clay backed Adams and then was given the highly prized position of Secretary of State.  

So when 1828 came on, the campaign between President JQ Adams and Jackson was especially bitter and nasty, including personal attacks on Jackson’s wife a bigamist, which arguably led to her death during the transition period after Jackson won the election handily.  Adams left Washington without attending the inauguration of his successor, and pledged to come back to fight Jackson, whom he considered a dangerous man.  To the horror of Adams and many other Jackson critics, the new president’s supporters were encouraged to celebrate his inauguration on March 4, 1829, and they proceeded to engage in a drunken brawl, breaking windows and china, and damaging furniture in the White House. Within two years, Adams indeed did come back as a Congressman from Boston, and fought Jackson on many issues. He remains the only former president elected by popular vote to Congress in all of American history until the present.

In 1860, James Buchanan, totally repudiated and not choosing to run again, had to deal with the danger of the oncoming Civil War, as Southern states began to secede from the Union. He refused to take any federal action against Southern states, which were seizing US military forts. The president-elect, Abraham Lincoln, was unable to convince Buchanan to uphold federal law and the Constitution, a reality that would condemn Buchanan forever in American history.  There were regular and constant death threats against Lincoln during the transition, most notably the “Baltimore Plot” that was seen as a real danger and forced Lincoln to travel through the city in the dark of night without notice, on his way to Washington.  The stress level and tumult was very high. Within six weeks of the inauguration, with Lincoln determined to protect US military forts but not start a war, South Carolina chose to attack Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on the morning of April 12, 1861, leading to the undeclared Civil War.

After Ulysses S. Grant was elected president in 1868, months after the failed impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, the outgoing president was hostile toward Grant, who had backed away from supporting him in the impeachment crisis.  He refused to go to the inauguration of his successor, staying in the White House until the ceremony was completed.

In 1876, in the closest electoral vote election in American history, a controversy over who had won the electoral votes of three southern states (South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida) dragged on for nearly four months until two days before the inauguration, with fear of a renewed civil war. But a behind the scenes deal known as the Compromise of 1877 arranged for popular vote loser Rutherford B. Hayes to win the precise majority of electoral votes (185-184) needed to be inaugurated over popular vote winner Samuel Tilden.  There had been some consideration of allowing President Grant to stay in office if the crisis had not been settled by Inauguration Day.

The Compromise of 1877 undermined the reputation of Congress and the Supreme Court, with members from both houses and the Court on the Electoral Commission that struck the political deal, with long range implications of the Republican Party abandoning African Americans to the Democratic Party and its southern adherents, creating “Jim Crow” for nearly a century until the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s finally led to legal and statutory laws against segregation.

When Herbert Hoover lost reelection to his onetime friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, at the worst moments of the Great Depression, the two men could not agree on actions to be taken during the four months until the inauguration in March 1933. And FDR came close to being assassinated in Miami, Florida on February 15, 1933. The mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, sitting next to him, was murdered by the perpetrator, Giuseppe Zangara.  When Inauguration Day arrived two and a half weeks later, Herbert Hoover sat glumly in the automobile taking him and the President elect to the Inaugural stand, and refused to talk with FDR.  The bitterness was lasting. Hoover denounced the New Deal regularly, and the two men never had any contact again.

President Harry Truman did not think highly of his successor Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, and the transition into January 1953 was not particularly warm.  And yet, they had once collaborated in the early years after World War II. Truman had thought of Eisenhower as a possible successor in 1948, when Truman suggested that he would step down again to the Vice Presidency with Eisenhower leading the ticket, but Eisenhower rejected the offer.  Truman became a major critic of Eisenhower during his Presidency, and only at the funeral of John F. Kennedy in 1963 did the two men reconcile.

Gerald Ford did not think positively about his successor Jimmy Carter after the hard-fought battle between them in 1976, and Ford, while cordial in the transition period, was a sharp critic of Carter during his Presidency.  But then, the two men and their wives became fast friends, and they agreed that when one passed away first, the survivor would give the eulogy at his funeral. Carter did precisely that at Ford’s funeral in December 2006.

The same scenario existed between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton after Clinton defeated Bush in 1992. Bush held hard feelings and offered strong criticism.  But after Clinton left the presidency, he and Bush became good friends, Bush referred to Clinton as the son “from another mother,” and they collaborated on Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005.

Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton were strong critics of George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign, when Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, won the popular vote over Bush, but the uncertainty of Florida’s victor led to a 36 day standoff with legal action by both political parties.  When the Supreme Court intervened, however, Al Gore was statesmanlike. Notably, in his required role as outgoing Vice President, he had to open up 51 envelopes from the states and the District of Columbia during a January joint session of Congress and count the electoral vote. Gore announced his own defeat by 271-266, despite his popular vote lead of 540,000 votes.  

During that transition period, however, a major shouting match occurred between Clinton and Gore in the Oval Office. The issues was Gore’s decision not to utilize Clinton in the campaign, due to the impeachment trial of Clinton over his sex scandal, and Gore’s choice of Clinton critic Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Clinton and Gore were never as close and engaged ever again as they were during their two terms in the White House, but the Clintons over time became friendly with the entire Bush family, despite the political battles.

The George W. Bush-Barack Obama transition was far less controversial, due to the developing crisis of the Great Recession, and the Obamas would become friends of the Bush Family. The two Bush Presidents avoided open criticism of Obama, although the Republican Party certainly had no lack of confrontation and challenge to the 44th President during the eight years of his presidency.

Most recently, Obama tried to cooperate with Donald Trump, who had unleashed constant attacks on Obama during 2015 and 2016, but except for one meeting a couple of days after the election in 2016, the Trump transition team was not out to cooperate with Obama, and Trump has continued to be totally condemnatory of everything Obama represents, and has worked to destroy the Obama legacy in a vicious, uncaring, and totally undiplomatic manner.

It is now clear the gloves are off, symbolically, and Donald Trump will have no limits on tactics to attempt to insure a second term, and will be vicious in every way possible toward former Vice President Joe Biden, linking him to Obama constantly.  There is no desire to accommodate or avoid total confrontation in the transition period, so one can expect a very tumultuous, stressful 78 days from November 3, 2020 to January 20, 2021.  We must be prepared for a greater potential constitutional crisis than we have ever witnessed in all of American history.

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The "Zero Year" Election Syndrome and 2020 Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



American Presidential history has been plagued with what many have termed the “Zero Election Year Syndrome”.

This relates to the reality that every twenty years, a presidential election occurs in a zero-numbered year, and it has been a hex on those Presidents who have been elected.

Seven times in a row, between 1840 and 1960, the President elected in a year ending in zero has died in office, as follows:

William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died a month into his term, on April 4, 1841, likely of pneumonia, gained from giving the longest inaugural speech in American history on a cold, very rainy day in Washington DC, on March 4, 1841.

Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860 and reelected in 1864, was tragically assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, six weeks after his second inauguration.

James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was shot and mortally wounded by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, survived much of the time in a coma for the next 79 days, but died on September 19, 1881, after six and a half months in office.

William McKinley, elected in 1896 and reelected in 1900, was shot and mortally wounded by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901 and passed away on September 14, 1901.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died after two years and five months as President, from a cerebral hemorrhage on August 2, 1923.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected four times, in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944, died of congestive heart failure on April 12, 1945.

John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald after two years and ten months in office, on November 22, 1963.

So four times of these seven tragedies, the President died by assassination, and the other three times of natural causes.

Add to this that Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and 1984, was shot and seriously wounded after ten weeks in office, by potential assassin John Hinckley on March 30, 1981, but with modern medicine and surgical techniques, he survived and finished his two terms of office. There were also two lesser known threats by people who were able to gain access to White House grounds, one in 1984 and one in 1985.

Also, George W. Bush, elected in 2000 and 2004, was subjected to a number of dangerous situations, including on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Virginia, and presented a potential threat to Bush as he flew around the nation to avoid a possible air attack on Air Force One.  

As demonstrated in my book, “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015), Bush also had potential assassination threats throughout his Presidency, including while visiting in the nation of Georgia in 2005, and also when visiting Iraq in 2008.  Additionally, there were domestic threats, “fence jumpers” at the White House, including one such case in 2001, one in 2005, three in 2006, and one in 2007.

So realistically, every one of nine “Zero election years’ winners of the Presidency faced ultimate death, in the first seven cases, or serious threats that could have led to death in the last two cases. 

Now we face the tenth straight “Zero Election Year” of a President since 1840, and there is serious concern about this so called “Syndrome”.  There are a number of good reasons for this developing feeling.

First, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are the two oldest Presidents who would take the oath of office, as Trump would be older than Ronald Reagan was in his second term, and Joe Biden would be older on Inauguration Day than Ronald Reagan at the end of his second term, so the odds of a possible tragedy are there, just based on advanced age.

Second, both Trump and Biden are seen as having potential mental limitations, based on their public displays of statements that make people speculate on potential dementia, more so by far for Trump, but also concern about whether Biden will be able to deal with the stresses of the office at his advanced age.

Third, the dangers of the COVID-19 Virus Pandemic make both Trump and Biden susceptible to possibly contracting the disease, and potentially being affected by it, including the possibility of passing away, as so many cases of demise are “senior citizens”.  Both Trump and Biden are tested regularly, but that does not mean in the future that something could go awry.

Fourth, the stresses of the Presidency are greater in a time of economic collapse, and what is being called the Second Great Depression, as well as the rising racial tensions after the murder of George Floyd.  With extremism rising on both the Left and the Right in American politics, the danger of assassination grows, and it could be by anyone who is extremist or just desperate with the crises of the pandemic, as well as economic hard times, and the racial divisions that are very evident in America.  There may be less direct public contact between the President and the public at this point, but still, there is no way to insure that the threat of assassination is moot whenever the President is in a public situation.  

Finally, the fact that it has been 57 years since the last assassination of a President (John F. Kennedy); 46 years since a President left office during a term (Richard Nixon resigning); and 39 years since the last direct eyeball to eyeball assassination threat (Ronald Reagan), one must wonder about the “odds” catching up, and possible fulfillment once again of the “Zero Election Year Syndrome”.  

While the Secret Service constantly updates their technology and methods to protect the President, there is always the danger that a would be assassin or group might be more sophisticated, and be able to threaten the occupant of the White House in ways most people would never imagine possible.

So we must face the concern that the “Zero Election Year Syndrome” could return, and until the President elected in 2020 leaves office alive in 2025 or 2029, we will not be able to relax and say that the “hex” is finally broken.  Looking at history, the possibility of a President Mike Pence or a President Kamala Harris is certainly possible in this next term, but we must hope that possibility does not occur.


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Since 1960, Democrats Have Had Success when the VP is a Senator and a former Presidential Contender Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Since the 1960 election, we have seen five Democratic presidential candidates who went on to win the White House, and each time they chose a running mate who had been a presidential contender.

Also, each Vice President went on to contend as the nominee of the party for President after having served as Vice President, and in each case, they had served in the US Senate.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy had Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate, who had contended against Kennedy, and Johnson went on to win a full term as President in 1964, after having succeeded the assassinated Kennedy in November 1963.

Lyndon B. Johnson had Hubert Humphrey as his running mate in 1964, with Humphrey having competed in 1960 against both Kennedy and Johnson for the Presidential nomination.

Humphrey went on to be the Democratic Presidential nominee in the 1968 election, but losing to Richard Nixon, and George Wallace winning five states in the Electoral College, as the most serious third party contender since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

Jimmy Carter chose Walter Mondale, who had briefly been a candidate for President in the 1976 cycle, as his running mate, and Mondale went on to a very engaged Vice Presidency, and was the Democratic nominee for President in 1984.

Bill Clinton chose former Presidential contender Al Gore, who had been a serious candidate in the 1988 cycle, to be his Vice President in 1992, and Gore went on to serve two terms as very active and involved in many Clinton initiatives.  Gore then was the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2000, won the popular vote by 540,000 votes, but lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush.

Finally, Barack Obama chose Joe Biden, who had contended for President in both 1988 and 2008 as his running mate in 2008, and Biden went on to two very involved and engaged terms and impact on the Obama Presidency.

And now, Joe Biden is the 2020 Presidential nominee, and has chosen Kamala Harris, who contended against him in the 2020 primary campaign as his running mate.

Will history repeat itself for a sixth time in 60 years?  We shall see in November 2020!



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Vice Presidents Who Have Been Presidential Nominees




Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


With former Vice President Joe Biden now the Democratic nominee for president, it reminds us of recent decades when a number of Vice Presidents have been presidential contenders, but mostly without much success. 

A total of 12 vice presidents have run for president, but with only 5 of them so far succeeding.

In the early years of the American Republic, we saw three vice presidents succeed the president they served, as follows:

John Adams (1797-1801), succeeded George Washington, but then was defeated for a second term in 1800.

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), succeeded John Adams, and served two complete terms of office.

Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) succeeded Andrew Jackson, but then was defeated for a second term in 1840.

Only one other Vice President in the 19th century was a Presidential nominee. John C. Breckinridge served as Vice President under James Buchanan (1857-1861), but ran on a splinter ticket, as the Democratic Party nominated Stephen Douglas for President in 1860.  Breckinridge won more electoral votes than Douglas, Douglas won more popular votes than Breckinridge, and both lost to Abraham Lincoln.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had both of his first two Vice Presidents seek the Presidency, but both failed, with John Nance Garner (1933-1941) serving in the first two Roosevelt terms, and wanting to succeed his boss, but FDR allowed himself to be promoted for a third term, and that killed the chances for Garner, who refused to be Vice President for a third term.

So third term Vice President Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945) served, and then was dropped at the 1944 Democratic National Convention due to pressure from Southern delegates that Wallace with his civil rights views was unacceptable. So Harry Truman was selected to be Vice President for the 4th term, and soon succeeded to the Presidency after only 82 days as Vice President.  Wallace went on to become a critic of Truman, and to compete against him as the Progressive Party nominee in 1948, performing poorly with only about 1.1 million popular votes and no electoral votes, and was forgotten in history.

Richard Nixon (1953-1961) served as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then lost a close race to John F. Kennedy in 1960, but to the surprise of many, despite his California gubernatorial defeat in 1962, came back as the Republican nominee in 1968 against Hubert Humphrey, and won the Presidency (1969-1974),and served part of a second term before being forced out by the Watergate Scandal in 1974.

Hubert Humphrey (1965-1969) served as Vice President under Lyndon B. Johnson in his full term, but lost a close Presidential race in 1968 to Richard Nixon, and was a contender to be the Presidential nominee again in 1972, but failed to accomplish his goal.

Walter Mondale (1977-1981) served as Vice President under Jimmy Carter, lost reelection with Carter, but then was the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1984 against Ronald Reagan, who won a massive second term victory.

George H. W. Bush (1981-1989) served two terms under Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency to succeed his boss in the 1988 election, the first time that had happened since Martin Van Buren in 1836.  However, he failed to win reelection in 1992, losing to Bill Clinton.

Al Gore (1993-2001) served two terms under Bill Clinton, and was the Presidential nominee of his party in 2000, but in a contested election, lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush, due to the decision of the Supreme Court to intervene, and give Florida to Bush by a total of 537 votes statewide, despite Gore’s 540,000 popular vote lead nationally.

Now, Joe Biden, after being Vice President (2009-2017) under Barack Obama, is the Presidential nominee of his party against Donald Trump in the Presidential Election of 2020, with, at this writing, all public opinion polls showing him with a substantial lead, but only voting counts, not polls, so we shall see.

If Biden wins, he will be only the 6th of 12 Vice Presidents who became President by election, with four directly after (Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Bush) and two others four (Biden) and eight (Nixon) years later.



Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
There Has Never Been a President Like Donald Trump


Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



There has never been a President similar to Donald Trump.

Even Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson, and Andrew Jackson, with all of their faults and shortcomings, come nowhere near the reality of Donald Trump.

No President has lied on the level and consistency that Donald Trump has.

No President has had the kind of record of mistreatment and disrespect of women as Donald Trump has.

No President has promoted white supremacy and justified right wing vigilantes as Donald Trump has.

No President has ridiculed and shown no empathy toward disabled people in public as Donald Trump has.

No President has been as openly cruel and heartless toward those less fortunate as Donald Trump has.

No President has openly exploited America with the level of his spending on himself on the public dollar as Donald Trump has.

No President has ever attacked his critics and opponents on the level of viciousness and crudeness as Donald Trump has.

No President has had such an incompetent and corrupt group of Cabinet officers and other top officials as Donald Trump has.

No President has had a First Lady of such ugly prejudices as her husband as Donald Trump has.

No President has had children of such levels of corruption and arrogance as Donald Trump has.

No President has promoted conspiracy theories consistently as Donald Trump has.

No President has been as cruel and malicious but claimed to be “religious” as Donald Trump has.

No President has read so little on a regular basis, or been as ignorant on a score of subjects, including among others, history, science, economics, foreign policies, and spelling, and has no interest in facts, as Donald Trump has.

No President has displayed such a poor level of vocabulary usage as Donald Trump has.

No President has come to the defense of a person who has committed murder as Donald Trump has, whether Mohammed bin Salman or Kyle Rittenhouse.

No President has embraced authoritarian dictatorship, and endorsed their strongman policies as Donald Trump has.

No President has become so enamored with Russian government leaders, as Donald Trump has with Vladimir Putin, a danger to American national security.

No President has set out to destroy all policies and programs from earlier Presidents of both parties as Donald Trump has.

No President has set out to undermine government agencies, including the federal bureaucracy, the foreign policy apparatus, the intelligence agencies, and the basic functioning of government as Donald Trump has.

No President has been as openly harsh and uncooperative, and dismissive of any association with his predecessors as Donald Trump has.

No President has been as mentally and psychologically ill and dangerous as Donald Trump has.

No President has conducted and acted like a demagogue out to divide people on a consistent basis as Donald Trump has.

No President is consistently seen as much of a danger to national security as Donald Trump has been.

No President, if he were to be reelected, would be as much of a threat to the Constitution and rule of law, as Donald Trump would be.


Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
This Potential Constitutional Crisis is More Serious than 1860 or 1932 Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The United States has faced major constitutional crises before, most notably the Civil War, and the presidential election of 1860 is regarded as the greatest constitutional crisis ever faced by this nation.

There have been other times of crisis at the time of national elections, most notably 1932, at the worst moments of the Great Depression.

Additionally, there were extended time frames until resolution of the presidential elections of 1800, 1824, 1876, and 2000.

But in all six cases, the losing candidates--John C. Breckinridge in 1860, Herbert Hoover in 1932, John Adams in 1800, Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tilden in 1876, and Al Gore in 2000--were patriotic and conceded, certainly not an easy thing to do.

But today, with fewer than 40 days to the presidential election of 2020, we face a crisis that has never occurred before, the stated refusal of President Donald Trump to concede if he loses the election, and his stated intention to cause legal barriers and delays, and possibly to seek to push friendly state legislatures to select presidential electors. Trump will not guarantee a peaceful transition of power on January 20, 2021. The scenario of Trump and Joe Biden both claiming the Presidency on Inauguration Day, creating the danger of chaos, anarchy, and violence in the nation’s capital and across the nation, endangering the security of Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, is alarming beyond measure.

With Trump facing likely prosecution, at the least by New York State, after he leaves the presidency, he has nothing to lose, from his perspective, and will have no qualms about disrupting the nation, and potentially causing civil war in the streets, with all of the firearms that many of his supporters possess.

Trump even hopes that a new Supreme Court appointee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be the decisive vote, if the election goes to the Court as it did in 2000, and also partially, in 1876.  This would be a time for the Supreme Court to be above politics, and one would hope that Chief Justice John Roberts, and even Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, who has demonstrated independence on the Court, might be willing to the right thing, and stop the crisis dead in its tracks, something it would be very difficult for Trump to prevent.

It also would be important for many Republicans in Congress, who have so far demonstrated unwillingness to challenge Trump, to be as courageous and principled as Republicans, led by Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, and House Republican leader John Rhodes of Arizona, were in August 1974.  They went to the White House and informed President Richard Nixon that he should resign during the Watergate Scandal, and despite Nixon’s actions, which were leading to impeachment, even he had the dignity and sense of proper behavior to follow through, and end what was becoming a terrifying constitutional crisis in a nonelection year. 

We face a month or more of tension, and the possibility of another 78 days from the election date to the inauguration, and in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the worst economy in 80 years. Amid so many problems and issues, America needs a break, and the certainty that the election results in 2020 will not undermine the future of 330 million Americans, due to the maniacal behavior of the 45th President.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Trump On Way to Worst Percentage Share of Vote by a Republican in a Two-Way Race Since Goldwater Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The Republican Party is in free fall by most estimates, a month out from the presidential and congressional Elections of 2020.  

The odds of Democrats gaining seats in the House of Representatives to add to their majority, and to win control of the US Senate, seem very high, based on state and national polls.

Donald Trump’s disastrous display at the Presidential debate in Cleveland, followed by his hospitalization with the COVID 19 virus (which has spread to many others in his orbit), has led to many estimates former Vice President Joe Biden is on the road to a major landslide, as early voting is already taking place in many states.

One must recall that six of the past seven presidential elections the Republicans have lost the national popular vote, with the exception of 2004.  And now, considering that Donald Trump has never had a legitimate poll show him with majority support (it has mostly been in the low 40s), and clearly there are Trump voters in 2016 now abandoning him by every estimate, it is possible Trump will win the lowest percentage of any Republican nominee since Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.

If one examines the Republican Party history since it was founded in 1854, and first competed for the Presidency in 1856, there have been seven times when the party nominee gained less than 40 percent of the total national vote.

Four of those times the race involved more than two national candidates, as follows:

1856—John C. Fremont in a three way race won second place with 33.1 percent of the vote, with former President Millard Fillmore, running on the American (Know Nothing) Party line winning 21.5 percent of the vote, and Democrat James Buchanan winning the presidency.

1860---Abraham Lincoln won a four-way race with 39.8 percent of the vote, defeating John C. Breckinridge, Stephen A. Douglas and John Bell,  and taking the electoral vote of all Northern states, except for three electoral votes in New Jersey.

1912---William Howard Taft had the worst electoral performance of any incumbent President, ending up third out of four contenders, with 23.2 percent of the popular vote and only 8 electoral votes from Utah and Vermont, with Democrat Woodrow Wilson winning 40 states and 41.8 percent of the popular vote; third party Progressive nominee and former President Theodore Roosevelt winning 27.5 percent of the vote and six states; and Socialist Eugene Debs winning 6 percent of the popular vote, an all time high for any party with the name “Socialist” in its title.

1992---George H. W. Bush had the second-worst defeat of any incumbent president running for reelection, winning only 37.4 percent of the national popular vote and 18 states, with Democrat Bill Clinton winning 43 percent of the national popular vote and 32 states, and H. Ross Perot, who didn’t win any electoral votes, gaining 18.9 percent of the popular vote, the third-best showing for a third-party challenger after Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and Millard Fillmore in 1856.

The other three times, Republicans lost in two person races, with Herbert Hoover losing to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 with only 39.7 percent of the popular vote and six states, Kansas Governor Alfred Landon losing to FDR in 1936 with only 36.5 percent of the popular vote and two states (Maine and Vermont), and Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona losing to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, winning only 38.5 percent of the popular vote and six states.

There is a real possibility that Donald Trump will end up in the company of Hoover, Landon, and Goldwater by winning less than 40 percent of the national vote in a two-person race.  

And if Trump manages to win just over 40 percent, he will match the achievement of Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who lost a three way race to President Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot in 1996, winning 40.73 percent of the national popular vote and 19 states, against Clinton’s 49.2 percent of the national popular vote and 31 states, and Perot’s zero states (but 8.4 percent of the popular vote).

In other words, it seems highly likely that Donald Trump will end up among the worst performing Republican Presidential candidates in history, and also the worst performing Presidents defeated for reelection, certainly better than William Howard Taft, but possibly in the same category as George H. W. Bush and Herbert Hoover.

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Return to the Presidential Succession Act of 1886 (With Some Modification) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


A major controversy has arisen over the issue of presidential succession in the wake of President Donald Trump’s diagnosis with COVID-19.

There have been three presidential succession laws enacted. The first, in 1792, set up the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as the first two leaders following the Vice President, and then followed by cabinet officers in order of the creation of the Cabinet positions by Congress.  That law survived the crises that followed the deaths of William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, and James A. Garfield, without the need to go beyond the Vice President.  

However, during the second abbreviated term of Abraham Lincoln and his successor Andrew Johnson (1865-1869), the nation potentially faced an unprecedented crisis, as two situations developed around Andrew Johnson. John Wilkes Booth plotted to eliminate both Lincoln and Johnson. If conspirator Lewis Powell had not gotten drunk and failed to assassinate Johnson, Connecticut Senator Lafayette Foster, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate,  would have succeeded Lincoln, a point this author points out in his book on presidential assassinations (Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama, Rowman Littlefield Publishers).  Also, if Andrew Johnson had been successfully removed from office by impeachment, it would have led to then President Pro Tempore of the Senate Benjamin Wade of Ohio becoming President. Wade was a major critic of Johnson and refused to abstain from the vote to convict Johnson.  That fact led a group of seven Republican Senators, who disliked Wade and his lack of ethics, to join with 12 Democrats to save Johnson from conviction and removal from office in 1868.

In 1886, the Congress wisely changed the Succession Law of 1792, and eliminated both the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives from the line of succession. In so doing they took partisan politics out of the issue of who should succeed a President.  So the Cabinet Officers of the President, in order of the creation of the agencies, became the new order of succession, and remained so until 1947, spanning the deaths in office of William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  

However, as reported in this author’s Assassinations book, Theodore Roosevelt faced a mostly unknown threat on September 1, 1903 when Henry Weilbrenner approached Roosevelt's family home at Oyster Bay, New York, attempting to get past the Secret Service detail created after President William McKinley’s assassination in September 1901.  Possessing a firearm, Weilbrenner claimed he wanted to marry the President’s daughter, Alice. Fortunately, Weilbrenner never was able to meet the President late on that evening.  Had an untoward event occurred, however, Secretary of State John Hay, who had been a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln in the White House, would have become President.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945, and the succession of Harry Truman to the Oval Office, the Republican Party opposition was able to gain massive control of the 80th Congress in the midterm elections of 1946, and were able to pass the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, again putting the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate in line of succession after the Vice President, and before the Cabinet Officers. This was a purely partisan political act, with Republicans Joseph Martin and Arthur Vandenberg leading the way.  

In so doing, we have seen in the 74 years from 1947 to 2021 a situation in which the Speaker of the House has been of the party in opposition to the president for a total of 44 of 74 years, 60 percent of the time.  And the opposition party has held the position of President Pro Tempore of the Senate for 34 of the 74 years, nearly half the time.

This is not a tenable position in today's hyper-partisan environment. Therefore, reverting to the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, with updates for the additional Cabinet positions since created makes sense, although the idea of the order of succession being based on when the agency was created needs to be modified to allow the Secretary of Homeland Security, the last position created after September 11, to move up to next in line after the Attorney General and before the Secretary of Interior, due to the national security ramifications, in case of a Presidential vacancy.

Even though Cabinet Officers are not elected, it makes for better continuity that those selected by a President be in line for succession in case we ever have to go beyond the Vice Presidency in case of any unforeseen emergency, and it insures that there is a continuation of the political party chosen by the voters to control power in the Executive branch for that term of office.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Controversial Presidential Succession Act of 1947



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 was a purely political, partisan act, enacted by the Republican 80th Congress during Harry Truman’s presidency, and reflecting that party’s desire to place one of their party, either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in line for the presidency.

The idea that a member of Congress, who is not part of the executive branch, should be in line for succession was unwise; Cabinet Officers, defined as potential successors by the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, are appointed by, and reflect the ideals and goals of, the President they serve.

Now in 2020, the potential for a succession crisis involving President Donald Trump’s hospitalization with the COVID-19 virus and the infection of many people within the White House has led to alarm by some scholars that Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi could be two heart beats away from the Presidency, potentially creating a partisan crisis of succession. Many now think the Succession Act of 1886 needs to be revisited with modifications to the ordering of Cabinet Secretaries, to limit succession to the executive branch. Possible modifications could include moving the most recently created Cabinet position--Secretary of Homeland Security-- up in the order of succession to follow the Attorney General and precede the Secretary of Interior, on the grounds that national security concerns would be paramount.

Since 1947, the two Congressional leaders in the line of succession have been from the opposition party for 44 years out 74 in the case of the Speaker of the House, and 34 years out of 74 for the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; this has made for harrowing moments.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson became President, the two people behind him in the line of succession were 73 year-old John W. McCormack of Massachusetts and 86 year-old Carl Hayden of Arizona.  

When Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency in 1973, Cal Albert then, and again when Gerald Ford became President ten months later, was in line of succession for some months, but Albert was known to have major alcohol issues, and did not desire to assume the presidency.

Also, several Speakers of the House were hostile toward the President of the other party and his agenda, which would have meant a drastic change in direction and policies if the Speaker had assumed the Oval Office.  This was so with Thomas “Tip” O’Neill under President Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich under President Bill Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi under Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

So it is urgent that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 be revisited, to follow the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, but putting the Secretary of Homeland Security higher in the list of successors, after the Attorney General, and before the Secretary of the Interior, for national security reasons.



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Biden's Years of Experience in Public Service are Second to One Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



With the election of Joe Biden to the presidency, we are about to inaugurate the second most experienced president, in terms of years of service in American history, five years fewer than John Quincy Adams.

If one looks at years of public service of the 45 men who have served as President before Inauguration Day 2021, four have resumes of extensive public service in elected or appointed service comparable to Biden’s—Adams, James Buchanan, Lyndon B Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford. Only Adams had more years of service than Joe Biden, although 23 of his total years were by appointment to diplomatic position, not elections to office.

John Quincy Adams (the 6th president, 1825-1829), served as US Ambassador to five European nations, including the Netherlands, Portugal, and Prussia from 1794-1801; to Czarist Russia from 1809-1815; and finally to Great Britain from 1815-1817, making a total of 15 years in foreign diplomacy followed by eight years as Secretary of State under President James Monroe from 1817-1825. Adams is considered one of the best Secretaries of State in American history.  Additionally, he served in public office as US Senator from Massachusetts from 1803-1808 before returning to diplomacy the following year. So when he was elected President in 1825, he already had 28 years of public service. After his one term as President, he was elected by the people of Boston to the US House of Representatives from 1831-1848. Adams ultimately had in total more than 49 years in public office, though 26 years came in elected positions versus 23 by appointment.

James Buchanan (the 15th president from 1857-1861) served as a member of the US House of Representatives from Pennsylvania for ten years from 1821-1831, and was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the last two years of his service.  He also was a US Senator from 1834-1845.  He had extensive diplomatic experience as Ambassador to Czarist Russia from 1832-1833; and to Great Britain from 1853-1856. Buchanan served as Secretary of State under James K. Polk from 1845-1849, and sought the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party a number of times before finally being elected in 1856.  If one adds up all his service, he was in office for a total of 33 years, with eight of those years as an appointed diplomat and 25 in elected office.

Lyndon B. Johnson (the 36th president, 1963-1969) served in Congress for 24 years from 1937-1961, twelve years in House, and then twelve years as a Senator, including service as Senate Majority Whip from 1951-1953; Senate Minority Leader from 1953-1955, and as the most prominent and influential Senate Majority Leader in American history from 1955-1961.  Then, he was Vice President of the United States from 1961-1963. After assuming the presidency with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Johnson was elected to a full term from 1965-1969, accomplishing the greatest series of domestic reforms in American history under the slogan “The Great Society.”  He had planned for another term, and announced for it in 1968, but the Vietnam War morass led him to withdraw his candidacy and retire in January 1969, having served in government for 32 years.

Gerald R. Ford, (the 38th president, 1974-1977) served in the US House of Representatives from Grand Rapids, Michigan for 25 years from 1949 to late in 1973, including eight years of service as House Minority Leader of the Republican Party, and then was tapped by President Richard Nixon to replace the resigning Spiro Agnew as Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment. He served as Vice President for 8 months from December 1973 to August 1974, serving the remaining two and a half years of Nixon’s term when Nixon himself resigned in August, 1974. Ford’s bid for reelection ended in defeat to Jimmy Carter, and he left public office in 1977 having served 28 years in public office.

No other President matched John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford in years of public federal service, but now President Elect Joe Biden surpasses all of them except Adams.

Joe Biden has served 44 years, eleven more than Buchanan; twelve more than Johnson; and sixteen more than Ford, an absolutely amazing record of public service! Further, if only service in elected office is considered, however, Biden is ahead of Johnson (32) Ford (28), Adams (26) and Buchanan (25) in that statistic. 

Biden was elected to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972, a few weeks before his 30th birthday, and sworn in during the midst of tragedy of the loss of his first wife and daughter, and the injury of his two sons, in an auto accident, six weeks after his election, and a month after his 30th birthday.  But he overcame tragedy, married his second wife, Dr Jill Biden, had a daughter with her, and overcame adversity; he had two brain surgeries for an aneurysm in 1988, and would experience the loss of his son Beau in 2015. 

Joe Biden served six terms as a Senator, a total of 36 years, making him the 18th longest-serving Senator; had he not been Vice President, Biden most likely would have served a seventh term until 2014, and might now be finishing an eighth, which would have made a total of 48 years. This would put him behind only Robert Byrd of West Virginia (51 and a half years) and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii (nearly 50 years).  

While in the Senate, Biden served as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987-1995 and as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009. He was a headliner in the news during controversial Supreme Court nominations under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Biden made two unsuccessful attempts to run for President in 1987 and 2008. He served as Vice President under President Barack Obama for two terms, and was extremely engaged, active and influential, in a manner unlike any other Vice President, except Walter Mondale (1977-1981) under President Jimmy Carter.

So, among American presidents, Joe Biden surpasses all but John Quincy Adams in years of service to his country. Yesterday, Biden fulfilled the dream of his son and became the 46th President of the United States. 

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Who Will Form the Biden Cabinet?

Joseph Biden with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


With the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden, it is time for speculation on the potential membership of the 46thpresident’s cabinet.

The US Senate must consider all cabinet appointments. The reality is that the Democrats, at their most fortunate, might have a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris constituting a tiebreaking vote. More likely is a Republican Senate majority after the special elections for the two Georgia Senate seats are decided on January 5, so the selection process must consider realities.

Any nominee perceived as too far to the left will inevitably come to grief in a Senate vote, and any nomination of a current Democratic Senator to the cabinet must consider how the new Senate vacancy would be filled, and by whom.

So the reality of having to negotiate with the Republican opposition, and avoid alienating far left Democrats, will require a balancing act and cautious steps on the part of President Elect Biden.

I propose this cabinet as one that is ideologically balanced and politically achievable.

Secretary of State---Former National Security Advisor and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice deserves the step up to the State Department. Rice was a finalist in the vice presidential selection process, and gets along with and knows Joe Biden better than almost anyone who worked with him during the Obama years.  She will be excellent in restoring a sensible, rational foreign policy and promoting stronger ties with NATO and democratic allies around the world, while being capable of dealing with authoritarian governments, including Russia, China, Iran, South Korea in a tough and reasonable manner.

Secretary of the Treasury---Former Ohio Republican Governor and Congressman John Kasich was head of the House Budget Committee from 1995-2001, has good relations and friendship with Biden, and also knows how to deal with Wall Street and powerful corporations. He would be an excellent choice. While left wing Democrats would be furious, emphasizing the need to rein in Wall Street influence, in realistic terms, the new president will not want to go to war with Wall Street, while working on policy goals including raising taxes on the wealthy and reversing deregulation and other actions taken by the Trump administration. Every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt has one Republican in his cabinet, and since Kasich was against Trump from the beginning and has real credibility and substance, his appointment makes sense.

Secretary of Defense---Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee Iraq War veteran, has already served in the department of Veterans Affairs as an Assistant Secretary under Obama. Duckworth has a reputation of being tough minded and capable of meeting the challenge of updating and reorganizing the Pentagon. Since the Governor of Illinois is a Democrat, it would be safe for Duckworth to leave the Senate.

Attorney General----Outgoing Alabama Senator Doug Jones impressed everyone with his prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members involved in the infamous Birmingham Church bombing in 1963, securing indictments and convictions in 2001 as US Attorney in Alabama.  And Jones has made an excellent impression on civil rights and civil liberties matters in his three years in the US Senate, a stark contrast to decades of Alabama senators.

Secretary of the Interior---Washington State Governor Jay Inslee came across very impressively as a Democratic Presidential 2020 contender, and was the most outspoken of all the primary challengers on environmental matters.  His selection would inspire those who wish to reverse the tremendous damage done by the Trump Administration.

Secretary of Agriculture---Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, another 2020 contender for the White House, would be a good fit as a Midwesterner with concerns about the difficulties that face farm communities in a time when trade and tariff policies can undermine agricultural interests.

Secretary of Commerce---Businessman Tom Steyer, another contender in 2020, made a good impression during his Presidential campaign, and would work to promote commercial revival from the terrible pandemic the nation is suffering through.

Secretary of Labor---Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, also a 2020 contender, would be a good fit to deal with the problems of working men and women after two distinguished terms as governor.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development---Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams would really make a commitment to improvement of urban life and improvement of housing, an essential need for all Americans.

Secretary of Transportation-- Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, also a 2020 presidential contender, would be eager to work on promotion of infrastructure, which is desperately needed but has been ignored by the Trump Administration despite frequent promises of an “Infrastructure Week.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services---New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, also a 2020  presidential contender,  would work to promote an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and his  seat would be filled by the Democratic Governor of his state, not changing party control.

Secretary of Education---Colorado senator Michael Bennet, also a 2020 presidential contender, was Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and his seat would be filled by the Democratic Governor of his state.

Secretary of Energy---Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, also a 2020 presidential contender, would fit this post in an exceptional way with his knowledge and background about sources of energy, with Texas a crucial state in that regard.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs---Former South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential contender Pete Buttigieg served in the military, and has a real commitment and emotional involvement with issues veterans face.

Secretary of Homeland Security---Former Massachusetts Senator, Secretary of State, and 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry, with his military experience, and his involvement with foreign policy and diplomacy over many years, would be the perfect candidate to work to improve American national security.

United Nations Ambassador---Andrew Yang, another 2020 presidential contender, with his business and personal skills, would be a very good representative of the need for greater interaction and cooperation with that international organization, restoring the faith and importance of international diplomacy. 

This combination of talented people would include ten former presidential contenders from 2020; a former presidential nominee; five people who served in the US Senate; three people who have served as governors; three who have served as mayors; two who have served in the House of Representatives; two businessmen; one prominent Republican; and two well qualified diplomats.

Additionally, this 16 member Cabinet would include 7 members of color; 9 white members; 13 men and 3 women; 2 who are Jewish, and 1 gay member.  So overall, it would be an extremely talented Cabinet of great expertise and would be able to help President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris achieve their goals for the nation!




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These Six Lost Presidential Elections, but Found Other Ways to Serve the Nation Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Although they failed to win the White House, six losing presidential candidates gave many devoted years of public service to the nation before and after their campaigns, and deserve respect and recognition for their contributions.

Only one of these six, Henry Clay of Kentucky, had his distinguished career in the 19th century, while the other five ran for the presidency between 1964 and 2008---Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, Bob Dole, John Kerry, and John McCain.

Henry Clay, often regarded by scholars (including this author) as the greatest senator in American history, had a total of 29 years of government service, including eleven years in the House of Representatives from 1811-1814, 1815-1821, and 1823-1825. During that time he became the youngest Speaker of the House, achieving that position as a freshman congressman in 1811! Clay also served in the US Senate for about fourteen years, including for three months in 1806-1807 before reaching his 30th birthday, a few months in 1810-1811, a bit more than ten years from 1831-1842, and three more years from 1849-1852, the year he passed away at age 75.  Additionally, he served as Secretary of State for President John Quincy Adams from 1825-1829.  And Clay, of course, was a competing presidential candidate in 1824 in a four-way race (he supported Adams when the House of Representatives decided the election), the nominee of the National Republican Party in 1832 against Andrew Jackson, and the nominee of the Whig Party in 1844 against James K. Polk.  Overall, Clay had a very distinguished and exceptional career in American politics, and was one of only two people (with William Jennings Bryan) to be a presidential nominee and loser in three different elections.

After Clay, no one with a similarly long record of public service would lose a presidential election until the second half of the twentieth century, when five long-serving US Senators would lose presidential races. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who assumed the mantle of conservatism in the Republican Party after the death of Ohio’s Robert Taft, made a national reputation for himself and was nominated in 1964 to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Goldwater had served 12 years in the Senate by then, and served another 18 after his massive defeat to Johnson, retiring in 1987 after 30 distinguished years in the Senate.  He also changed his reputation, taking up libertarian positions in support of abortion rights and gay rights, turning a lot of conservatives in his party against him.  He also had shown statesmanship in leading the delegation of Republican leaders to the White House in August 1974 to inform President Richard Nixon that he would not have adequate support from his party to overcome an impeachment trial.

Just as Goldwater ran as “Mr. Conservative” in 1964, “Mr. Liberal,” Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, was the nominee of his party in 1968, after a distinguished Senate career from 1949 through 1964, and four years of service as Lyndon Johnson’s vice president. Humphrey led a party deeply divided over the war in Vietnam, and lost to Richard Nixon.  He returned to the Senate and served seven more years until his death in January 1978. Overall he had served 23 years in the Senate, four as vice president. Counting his and earlier term as Mayor of Minneapolis from 1945-1948, Humphrey served a total 30 years in public office, equal to Goldwater.

Republican Senator Bob Dole of Kansas had a longer career than either Goldwater or Humphrey, as he served in the House of Representatives from 1961-1969 and as a US Senator from 1969 to mid-1996, when he resigned to run against Bill Clinton. So Dole served a total of 35.5 years in Congress.  He was the running mate of President Gerald R. Ford in 1976, and served as Senate Majority Leader twice (from 1985-1987 and 1995-1996) and as Minority Leader (1987-1995). Dole was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971-1973.  He remains at this writing a distinguished elder statesman in his party at age 97.

Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has had a public career of 34 years, including most recently as Secretary of State during President Barack Obama’s second term from 2013-2017. Kerry’s public career began with two years as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1983-1985, followed by 28 years in the US Senate from 1985-2013, including service as the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee from 2009-2013. He resigned then to work for Barack Obama in the State Department.  Kerry ran a competitive campaign against President George W. Bush in 2004; although the electoral vote was close, Bush prevailed as the only Republican candidate to win the popular vote in seven elections from 1992 through 2020, and Kerry returned to the Senate. Kerry’s career in public service is likely to continue, as he has been named by President-Elect Joe Biden to oversee national policy on climate change.

Finally, in 2008, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona challenged incumbent Barack Obama, having previously been a strong contender for the Republican nomination in 2000.  McCain had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five and a half years. A decade after his return from the war, he became a member of the House of Representatives for two terms from 1983-1987, then a US Senator for 32 years from 1987 until his passing in 2018.  So, above his service to the nation, he represented his state for a total of nearly 36 years.

So these six losing presidential candidates, despite their defeats, go down in American history as true statesmen, who fought the good fight and contributed a great deal to their country, with McCain serving nearly 36 years; Dole 35.5 years; Kerry 34 years; Humphrey 30 years; Goldwater 30 years, and Clay 29 years. Kerry, of course, could eventually amass the longest record of service among the presidential losers by serving the Biden administration as “climate czar.”

They join the five presidential “winners”---John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, and now Joe Biden in having done so much good service for the nation they loved!

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Humphrey and Biden: One Presidential Scholar's Two Political Heroes Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


This scholar has been fascinated by the presidency for more than sixty years, and has taught at the college and university level for nearly fifty years.  In that half-century and more of being dedicated to the analysis of American politics and political history, this scholar has embraced two political “heroes” who epitomize his basic values and personality.

This is an appropriate time to explain this fascination, and why this author sees these two individuals as sharing common traits that drew his interest and caused him to feel emotionally committed to them.

These two “heroes,” both long term US Senators and presidential nominees, were Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 and Joe Biden in 2020.

This author first became fascinated with presidential campaigns and history of the presidency as a teenager in 1960, when Humphrey competed against Senator John F. Kennedy in the presidential primaries, most notably in Wisconsin and West Virginia.  He followed the 1960 campaign closely, and while he certainly saw John F. Kennedy as impressive, immediately he gravitated to Humphrey as someone who caused strong emotions of support, and from that point on, Humphrey was his favorite political leader, and he was thrilled when Humphrey was chosen by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to become his vice president.

Humphrey had a fascinating 16-year career in the US Senate from Minnesota from 1949-1965, after serving as Minneapolis Mayor from 1945-1948.  He had been a gadfly in the Senate, someone who often challenged the status quo by embracing of New Deal Liberalism, and had promoted many significant ideas and programs, and been famous for his debating talents and endless ability to argue on many major policies and ideas.  Humphrey was the chief promoter of future legislation on civil rights, Medicare, Federal aid for education, the Peace Corps, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  Clearly, he was a star of the Senate.

Humphrey gained the title of “The Happy Warrior,” and had a constant upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic demeanor and manner. While he often spoke excessively and was long winded at times, it was easy to feel great admiration for him.    He came across as genuine, sincere, decent, compassionate and empathetic, and that drew this author to “love” him, and prefer him in 1968, even though he had been loyal to Lyndon B. Johnson on the controversy over the war in Vietnam, which this author opposed.  But this scholar still thought he was far superior to Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy in his political credentials and personality, and was dismayed by the division in the Democratic Party, which sadly contributed to Humphrey’s defeat for the presidency by Richard Nixon, an event that this author found extremely disconcerting.

But when Humphrey returned to the Senate from 1971-1978, this author was content, while believing that he would not gain a second chance for the presidency, although he tried for the nomination again in 1972. When Humphrey was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1977, and died in January 1978 at the age of 66, it affected this author very badly, as if Humphrey was family. With Humphrey gone, the question that arose was whom in the later generation of leadership, someone close to the age of this author, in the late 1970s, would replace Humphrey in the same emotional manner in the mind of this scholar.

This author had noticed a young US Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, who had suffered from a personal tragedy just as he was elected to the Senate two weeks before his 30th birthday in 1972, losing his first wife and daughter in a traffic accident, in which his two sons were seriously injured.  This was a man who displayed then, and ever since, similar qualities of Hubert Humphrey, including being genuine, sincere, decent, compassionate, and empathetic. 

Joe Biden had served one term in the Senate at the time of Humphrey’s passing, and had been influenced by Humphrey, who had been one of a number of Senators who assisted Biden through the adjustment to his family tragedy. It was clear that Biden had the characteristics of being upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic in his demeanor and manner, and immediately, it was clear to this scholar, that Biden was his new “hero”.  Biden also had the similar “shortcoming” of being overly verbose and long winded at times, but it came across as a human trait that seemed “lovable”.  Joe Biden cared about people and causes, in a way very similar to Humphrey, and ever since 1978, he has replaced Humphrey, in the author’s mind, as his favorite political leader.

The fact that both Humphrey and Biden had shortcomings, and were “imperfect” and not always “correct” in their utterances, actions, or votes, did not take away the feeling that there was something special about both.  The career of Joe Biden led to his being Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman from 1987-1995, including being in charge of controversial Supreme Court hearings for nominees Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991.  Biden also was Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009, and he had to deal with many controversial foreign policy matters, which led to strong criticism and opposition from many, but he became noted for his courage and principles on such issues.

Biden also became acknowledged as someone who could “cross the aisle” and “get things done”, and many Republicans found him to be likeable, having the ability to be bipartisan and able to work with others cooperatively, and respect and pursue compromises that advanced many causes.  Biden would go on to serve for six terms in the US Senate, the 18th longest service in that body in American history at this writing. He had been the sixth youngest Senator in American history, and the second youngest since the 17th Amendment established popular vote for the US Senate in 1913.

Biden’s pursuit of the presidency fell flat in 1988 and 2008, and he suffered two brain aneurysms that nearly killed him in 1988, and lost his son Beau in 2015 to cancer. But he always displayed dignity and courage, and his reputation for expertise and legislative skills led Barack Obama to ask him to be his vice president in 2008.  Biden became the most active and engaged vice president since Walter Mondale in the late 1970s, and a true “bromance” developed between Obama and Biden.  However, when Biden passed on the opportunity to run for president again in 2016, due to his son’s death, it seemed unlikely that he had a future political career after 44 years of public service, more than any president, except John Quincy Adams..

But surprisingly, Biden entered the 2020 presidential race, and even after doing poorly in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary in the winter of 2020, he recovered in South Carolina, and overcame his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He went on, in the most tumultuous political year since 1968, to overcome the most controversial and despised president since Richard Nixon, in the person of Donald Trump.

And now at age 78 and 2 months, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the oldest president in American history on January 20, 2021, with major challenges unmatched since Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, and in some fashion, more imposing than even those two presidents faced.

This author and scholar is excited, thrilled, and optimistic that Joe Biden will become a national leader of massive significance and historic importance.  For many Americans who have underestimated him, one can hope that they will see him as a president who made a difference. This would satisfy, in the mind of this presidential scholar, the sense of loss felt when his first political hero, Hubert Humphrey, failed to defeat Richard Nixon a half century ago!

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From The Senate to the Presidency: Many Try, Few Succeed Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


When one investigates the history of the 59 presidential elections from 1789 through 2020, it is quite surprising to realize that the distinguished institution of the US Senate has not been a major factor in elections of presidents.

Only 17 presidents out of 45 have served in the US Senate, and only 15 were actually elected president, with John Tyler and Andrew Johnson succeeding to the office of president from the vice presidency.

Only the last seven presidents who served in the Senate were elected under the 17th Amendment popular vote requirement, since 1913 (Warren G. Harding, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama, Joe Biden).

Only three presidents were directly elected from the Senate to the White House (Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama).

Only two presidents were elected president after serving in the Senate and also as vice president and being out of public office (Richard Nixon, Joe Biden).

Only four presidents served at least ten years in the Senate on the way to the White House (James Buchanan (10 plus); Harry Truman (10); Lyndon B. Johnson (12); and Joe Biden (36).

Six Senators who served ten years or fewer in the Senate served in that body much earlier than when they were elected president (James Monroe, finishing in 1794 and in the presidency in 1817); John Quincy Adams, 1808 and 1825); Martin Van Buren (1828 and 1837); William Henry Harrison (1828 and 1841); Franklin Pierce (1842 and 1853); and James Buchanan (1845 and 1857).

The following eight presidents served five years or fewer in the upper chamber: James Monroe, John  Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama.

It is clear that only four presidents who served in the Senate had distinguished careers in that body.

James Buchanan (1834-1845), who was significant enough that he started to purse the presidency and did so every four years from 1844 to 1856, when he was nominated and elected, after a distinguished career, including being in the House of Representatives and being House Judiciary Committee Chairman in one term; ambassador to the United Kingdom and Russia; and James K. Polk’s Secretary of State. (1845-1849).

Harry Truman (1935-1945), who gained prominence during World War II as the head of the Truman Committee investigating waste and profiteering in the defense buildup for World War II, and was chosen to be the vice presidential nominee in 1944, and succeeded to the presidency 82 days into the fourth term of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1949-1961) who became Senate Majority Whip after two years, Senate Minority Leader after four years, and Senate Majority Leader for the next six years, after having served in the House of Representatives for twelve years.  Johnson is acknowledged as the most formidable and significant Senate Majority Leader in American history, followed by three unhappy years as vice president under John F. Kennedy, and then serving five years and two months as an extremely activist president, setting records for accomplishments in domestic affairs, even more than his idol, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And then, the “star” in years of service and leadership is our new president, Joe Biden (1973-2009), the only Senator who became president to have more years of service in the upper chamber than Lyndon B. Johnson,  triple the number of years of Johnson, 12 to 36 years, which would have been longer if Biden had not accepted the vice presidency under Barack Obama.  Biden became a major figure in the Senate, serving as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman from 1987-1995, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009.  At this writing, Biden has the distinction of having been the 18th longest serving US Senator in American history, and the 6th youngest Senator ever to take the oath of office, having been elected a couple of weeks before his 30th birthday.

In the long run of history, therefore, LBJ and Biden will stand out as easily the most distinguished in their Senate careers, but with Johnson only making it to the White House from the vice presidency originally, and Biden having two failed attempts in 1988 and 2008, and only reaching the pinnacle of the presidency after being out of office for four years, and becoming president at the most advanced age (78) of any president.

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State Governors and the Presidency Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


It is often stated that being a state governor is the best qualification to be President of the United States, as it promotes and emphasizes executive experience--the actual day to day operation of a government--while being a US Senator does not provide the executive skills and background needed to be successful as a president.

However, when one examines the 45 people who have been president, from George Washington to Joe Biden, we discover that just 17, slightly more than a third, have had the experience of being responsible for the operation of a state government before the White House years.

And we discover that executive experience has actually been quite limited for most presidents who previously served as governors.

The one governor who stands out for years of executive experience is Bill Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas for 12 years, from 1979-1981 and 1983-1993.  Only one other governor had eight years of state leadership, Ronald Reagan as governor of California from 1967-1975.  And only two other governors, George W. Bush of Texas, with six years from 1995-2001, and Rutherford Hayes of Ohio, with five years in office, from 1868-1872, and 1876-1877, had more than four years in office. Those with four years include Andrew Johnson of Tennessee from 1853-1857, William McKinley of Ohio from 1892-1896, Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York from 1929-1933, and Jimmy Carter of Georgia from 1971-1975.

The following seven presidents only served two years in a state governorship: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia from 1779-1781; John Tyler of Virginia from 1825-1827; James K. Polk from 1839-1841; Grover Cleveland of New York from 1883-1885; Theodore Roosevelt of New York from 1899-1901; Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey from 1911-1913; and Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts from 1919-1921.  James Monroe of Virginia served three years from 1799-1802 and three months in 1811, and Martin Van Buren of New York served two and a half months in 1829.

Only six governors went directly from the state governorship to the White House, including Rutherford Hayes in 1877, Grover Cleveland in 1885, Woodrow Wilson in 1913, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Bill Clinton in 1993, and George W. Bush in 2001.  And Cleveland and Wilson only had two short years in the governorship of their states before going to the White House.

New York, Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee dominate the list of governors who became president, with New York (4) having Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt; Virginia (3) having Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler; Ohio (2) having Rutherford Hayes and William McKinley; and Tennessee (2) having James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson.  The remaining six states which had one governor make it to the White House were Arkansas with Bill Clinton; California with Ronald Reagan; Georgia with Jimmy Carter; Massachusetts with Calvin Coolidge; New Jersey with Woodrow Wilson; and Texas with George W. Bush.  Ironically, four of these six were all elected since 1976, and all six in the 20th century.

Also, four of the governors who became president succeeded from the vice presidency during a term, including John Tyler in 1841; Andrew Johnson in 1865; Theodore Roosevelt in 1901; and Calvin Coolidge in 1923, and only the last two were then elected to their own term as president.

And finally, if one was to see executive experience as including being a mayor of a city, there are only three such examples in the history of the American Presidency.  Andrew Johnson was mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee for a year from 1834-1835.  Grover Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo, New York for eleven months in 1882.  And Calvin Coolidge was mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts from 1910 to 1912.  Clearly, being mayors for such a short time and with cities of such small population, did not provide much of an example of executive experience.

So the conclusion is that being governors becoming president may be more dramatized as being the best experience for the Presidency, as the important issue of foreign policy and other national issues are not factors in leadership of state government or local governments.

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Congressional Leadership Experience and the Presidency Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


As Joe Biden is becoming President of the United States, one question that has arisen is whether he will be able to accomplish his domestic goals with such an evenly divided Congress, rather than a mandate of substantial control of both houses, as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson had in the 1930s and 1960s.

History informs us that only a small number of the 45 people who have been president were men of substantial congressional experience, including leadership positions.  And at the top of the list is Joe Biden, with his 36 years in the senate representing Delaware, including his time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987-1995, and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001-2003, and 2007-2009.  These experiences and challenges, along with being an extremely active and engaged vice president for President Barack Obama, meant he navigated the problems of dealing with the Congressional opposition party in a manner not matched by any other president to the same extent.

However, there were other presidents who did have extensive experience when one combines their senatorial experience with their time in the House of Representatives.  The two presidents with the most years and leadership after Joe Biden were Gerald Ford and Lyndon B. Johnson.

 Ford represented Michigan in the House of Representatives for nearly 25 years from 1949 to late 1973, when he became Richard Nixon’s vice president under the terms of the 25th Amendment after the resignation of Spiro Agnew.  Ford had served as House Minority Leader for nearly nine years from 1965 to late 1973, had made many contacts and connections with the majority House Democratic leadership, and was warmly endorsed as the right person to replace the disgraced Agnew.

Johnson had spent 12 years in the house (1937-1949), and had 12 years in the senate (1949-1961) from Texas, giving him almost the same amount of time in congress as Gerald Ford.  Johnson rose in the senate leadership, becoming Majority Whip (1951-1953), Minority Leader (1953-1955), and Majority Leader (1955-1961). He was the most powerful figure in the latter position in American history, considered a master of legislative procedures, and having an innate ability to convince his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to follow his lead, even though President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the leader of the opposition party.  While his experience as vice president for nearly three years (1961-1963) was an unhappy period, he came to the presidency with unmatched skills that would lead to the Great Society, the most active domestic program since FDR’s New Deal.

The only other president with combined congressional experience of more than 20 years was James Buchanan from Pennsylvania, who served in the House of Representatives (1821-1831), including being chairman of the Judiciary Committee in his last two years; and in the senate (1834-1845).  Despite his years in congress, as well as in appointed positions in government, sadly he failed to meet the challenge of the pre-Civil War years and is seen as a presidential failure, usually at or near the bottom of rankings of presidents by scholars.

Additionally, 4 other presidents served between 12 and 18 years in congress, and held important leadership positions and had prominent roles.

James A. Garfield from Ohio served nearly 18 years in the House of Representatives (1863-1880) before being elected as the only president to go directly from that chamber to the presidency, but sadly was assassinated within six months of taking the oath.  Garfield played a leading role in the House, and was House Appropriations Committee Chairman from 1871-1875, one of the most crucial committees in the Reconstruction period.  He was at the center of the many political controversies of the tumultuous times after the Civil War.

James K. Polk from Tennessee served 14 years in the House of Representatives (1825-1839), and was the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee (1833-1835), before being the only president to have held the position of Speaker of the House (1835-1839). He later served one very active term as president (1845-1849), doubling the territory of the United States through diplomacy with Great Britain and war with Mexico.

William McKinley from Ohio served 13 years in the House of Representatives (1877-1884, 1885-1891), including being chairman of the Ways and Means Committee (1889-1891), and having a national leadership role as the sponsor of the McKinley Tariff of 1890.  He then served as president for four and a half years before being assassinated in September 1901. He did accomplish the gaining of territory by war with Spain and the annexation of Hawaii.

Finally, John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts, after having earlier served in the US Senate (1803-1808), in diplomatic posts, and as Secretary of State under James Monroe before his one term in the presidency (1825-1829), became the only president to be elected to the House of Representatives after his term, serving for 17 years (1831-1848).  With his stature and outspoken nature, Adams became engaged in controversies over domestic and foreign policy under presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, and James K. Polk, most notably on his opposition to slavery and the Mexican War.  While he had no leadership position as the other seven presidents had in Congress, his unique role as a former president gave him prominence unmatched in American history.

So in conclusion, Joe Biden comes into the presidency with a track record unmatched in many ways, and one of only 8 presidents to have had extensive experience on Capitol Hill.  Whether that will give him an edge in accomplishing his goals and dealing with greatest crises comparable to those faced by Barack Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, is something that only time will tell, with the nation hoping for the best in a difficult time.

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Presidents Who Look Better or Worse by Comparison

President-elect Obama with President GW Bush and former Presidents Carter, Clinton and GHW Bush, January 7, 2009. 

Photo Pete Souza, CC BY 3.0



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


America has had two presidents who each “shine” in historical reputation while being sandwiched between preceding and succeeding presidents who have been rated among the worst presidents America has experienced in its 232 year history.

America has also had four presidents, who while not “failures,” are perceived as less successful and outstanding than the presidents before and after them.

The first such case in the first category is Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), coming to office after James Buchanan (1857-1861), and succeeded by Andrew Johnson (1865-1869). Lincoln has certainly been criticized by many scholars for his civil liberties violations during the Civil War, and for the often failed military leadership he had until later in the war.  His racial views have been seen with a critical eye by many, as well.  And yet, it is acknowledged by most historians and political scientists that Lincoln is our greatest president, despite his shortcomings.

James Buchanan is ranked in most scholarly polls as our worst president, as he presided over the disintegration of the nation in the late 1850s, leading up to the secession of the southern states in his last months in office. He further proved unwilling to challenge southern states who claimed the right to seize US military property in the interim four months between the election and the inauguration on March 4, 1861.

Andrew Johnson, an accidental president due to the assassination of Lincoln, proved to be a disaster in the making, unable and unwilling to work with the Republican congress on Reconstruction policy, and faced the first presidential impeachment trial.  He also possessed one of the worst personalities of any president, constantly confrontational and highly condemnatory of all critics, and hostile to racial equality.  Johnson is ranked either just above Buchanan or, alternatively, as the absolute nadir of the presidency.

The second case in the first category is Barack Obama (2009-2017), coming to office between George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Donald Trump.

Obama faced great opposition in his two terms, but had major accomplishments despite that reality, and is perceived as a president who overcame the Great Recession he inherited, saved the auto industry, and promoted reform in health care, the environment, and foreign policy, and also utilized executive orders to advance many initiatives when prevented by the opposition from making progress through Congress.  His ranking has been Number 12 in the C-SPAN Presidential Poll of 2017, and Number 8 in the American Political Science Association Poll of 2018, and he is highly ranked in public opinion polls of everyday Americans.

George W. Bush has been low-ranked, mostly in the bottom ten of presidents, or at best the bottom third, due to tragedies of the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, and the collapse of the American economy in 2008-2009 into what has been termed the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Donald Trump has not been formally ranked yet, but after one year in office, he was rated in the bottom of the American Political Science Association poll, moving Buchanan and Johnson up a peg in each case.  With the reality of the tumultuous four years of Trump, leading to two impeachments of the president in just over one year; plus the reality that he never won the popular vote in 2016 or 2020, and refused to accept the election results of the 2020 presidential election, leading to the US Capitol Insurrection of January 6, 2021, it seems likely that for the short run, as well as the long run, Trump will languish in the basement of rankings, or at most but not likely, be just above Buchanan and Johnson.  This assessment must also include the high level of corruption and incompetence, and the botched reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the greatest public health crisis in a century.

The cases where a president’s reputation has been diminished due to comparison of presidents before and after him does not mean these four presidents to be discussed were as horrendous as those surrounding Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, but the rankings of the following presidents do suffer by comparison.

The first such case is John Adams (1797-1801), between George Washington (1789-1797) and Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809).  Adams only had one term, was defeated for reelection, and is harshly criticized for the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.  But he still ranks in the top 20 of presidents, while Washington is usually ranked as Number One or Two, and Jefferson usually around Number Seven for their contributions and accomplishments in their time as presidents.

The second such case is James Madison (1809-1817), between Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and James Monroe (1817-1825).  Madison presided over the failed War of 1812, which included the British attack on the US Capitol and the White House in August 1814. There is a perception that Madison, despite his great historical accomplishments before his Presidency, had been weak and subjected to pressure by the “War Hawks”, who recklessly wanted war with Great Britain to gain all of Canada, a false effort. So Madison is rated in most polls near the bottom of the top 20, while James Monroe is rated higher with his foreign policy accomplishments.

The third such case is William Howard Taft (1909-1913), between Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).  Taft had one term and was defeated for reelection, in a four way race with TR, Wilson, and Socialist Eugene Debs in 1912, and is the only president running for reelection to come in third, not second, in the popular vote (he claimed only twenty-three percent of the vote, and won 8 electoral votes).  Taft had promoted some progressive ideas in office and two progressive constitutional amendments, but had divided the Republican party, which was in disarray at the time. Taft also faced opposition from his predecessor, who had promoted him for the Presidency in 1908 but then turned vehemently against him.  Theodore Roosevelt had the best third party performance in American history.  Taft would go on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the 1920s, and would end up being ranked in the high to mid 20s as president. Roosevelt and Wilson, however, even with their shortcomings, would always rank higher, with TR often 4th or 5th, and Wilson, while slipping in recent scholarly estimation, still being number 11 in the C-SPAN Poll of 2017, after having regularly been in the top ten, and as high as 6th in earlier polls.

The fourth and last such case is George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), between Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001).  Bush had one term and was defeated for reelection in 1992, in a three way race with Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot, who ran as an independent and took 19 percent of the vote, leaving Bush with only 37 percent of the popular vote, the second worst popular vote defeat of any sitting president. Only William Howard Taft, eighty years earlier, did worse.  Bush had been successful in promoting the Persian Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, had promoted a significant civil rights law, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and had presided over a peaceful and stable end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but he had been undermined by the Recession of 1992, just as an election year came on. So Bush is usually ranked at the bottom of the top 20 presidents, while Reagan is rated around Number 10, and Clinton is usually ranked in the top third of presidents, usually around Number 15.

So who is president before and after any president has in six cases had a big impact on their scholarly ranking in American history. Joe Biden has had an active first two months in office, and the odds look likely that Donald Trump will be another case of a president who makes his predecessor and successor both look even better by comparison.

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Fate and Fortune in Presidential Elections Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations,  Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Fate and fortune play a major role in the American presidency, as so many of those who have become president were not perceived, even a year before their elections, as likely to reach the Oval Office.

The effort to project “frontrunners” in presidential races has not worked very well, when one looks back at the year before many elections, as will be outlined below.

In the year 1843, it was clear that the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844 was former President Martin Van Buren.  Former Speaker of the House James K. Polk was not in public office in 1843, and it seemed clear that Van Buren was the likely choice of his party against Whig nominee Henry Clay.  But Van Buren was unable to achieve the Democratic Party requirement of support from two thirds of the delegates at the National Convention. On the 9th ballot Polk, seen as the first “dark horse” presidential nominee, triumphed. He then overcame the much better known Henry Clay, with the assistance of a small third party, the Liberty Party, to become the 11th president of the United States. Polk would gain, through war with Mexico and treaty with Great Britain, more territory for the nation than anyone since Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

In the year 1859, former one term Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln, fresh off a losing Senate race against Stephen A. Douglas, had gained notice, but New York Senator William Henry Seward was seen as the likely choice for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, and Douglas was clearly the leading Democratic candidate.  But Lincoln went on to win the Republican nomination, and while Douglas was the Democratic nominee, that party would become divided between Douglas and outgoing Vice President John C. Breckinridge, who became the Southern Democratic nominee for the presidency.  John Bell also ran as the nominee of a one-time third party, the Constitutional Union Party.  Lincoln ended up winning the presidency, despite having less than 40 percent of the total national vote, and then led the Union in the Civil War.  While highly controversial in office, Lincoln brought about the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, preserved the Union over the secessionist movement, and is widely regarded as the greatest American president.

In the year 1911, Woodrow Wilson had just become the new Democratic Governor of New Jersey, after a career as an educator, scholar, and nationally noticed president of Princeton University. Speaker of the House Champ Clark of Missouri was seen as the front runner for his party’s nomination in 1912, but the Democratic National Convention was in a stalemate due to the thirds rule that was required, just as it was in 1844 when Polk won the nomination on the 9th ballot.  This time, the convention went through 46 ballots, before Wilson, seen like Polk as a “dark horse,” with only a year and a half as an elected politician, became the nominee.  Wilson was fortunate that the opposition Republicans split between incumbent President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt, giving Wilson and his party the advantage.  Despite only winning 42 percent of all votes cast, Wilson won a landslide victory in the Electoral College, and went on to promote extensive domestic reform in his first term, and become a wartime leader in the First World War in his second term.

In the year 1931, Franklin D. Roosevelt had recovered enough from polio, although still in a wheelchair, to be in his second term as New York Governor, promoting the “Little New Deal.”  He was well aware that the major barriers to winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932 were the 1928 nominee Alfred E. Smith and Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas.  Famed journalist Walter Lippman was skeptical of FDR, saying while he thought Roosevelt was a pleasant man, that he lacked any important qualifications, but clearly would like to be president.  FDR won the nomination, surpassing the two-thirds rule on the 4th ballot, selected Garner as his vice presidential running mate, and went on to a landslide victory over President Herbert Hoover. He would promote the New Deal, take America through World War II, and be regarded as one of the top three presidents of all time.

In the year 1959, Senator John F. Kennedy seemed ready to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, but his reputation in the Senate was of a “lightweight” compared to his rivals, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, and Stuart Symington of Missouri.  Kennedy also had the negative factor of being the first serious Catholic contender for the White House since the failed candidacy of Alfred E. Smith in 1928.  JFK needed to overcome the “Catholic issue” by showing strength and victory in two states with small Catholic communities, and a large Protestant majority, and he did so by defeating Humphrey in the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries.  But even then, he still faced the challenge of Johnson, who had Southern backing and a strong image as a challenger, and only at the end of the roll call of the states on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, when Wyoming swung to him, did JFK win the nomination.  Similar to FDR selecting Garner in 1932, Kennedy now chose Johnson as his running mate, and they would win the hotly contested election of 1960 over Richard Nixon.  Kennedy would go on to promote change as the youngest elected president, and though his time in office was cut short by assassination near the end of the third year, he would be seen as one of the more popular and admired presidents of modern times.

In the year 1967 Richard Nixon, who had lost the close presidential race of 1960 and then been soundly defeated in his run for California Governor in 1962, decided he was going to try again for the Republican presidential nomination, against the challenge of Michigan Governor George Romney, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and California Governor Ronald Reagan.  Nixon was seen as a long shot, with the thought that a comeback from his loss eight years earlier was highly unlikely. Nixon triumphed at the Republican National Convention in 1968, and surprised many observers when he overcame incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who led a Democratic party divided over the war in Vietnam and facing a defection of southern conservatives after Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The civil rights issue led to Alabama Governor George Wallace running on the American Independent Party line as one of the most serious third party challengers in American history.  Nixon won with only 43.4 percent of the total national vote, but went on to accomplish significant goals in American foreign policy and cooperate with the Democratic controlled Congress in promoting some major domestic reforms.  But his insecurity, perceived paranoia, and inability to accept criticism led to illegal actions, culminating in the Watergate scandal, movement toward impeachment and his resignation in 1974.

In 1975, Jimmy Carter had finished his one term as Georgia Governor, and announced his plans to run for president in 1976. This evoked laughter and cynicism, as he was seen as a quite obscure political leader, despite a successful term in office.  Carter had far better known rivals, including Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, California Governor Jerry Brown, Idaho Senator Frank Church, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, and Washington Senator Henry Jackson. Carter was clearly seen as a dark horse.  But Carter organized early and efficiently, and surprised political observers by winning a majority of the newly expanded state primaries and caucuses, portraying himself as an outsider, political centrist, and moderate reformer.  In choosing Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a Hubert Humphrey protégé, as his running mate, Carter united the party, and went on to defeat President Gerald Ford.  Carter would go on to be perceived as a champion of human rights, but had difficulties uniting the nation in his time in office and lost reelection. He is now seen as an elder statesman with a positive public image, more than 40 years after leaving office, and is the longest-lived president.

In 1979 Ronald Reagan had been retired from public office after two four-year terms as California Governor from 1967-1975, and two failed bids for the presidency in 1968 and 1976, the latter against President Gerald Ford.  He was nearing the age of 70, and most observers thought the fact that, if elected, he would surpass Dwight Eisenhower to become the oldest president in American history, made Reagan seem like an unlikely long shot.  But Reagan overcame his chief rival George H. W. Bush, then chose him as his running mate, before going on to be elected over President Carter and Independent third party candidate Congressman John Anderson of Illinois, winning a landslide in the Electoral College.  Reagan would go on to promote a transition in American government from New Deal-Great Society Liberalism to Reagan Conservatism, which would be a dominant force in the Republican Party for the next forty years. He would transform the presidency and become a very popular president.

In the year 2007, after only two years as an Illinois Senator, Barack Obama would start a long-shot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, with the chief rival being former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton.  The idea that a mixed-race candidate with a Muslim sounding last name could beat Clinton seemed like a real long shot, but Obama triumphed after a long, heated contest, chose establishment Democratic Senator Joe Biden as his running mate, and overcame Republican nominee John McCain.  He chose Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, following the example of Abraham Lincoln with William Henry Seward a century and a half earlier.  Obama would accomplish a major change in health care, promote new initiatives in many other areas of domestic and foreign policy, and be very popular and highly regarded when he left office in 2017, seen as having impacted America in many positive ways.

And finally, in 2019, Joe Biden, while highly respected for his 36 year career in the US Senate and his productive eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, seemed an unlikely successor to the White House in 2020, as he would become the oldest president. With an extensive list of prominent contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his own early terrible performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden seemed like a lost cause until the South Carolina Primary. But then Biden had an amazing revival. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging and President Donald Trump being incapable of dealing with it while dividing the nation for four years, Biden triumphed in November 2020, and has given many observers the impression of a presidency starting off strong.  Some are comparing him to the crisis times of FDR and the New Deal, nine decades ago.

So the cases of James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden are joined together as examples of how fate and fortune have so often determined the history of the American presidency!

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Senators who Made an Impact, Despite First being Appointed (not Elected)

Harry Byrd, while Governor of Virginia, photographed ca. 1928



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The US Senate, since the beginning of the 117th Congress this January, has seen a grand total of 1,994 members in its 232-year history.

Among those, there have been a total of 202 appointed Senators since the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913, which provided for direct popular election of Senators.

Therefore, it is common to think of appointed Senators as just temporary replacements, waiting for the next regularly scheduled election for that Senate seat, or until the next even-year election. This has often been true.

But several have ended up being major historical figures in Senate and political history.

This article is the first of two to examine the historical significance of twelve US Senators who, despite being originally appointed rather than elected, made a difference in American history.


Charles McNary (R-Oregon) was appointed in May 1917, and then was elected to the Senate in November 1918, serving until his death in February 1944.  He was chosen by the Oregon Governor for the vacancy due to his support of women’s suffrage and Prohibition, two policies that were established by constitutional amendments ratified before the 1920 national election.  He was Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1926-1933, and held the position of Senate Minority Leader during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from 1933 until 1944, longer than any Republican has held that post. 

He was perceived as a “progressive” Republican who supported much of the New Deal and defense measures as World War II came closer, including the Selective Service military conscription in 1940 and the Lend Lease Act in 1941. A westerner, he supported the development of hydroelectric power, including the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams, as public works projects.  He was the primary promoter of the proposed McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill, twice vetoed by Republican President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s, which might have staved off or alleviated the effects of the Depression on agriculture.  McNary was the Vice Presidential running mate of Wendell Willkie in 1940. In an odd footnote, had the duo been elected over FDR and Henry Wallace, they might have become the first president and vice president to both die in office, as McNary did in February 1944 of a brain tumor, and Willkie of a heart attack in October 1944.  My book, Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), has McNary as a leading figure in that group, which cooperated with FDR on many New Deal initiatives.


Carter Glass (D-Virginia) was appointed in November 1919, and then was elected to the Senate in November 1920, serving until his death in May 1946.  Glass had earlier served in the House of Representatives from 1902-1918, chairing the House Banking Committee from 1913-1918, and was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson for 14 months as Secretary of the Treasury from December 1918 until his appointment to the Senate. 

He served as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman from 1933 until his death in 1946, and was also President Pro Tempore of the US Senate from 1941-1945.  He also helped to establish the Federal Reserve Banking System under Wilson, and was the author of the Glass-Steagall Act that set up the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation under FDR’s New Deal in 1933.  However, as a staunch supporter of States Rights, he opposed much of the New Deal, and advocated disenfranchisement of African Americans in his state and nationally, and Jim Crow segregation laws.


Gerald Nye (R-North Dakota) was appointed to the Senate in November 1925, and was elected to three full terms before he was defeated in 1944.  He was termed a “progressive” Republican, and my book on the subject included an interview with Nye conducted in March 1971, his last interview with a historian before his death a few months later.

Nye became noted for his investigation of the Teapot Dome scandal, and helping to create Grand Teton National Park.  He supported much of the New Deal until later breaking with the President, but became most controversial as a leading isolationist spokesman. This included heading the Nye Committee in 1934-1935, which investigated the munitions industry, and promoting the view that America could have avoided entrance into World War I. He was a leading advocate of the neutrality laws passed by Congress in the mid-1930s.  Nye was accusatory toward Jews in the film industry, leading to charges of antisemitism, and was a major critic of both Great Britain and of the Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie in 1940.  He was also an active speaker on radio at rallies of the America First Committee in 1940-1941, the leading organization attempting to keep America out of World War II. Nye told me, thirty years after Pearl Harbor, that he believed Roosevelt had plotted to get America into that war.  Nye was even ridiculed by Dr. Seuss for his isolationist views and his vehement rhetoric and oratorical manner.


Arthur Vandenberg (R-Michigan) was appointed to the senate in March 1928, after a career in journalism as an editor and publisher in Grand Rapids, and was then elected for four terms, dying in office in April, 1951.  Originally supportive of President Herbert Hoover, he would support much of the early New Deal of FDR, but then became part of the conservative coalition that opposed the 1937 Supreme Court “packing” plan and the pro-labor Wagner Act, and was an isolationist in foreign policy until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. 

His position on foreign policy changed radically as a result, and he became an internationalist, making a well-hailed transformation in a speech in the Senate in January, 1945.  He became a promoter of the United Nations, and cooperated in a bipartisan fashion with President Harry Truman on the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1947-1949.  Vandenberg was President Pro Tempore of the Senate during the 80th Congress (1947-1949), so two heartbeats away from the Presidency, and was a “favorite son” candidate for the White House in 1940 and 1948.  The Senate Reception Room has a portrait of Vandenberg, part of a very select group of seven legislators rated by the Senate as the most prominent in its history.


Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (D-Virginia) was appointed to the Senate in 1933, and served 32 years.  Previously, he had been Virginia Governor from 1926-1930 after a career as a newspaper publisher and two stints in the Virginia State Senate.  His state political machine dominated Virginia politics for a half century, enforcing literacy tests and poll taxes to deny the franchise to African Americans. He became a leader in the conservative coalition against the New Deal, and opposed as Governor and in the Senate against any racial desegregation, advocating “massive resistance” to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

But in foreign policy, Byrd was an internationalist and supported FDR’s foreign policy as a leader on the Senate Armed Services Committee after World War II. He later became the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  Byrd refused to endorse President Truman in 1948 or Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and was always a thorn in the side of Dwight D. Eisenhower—refusing to support the Interstate Highway System—and of Lyndon B. Johnson—opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Byrd received 15 electoral votes in 1960, from Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma, in the election that made John F. Kennedy President.  His greatest legacy was the creation of the Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Virginia state park system.


Ralph Flanders (R-Vermont) was appointed to the Senate in November 1946, and then was elected to two full terms, serving until the first days of 1959.  He had a career as a mechanical engineer and industrialist, and was President of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank for two years before his Senate career. He served on the Joint Economic Committee in an investigatory and advisory committee, and on the Finance Committee and Armed Services Committee.  He promoted public housing, higher education spending, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

He promoted arms control in foreign policy, and became noticed when he became the major critic of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was pursuing what Flanders saw as reckless rhetoric and behavior in his Red Scare tactics from 1950-1954.  He was an early and strong critic of McCarthy, saying on March 9, 1954 that he was misdirecting America’s efforts at fighting communism overseas, and causing a loss of respect for America in the world community.  His Senate address was a scathing criticism of McCarthy, hailed by many, but attacked by critics as supporting the Communist cause.  Flanders introduced a resolution on June 11, 1954, condemning the conduct of McCarthy and calling for his censure for flagrant abuse of power. The US Senate would censure McCarthy on December 2, 1954. Republicans split evenly on the motion, but the total vote was a landside of 67-22, and McCarthy never recovered from the censure.  Flanders became a national hero, and a profile in courage to many millions of Americans. 

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More Senators Who Made an Impact, Despite First Being Appointed (Not Elected)

Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) chairs the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings.




Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


A previous essay identified several US Senators who were initially appointed to their seats, rather than winning election. In the second half of the 20th century, six other senators achieved historical significance despite originally being appointed on a temporary basis.  

Sam Ervin (D-NC) served in the Senate for more than 20 years from 1954-1974, after being originally appointed on a temporary basis in early 1954. He defended segregation and Jim Crow laws, and was somehow also seen as a constitutional expert, although he generally referred to himself as a simple “country lawyer.” He opposed the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board Of Education in 1954, and promoted the Southern Manifesto in 1956, urging defiance of that decision.  He also opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

 But this negative record was contradicted by a number of other positions.  He was also a defender of civil liberties, while not of civil rights, and was an opponent of “no knock” search laws, invasions of privacy through data banks, and lie detector tests, and was also opposed to a constitutional amendment advocating prayer in the public schools. Ervin also opposed making illegally gained evidence admissible in criminal trials.  Ervin also was one of the small band of senators who challenged Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin in the last year before McCarthy’s censure by the US Senate at the end of 1954.

Even more significant was his leadership on the Senate Watergate Committee in the late spring of 1973, investigating the background of the emerging scandal which would bring down President Richard Nixon. The Ervin Committee’s investigation would lead to impeachment charges in the House Judiciary Committee, and Nixon’s ultimate decision to resign.  Ervin became a national hero and gained great publicity at the Watergate hearings with his personal charm and Southern drawl and mannerisms. He was suspicious of the abuse of presidential power, a concern that is ever more significant in the 21st century.


Walter Mondale (D-MN) served in the US Senate for 12 years from 1964 to 1976. He was first appointed to finish out the term of Hubert Humphrey when the latter became Lyndon Johnson’s vice president. Mondale had served as Minnesota’s Attorney General from May 1960 to December 1964, and would leave the Senate in 1976 after being elected Vice President under Jimmy Carter, just as his mentor Humphrey had done 12 years earlier.  Similarly, Mondale served one term as Vice President, and like Humphrey, both of them ran for President and lost, in 1968 for Humphrey and 1984 for Mondale. However, Mondale is seen as perhaps the most active and engaged Vice President; his service under Carter was as close to a “co-presidency” as America has seen. Humphrey, sadly was neutralized under Johnson, which undermined his presidential campaign in 1968. Mondale was able to expand the vice presidential role to include being a presidential advisor and full-time trouble shooter for Carter. He held a vice presidential office in the White House, and had weekly lunches with the president, a tradition which has continued ever since the late 1970s.

While in the senate, Mondale became a leader on such issues as consumer protection, fair housing and desegregation and tax reform. Notably, he was a member of the 1975 Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect To Intelligence Activities, led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, which later led to the creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. After being in private life following his defeat in 1984, Mondale came back to public service from 1993 to 1996, serving as Ambassador to Japan. Mondale has survived post-vice presidency longer than any other vice president, more than 40 years, sharing with his “boss” Jimmy Carter amazing longevity after service in the White House.


Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) served 40 years in the Senate from 1968 to 2009, and was the longest-serving Republican senator until Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah surpassed him in 2017.  Originally appointed to a vacant seat, he was elected to that seat two years later, and won overwhelming victories for reelection until he lost his seat in 2008 in an election that closely followed his indictment and conviction on federal charges of failing to report gifts (the conviction was overturned for prosecutorial misconduct).  He was President Pro Tempore of the Senate from 2003-2007, and was the Chair of several committees during his career, including the Ethics, Rules, Governmental Affairs, Appropriations, and Commerce Committees.  Stevens was also Senate Minority Whip and Senate Majority Whip during the Carter and Reagan administrations, respectively.

Stevens’ key historical role was in the sponsorship and promotion of Alaska’s economic and social development, including the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  He was also notable for his promotion of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which resulted in the establishment of the US Olympic Committee. Stevens also had earlier been engaged in promoting Alaska Statehood and served in the Alaska legislature during the mid 1960s before his Senate appointment in 1968, having lost two Senate bids in 1962 and 1968.


Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) served nearly 20 years in the US Senate, starting in 1974 by appointment, and by election from 1976-1995, after eight years in the Ohio legislature from 1943-1951. Born to an immigrant Jewish family in poverty, Metzenbaum became a successful lawyer and businessmen, and became very wealthy through real estate investments in the Cleveland metropolitan area.  He ran for the senate in 1970 and lost to Robert Taft, Jr. Metzenbaum was appointed to the Senate in 1974, but then lost that year’s Democratic primary for the seat to astronaut John Glenn, who won a general election landslide.  However, in 1976, Metzenbaum defeated Taft, the son of the icon of conservative Republicanism. Metzenbaum would serve in the Senate for the next 18 years until his retirement in 1995. 

Metzenbaum would gain the reputation of being a prominent liberal, highly controversial for his strong convictions and ability to gain and keep the attention of the news media.  He was active on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly on the issues of antitrust and consumer protection legislation.  He became a master of the filibuster tactic, and was a leader in the support of abortion rights for women.  Metzenbaum was also strongly pro-labor, advocating legislation requiring warning periods for large factory closures.  He was active in promoting legislation to prohibit federally subsidized adoption agencies from delaying or denying child placement on grounds of race or ethnicity.  He also was a major promoter of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which mandated federal background checks on firearms purchasers.


George Michell (D-Maine) served in the US Senate from 1980 to 1995, originally by appointment to replace Senator Edmund Muskie, who had been appointed Secretary of State by Jimmy Carter. Mitchell won the seat in 1982, and served two complete terms in the Senate.  Mitchell’s senate service followed a legal career working for the federal government, culminating in appointment as a US District Court Judge by President Carter. He moved up rapidly in senate leadership, and was Majority Leader from 1989-1995. He promoted the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the formation of the World Trade Organization.  He had the opportunity to be appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1994, but passed on it to try to promote President Bill Clinton’s health care legislation, which failed. Mitchell retired at the end of his term in 1995.

But this was not the end of Mitchell’s public career, as he became Clinton’s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland in 1995, brokering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that ended the sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants that had raged since 1969.  Mitchell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his efforts.  He also was engaged in the Middle East peace process, regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, first under Bill Clinton and then later under President Barack Obama, but won no long-term results. Some parties were suspicious of his involvement due to his Lebanese ethnicity.  Mitchell was also on a short list to be Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, and to be Secretary of State if Gore had won (Obama considered him for the same Cabinet post in 2009).  He also was on the board of several corporations, including the Boston Red Sox and Walt Disney Company, and was involved in Major League Baseball’s investigation of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in 2006-2007.  He remains very much involved in public life at age 87.


Dan Coats (R-Indiana) served in the senate twice, from 1989 to 1999 and from 2011 to 2017. The first time, he was appointed to replace Vice President Dan Quayle, and elected in 1990 to serve the remainder of the term, and then reelected for one full term before retiring.  But Coats decided 12 years later to run for his old Senate seat, and served another term until a second retirement.  Previously, Coats had served in the House of Representatives from 1981-1989.  Coats’s voting record in both the House and the Senate can be described as traditionally conservative.  He was highly respected, however, as a serious legislator. After his first Senate stint, he also served as US Ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005, after being on a short list to be the Secretary of Defense.

After his second Senate retirement, Coats served as Director of National Intelligence under Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019.  He had served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Coats often clashed with Trump, as Coats was concerned about Russian meddling in American elections, which Trump denied.  But Coats was courageous in his open criticism of Trump, not only on Russia, but also on North Korea and Iran.  Trump’s meddling with Ukraine’s President to undermine Joe Biden through innuendo seemed to have spurred Trump to announce the dismissal of Coats, because of his clear disloyalty to the Trump agenda, and his willingness to be publicly blunt.  This controversy led to Trump’s first impeachment trial in late 2019. There was speculation, still unproven, that Coats might have been the author of an anonymous letter published by the New York Times in September 2018 voicing criticism of Trump’s foreign policy as dangerous to American national security. Coats is now retired, with a public image of having been a serious leader on intelligence, but unable to affect Donald Trump, who had worked to undermine the intelligence community.


So these six senators, along with the six other senators discussed in the first article of this two part series, prove that beginning a senate career by being appointed does not preclude an impactful career.

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The Connection Between Joe Biden and Robert F. Kennedy



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Robert F. Kennedy has an uncanny connection to the 46th President of the United States.  Their links to each other demonstrate the evolution of the two men, one who might have been President, and one who, after an extended period of trying to become President, has finally ended up in the White House.

First of all, the two men were born on the same day, November 20, RFK in 1925, and Biden in 1942.

Secondly, Biden has a whole group of busts and portraits of many Americans in the Oval Office that he has stated are inspirations, but it is the RFK bust which gets the most attention due to its specific placement behind him when he makes public statements.

The question is why this emotional connection has developed between RFK, who died 53 years ago, and Joe Biden, who in 1968 was 25 years old and starting to plan his political career.

Robert F. Kennedy was born to a wealthy Catholic family of privilege, and never understood for much of his life the struggles of ordinary Americans seeking better lives.  He became humanized by public service under his brother and in the years after JFK’s Presidency.

Joe Biden was born to a struggling Catholic family which went through hard times as Biden went through his childhood.  But both Catholic political leaders moved beyond their traditional Catholic upbringings to evolve over time to belief in Social Justice by different paths.

Kennedy came into public life working for the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, and had a reputation for a hard nosed, highly competitive, and pugnacious personality. But he evolved, after the tragedy of the death of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, to become much more liberal in tone and in actions than his brother had ever demonstrated. 

As a United States Senator, RFK made an issue of the hunger of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta, traveled to South Africa to speak out against the apartheid policy of that white supremacist government, campaigned for better work conditions for Hispanic farm workers in California and elsewhere, and promoted the War on Poverty of President Lyndon B. Johnson, including the promotion of rebuilding urban slums, including the Bedford-Stuyvesant housing renovations in Brooklyn.

 He also came to oppose the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and after hesitating to challenge Johnson in 1968, he campaigned vigorously for the nomination from March 16 to June 5, 1968, when he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles, on the cusp of possibly becoming the Democratic nominee. He had evolved on social justice and human rights, and had formed a rare coalition of all classes and races, including the poor, the middle class, and many wealthy liberals who saw him as a champion who could overcome traditional divisions and alternatives.

Joe Biden was impacted by the death of RFK, and sought a public career in a state where being traditionally liberal was a hard sell, so he developed as a more centrist Democrat of a new generation, elected to the Senate a few weeks before his 30th birthday.  But right after his election, within weeks, he lost his wife and daughter in a horrible automobile accident, and had to care for his two sons who were also injured. As a newly single father, he was ready to give up the Senate seat he had won. But he was dissuaded from doing so by the Democratic Senate leadership, which convinced him to stay on, and by his own sister, who spelled him in taking care of his children.  The emotional support by Senators Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield and others sustained him, and he became a growing factor in American politics over the next fifteen years, but stayed in the center politically.

So Biden gained a reputation as an ambitious moderate, who kept a cozy relationship with the corporate entities, including banks, that used his home state of Delaware as a convenient location for their business dealings, including the issue of credit cards and setting of interest rates.  He supported the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 which made it more difficult for people to go bankrupt, and the credit card industry knew they had a champion in Joe Biden.

His opposition to school busing also reflected the views of a state that had promoted racial segregation over many decades.  He was a vigorous critic of school busing, which was the viewpoint of his constituents, and he was perceived as a critic of de facto segregation patterns. He also was criticized by many liberals in the 1970s and 1980s for his cordial relations with Southern segregationists, such as Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

But he also offered a younger, fresh view on many other issues, and started a Presidential run in 1987. That year he was forced out of the running by his own misuse of the comments and statements of a British Labor Party leader, and his own exaggeration of his academic record. It turned out that his withdrawal was a blessing, as it was followed by emergency surgery for two aneurysms that nearly cost him his life. His second wife nursed him back to health, and after a six month absence, he returned to his duties in the US Senate.

Biden became controversial for his handling of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination in 1991, as he headed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was accused of mishandling the treatment of Anita Hill.  And Biden was controversial over time for his leadership in the passage of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act, and the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, later seen by many observers as racist in nature.

Biden tried again for the nomination for President in 2008, but could not compete against the star power of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Becoming Vice President was a career renaissance in many ways, as Biden became a true partner of Barack Obama, and performed in the Vice Presidency in the same manner as Walter Mondale had earlier under President Jimmy Carter.  He planned to try for President again in 2016, when his older son Beau was stricken with cancer and died in May 2015, forcing him to reject the race. 

But in 2019, feeling a compulsion to work against President Donald Trump, he began a presidential campaign that seemed highly doubtful. Despite his early poor performance and losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina turned around his campaign, and his record of overcoming adversity gave him a renewed sense of mission and commitment, transforming him into a different perspective, just as with Robert F. Kennedy a half century earlier.

Now, as the 46th President, Joe Biden has committed himself clearly to a much more progressive view of many public issues, in a vein similar to RFK in the 82 days of his 1968 campaign and his three and a half years as a US Senator.  In his first Hundred Days of his Presidency, Joe Biden has become a progressive champion who offers the possibility of the most advanced legislative agenda of any Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson six decades ago.  And as he pursues an advanced progressive agenda, Joe Biden has the bust of RFK over his shoulder rooting him on.

Biden is actively promoting the vaccination of Americans against the COVID-19 pandemic, and has more than doubled the 100 million doses he pledged in the first hundred days.  He is actively pursuing a massive infrastructure plan, very bold in nature, and has gained the backing of former skeptics, including Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Biden is also taking leadership on environmental issues, health care reform, voting rights, law enforcement reform, gun violence, immigration reform, women’s rights, and civil rights, and many observers sense America is entering a new Progressive Era, and that Biden has been more active in his first hundred days than any President since Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. 

In foreign policy, Biden is promoting the revival of close relations with our traditional allies, and speaking up forcefully on human rights matters involving our adversaries, including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.  His use of executive orders to reverse much of the damage and harm of the four years of Donald Trump’s Presidency also gives hope of a transformation from the era of Ronald Reagan after two generations of influence.  Biden’s public opinion ratings show a positive image of him prevails, and in polls, the American people support his efforts and initiatives.

The two men, Robert F. Kennedy and Joe Biden, share the characteristics of empathy and compassion, having suffered great emotional losses, but gaining a renewed sense of the importance of humanity and decency in public life.  RFK’s potential career as a renewed leader was cut tragically short a half century ago, but Joe Biden has persisted and endured through many ups and downs personally and politically, and now is able to fulfill his new chance to redeem himself from his past errors and shortcomings. 

The path ahead is unknown, since the Senate is evenly divided and Democrats have only a small margin in the House of Representatives, but it will be a mission to overcome a series of public crises that can be seen as more challenging than even the turmoil of the 1960s. It seems clear that Joe Biden will transform the nation in ways not yet known.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Obama's Reputation With Scholars and the Public Likely to Rise



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


After President Barack Obama left office in 2017, several groups of historians, political scientists, and journalists evaluated how he should be judged in the study of presidential leadership. I published an article on History News Network in February 2019 [] regarding these evaluations. Now in 2021, the aftermath of Donald Trump’s administration will prompt new evaluations, which are likely to benefit the reputation of the 44th president, particularly after having George W. Bush before him and Donald Trump after him in the Oval Office.

These surveys in 2017 and 2018 included the CSPAN Presidential Historians Survey 2017; the American Political Science Association 2018 Poll; and the Siena College Research Institute 2018 Presidential Expert Poll.

The CSPAN Survey included ten “individual leadership characteristics.” Barack Obama started off his post presidency ranking 12th overall on the list of 43 presidents, a very impressive beginning. When analyzed more closely, it turned out that Obama had final scores only 15 points lower than Woodrow Wilson; 18 points lower than Lyndon B. Johnson; and 23 points lower than Ronald Reagan.  Obama was 3rd in “Pursuing Equal Justice For All”; 7th in “Moral Authority”; 8th in “Economic Management”; 10th in “Public Persuasion”; 12th in “Vision/Setting Agenda”; 15th in two categories: “Crisis Leadership and Performance Within Context Of Time”; and 19th in “Administrative Skills.” 

In only two categories was Obama judged outside the top 20 of 43 presidents; he was rated 24th in “International Relations” but glaringly was 39th in “Relations With Congress.”  The fact that Obama had only two years of a majority Democratic Congress effectively undermined his performance, as Speakers of the House John Boehner and Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected cooperation with Obama, forcing the president to govern by executive order on many matters.  Obama, however, enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress from 2009-2011.  These two years have been judged as the most productive since the 89th Congress under President Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-1967).

As time passes, it seems reasonable to conclude that the harsh evaluation of Obama on congressional relations might improve. Had it been judged less severely in 2017, he would have ended up scoring higher than Woodrow Wilson, who has been in decline in historical evaluations in the past generation. This could happen by the next CSPAN survey, which would move Obama up to at least 11th from 12th in CSPAN’s rankings.  But since neither Lyndon Johnson nor Ronald Reagan are not far ahead of Obama in total points, Obama might end up ahead of either or both of them. If so, he could rise to as high as 9th in future CSPAN polls.  In any scenario, Obama’s ranking is likely to improve in the future.

In the American Political Science Association’s 2018 poll, which included Donald Trump after one year in office, experts in presidential politics were invited to participate, but with no specific list of leadership characteristics.  In this survey, Obama ended up in 8th place, above Reagan, Johnson, and Wilson, a possible forecast of the future in new scholarly rankings.  When participants were asked to self identify their party and ideology, Obama was ranked 6th by Democrats and liberals, 11th by moderates, 12th by independents, 16th by Republicans, and 22nd by conservatives.  So even Republicans and conservatives rated him higher than might have been expected.  Additionally, when asked who should be the next president on Mount Rushmore, Franklin D. Roosevelt won a landslide with 65.9 percent of the scholars’ votes, but second was Barack Obama with 7.3 percent.

In the Siena College Research Institute 2018 Presidential Expert Poll, including Donald Trump after one year in office, participating scholars judged twenty different categories.  Overall, Barack Obama was rated 17th. But he was rated 9th in two categories (“Intelligence” and “Communication Ability (Speak, Write)”); 10th in two categories (“Handling of US Economy” and “Avoid Crucial Mistakes”; 11th in two categories (“Imagination” and “Present Overall View”); 13th in three categories (“Integrity”, “Executive Appointments”, and “Domestic Accomplishments”); 14th  in “Court Appointments”; 15th in two categories (“Luck” and “Overall Ability”); 16th in two categories (“Ability To Compromise” and “Leadership Ability”); 18th in “Executive Ability”; and 20th in “Foreign Policy Accomplishments”, putting him in the top half of all presidents on all but four categories.

Obama’s ratings in the Siena poll in three of the four remaining areas were 23rd in “Willing To Take Risks” and “Party Leadership” and 24th in “Background (Family, Education, Experience)”.  The one category where Obama was rated lowest, at 31st, was “Relationship with Congress.” Without that low ranking, Obama would rank substantially higher than some of the presidents above him.

Finally, in the 2018 Pew Research Center (US Politics & Policy) Public Opinion Survey of ordinary American citizens, Barack Obama topped the public’s list of the “Best President of My Lifetime,” followed by Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Obama gained 44 percent support, Clinton 33 percent, and Reagan 32 percent. Millennials approved of Obama at 62 percent and Clinton at 47 percent. Generation X rated Reagan at 45 percent, with Obama slightly behind at 41 percent, and Clinton at 39 percent. Baby Boomers rated Reagan at 42 percent, Obama at 32 percent, Clinton at 25 percent, and John F. Kennedy at 24 percent. The Silent Generation rated Reagan at 38 percent, Kennedy at 25 percent, and Obama at 24 percent. 

Obama’s high approval among younger generations makes it more likely that he will rise in future evaluations to a higher position.  A reassessment of Obama and his relations with Congress seems likely to be a major center of focus for scholars. With the opening of the Barack Obama Presidential Center and Museum in Chicago coming in the next few years, extensive research and analysis of the presidency of Obama will become an area of emphasis in presidential history and political science.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Presidential-Vice Presidential Relationships Aren't Always What They Seem Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


America has had 45 presidents from George Washington to Joe Biden, and has had 49 vice presidents from John Adams to Kamala Harris.  The vast majority of these vice presidents have played an insignificant part in presidential administrations until Richard Nixon played a major role in the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Since then, the vice presidency has evolved and become a much more significant public office, after having been primarily "stand by equipment” in case of a presidential death in office.

But presidential-vice presidential relationships have not been always what they seem, as some vice presidents have suffered in public silence, and only a few have really had a major impact on the presidents they served.  It is instructive to examine these relationships in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The 16 vice presidents being analyzed include: Thomas Marshall under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921); Charles Dawes under Calvin Coolidge (1925-1929); John Nance Garner under Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1941); Henry A. Wallace under Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941-1945); Richard Nixon under Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961); Lyndon B. Johnson under John F. Kennedy (1961-1963); Hubert Humphrey under Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-1969); Spiro Agnew under Richard Nixon (1969-1973); Nelson Rockefeller under Gerald Ford (1974-1977); Walter Mondale under Jimmy Carter (1977-1981); George H. W. Bush under Ronald Reagan (1981-1989); Dan Quayle under George H. W. Bush (1989-1993); Al Gore under Bill Clinton (1993-2001); Dick Cheney under George W. Bush (2001-2009); Joe Biden under Barack Obama (2009-2017); and Mike Pence under Donald Trump (2017-2021).  The level of disagreement and or discomfort of these 16 vice presidents varied, but all of these relationships had some difficult moments.

Thomas Marshall had a very unpleasant eight years as vice president, ignored most of the time by Woodrow Wilson as an ideological rift between the two developed during Wilson’s first term.  When Wilson suffered a stroke in the fall of 1919, Marshall was kept in the dark about his condition, and First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson ran Cabinet meetings, to which Marshall was not invited.  This was outrageous behavior, but reflected the reluctance of Wilson to be cooperative with his vice president.

Charles Dawes had very little contact with Calvin Coolidge. The fact that the vice president won the Nobel Peace Prize for the Dawes Plan (an economic recovery plan for Germany and its World War I debt) apparently did not impress Coolidge. Also, Dawes promoted the McNary Haugen Farm Relief plan, which Coolidge vetoed.  Coolidge ignored him, Dawes did not attend Cabinet meetings, and Coolidge did not encourage any plans by Dawes to pursue the presidency or to run for vice president with Herbert Hoover in 1928.

John Nance Garner, with his background as Speaker of the House and long-term member of the House of Representatives, was put on the Democratic ticket in 1932 to balance the Northeastern nominee, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  But the two men were not close. Garner, being a conservative, did not approve of most of the New Deal legislation and was openly opposed to Roosevelt’s “Court Packing” plan in 1937.  Assuming that Roosevelt would retire in 1940, Garner made clear his intention to run for president, and then was alienated by Roosevelt’s third term bid and refused to stay on the ticket.

Henry A. Wallace became the most active vice president to date from 1941-1945, particularly advocating civil rights, which alienated Southern Democrats.  His promotion of the idea that America could trust the Soviet Union also caused alarm, and Roosevelt steered clear of endorsement of such views.  Pressured by Southern Democrats, Roosevelt agreed to replace Wallace in 1944 with Harry Truman as his running mate for a fourth term. Wallace later broke  with Truman and campaigned against him on the third party Progressive Party line in 1948, criticizing of the Cold War policies of Truman.

Richard Nixon began a new tradition of an activist vice president; President Dwight D. Eisenhower allowed Nixon to take on authority during the three periods that Eisenhower had health issues in 1955, 1956, and 1957.  But Eisenhower had insisted that Nixon explain the “Slush Fund” crisis that arose during the 1952 presidential campaign, and seemed ready to drop Nixon from the presidential ticket if his television appearance did not gain a good public response.  The “Checkers Speech” saved Nixon’s career.  Eisenhower still left open the question of taking Nixon as his running mate for a second term until Nixon asserted himself in a public statement and forced the hand of the president.  And when Nixon explored presidential campaigns after his defeat in 1960, Eisenhower seemed less than enthusiastic, although he ultimately backed Nixon’s campaign in 1968.

Lyndon B. Johnson was allowed to twist in the wind by John F. Kennedy, who failed to utilize Johnson as a political or policy asset, and the open disdain from the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was made very clear.  Johnson was not given any significant role in the administration, and there was some debate about whether he would be invited to be on the presidential ticket in the 1964 campaign.

Sadly, Hubert Humphrey was treated in a similar fashion by Johnson, who threatened to neutralize Humphrey if he did not come out in support of the Vietnam war policy. Humphrey, normally a cheerful, happy man, began to show evidence of the stress he was living under.  This reality definitely undermined Humphrey’s own presidential campaign in 1968, and it caused Humphrey to warn his own protégé Walter Mondale to insist on a major role under Jimmy Carter as a condition of any offer to be vice president.

Spiro Agnew under Richard Nixon was encouraged to attack “liberals” and the news media, but there was also concern by Nixon about Agnew’s growing popularity with conservatives. They had never been close, and Nixon was always concerned about anyone outshining him, due to his own insecurities. There was some consideration of dropping him in 1972, but ultimately he stayed on the ticket.  But when Agnew was exposed in a bribery scandal in 1973, he discovered that Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, was not willing to support him. Agnew resigned in October that year. In later years, when Nixon tried to call him on the phone, Agnew refused to speak to him, indicating a total break.

Nelson Rockefeller’s service with Gerald Ford was first seen as a necessary boost for the two unelected heads of the executive branch (Ford and Rockefeller had both assumed office under the 25th Amendment due to the cascade of resignations).  But while Ford wished to give Rockefeller real authority and influence, Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld negated such action. Ford was pressured by the conservative wing of his party, particularly after the two failed assassination attempts against him in California 17 days apart in September 1975, to choose a more conservative running mate after he defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1976.  Ford later said it was a major mistake on his part, as he believed if Rockefeller was still on the ticket, he might have defeated Jimmy Carter.  Rockefeller had agreed months before the convention to renounce any interest in being part of the 1976 ticket, and found being vice president was far from rewarding personally, although Ford and Rockefeller always had good personal relations.

When Walter Mondale became vice president, he had struck a deal with Jimmy Carter that he would be in on all decisions, would have his own vice presidential office in the White House, and would attend weekly private luncheons with Carter. He became as close to a co-president as America has seen. The Mondale vice presidency became a model for the future, and the two men’s personal relationship survived the end of Carter’s presidency for the next four decades after their joint venture in the Oval Office.  This is why, at Mondale’s recent passing at age 93, there was an outpouring respect and appreciation for Mondale’s contributions and historical expansion of the VP’s role.

But even Mondale and Carter did have issues that divided them, and caused Mondale to consider resigning, or not running for vice president again in the 1980 presidential election.  These were Carter’s mid-1979 “Malaise Speech” and his decision to replace a number of members of his Cabinet. Both greatly upset Mondale, but this dispute was overcome, and the two men remained close friends, visiting each other regularly over the next four decades.

George H. W. Bush had a significant impact on Ronald Reagan’s presidency, due to his expertise on foreign policy, but the two men were not close friends personally.  First Lady Nancy Reagan did not like Second Lady Barbara Bush, which feeling was mutual. So the Bushes were never invited to a private dinner with the Reagans at the White House during the eight years the two men served together.

Dan Quayle did not have much impact on George H. W. Bush during their four year term together, and Quayle’s constant misstatements and blunders made some wonder privately if Bush would replace Quayle in the 1992 campaign, though he did not. But to observers, the two men were clearly not close. When Bush suffered an atrial fibrillation in 1991, it caused alarm at the thought of a Quayle presidency.

Al Gore and Bill Clinton had a good relationship in the 1990s, with Gore particularly influencing Clinton on environmental issues, but it was clear to many observers that Gore had a rivalry for influence with First Lady Hillary Clinton that caused tension at times.  And when Bill Clinton  became enmeshed in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals, leading to impeachment, it caused awkwardness for Gore, who consulted with former president Gerald Ford on how to conduct oneself when the president of the United States is in an impeachment crisis. Despite Clinton being acquitted in the Senate and experiencing high personal popularity, the scandal convinced Gore not to utilize the president during the 2000 campaign as much as one would have assumed. This led to a shouting match between the two in the Oval Office after Gore’s defeat by George W. Bush, and it took an extended period of time for the two men to restore their friendship.

Dick Cheney played a major role in the first term of President George W. Bush, and news media portrayed him as more influential than the president.  But in his second term, Bush curbed Cheney’s power and influence, and refused to give a full pardon to Cheney’s close aide Scooter Libby.  The amount of tension between the two men clearly grew over time, as many people around the president thought Cheney had become a hardliner, making him unpopular in many circles.

Joe Biden was the second most influential vice president after Walter Mondale, and had a similar agreement with Barack Obama as Mondale did with Jimmy Carter.  Biden and Obama had what became known as a  “Bromance”, and they have remained close. However, it was clear that Biden sometimes misspoke or stated policies not yet officially adopted, as when he spoke up for gay marriage in 2012. This caused consternation and surprised Obama, and created some stress and tensions at the time.  Biden’s loose tongue seemed sometimes to make life more difficult for Obama, but overall, it was a positive relationship and experience.

Finally, Mike Pence was a sycophant under Donald Trump, enacting subservience to a president not seen since what Hubert Humphrey endured under Lyndon Johnson. When Pence did his duty and led the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021 to affirm that Joe Biden had won the Electoral College, Trump helped to incite an insurrection at the US Capitol that endangered Pence’s life along with others in the Capitol, and did not communicate with Pence for five days afterward.  Trump has continued to be critical of Pence, who has tried to slough it off and move on, which has added to his image of being too loyal and unwilling to assert himself.  And it is known that Second Lady Karen Pence had disdain for Trump from the 2016 campaign onward, but apparently is remaining silent as Pence considers his presidential ambitions for 2024.

And now, we have Kamala Harris, who seems to be in a close relationship with Joe Biden, similar to Biden with Obama, and Mondale with Carter, but time will show if such a tight relationship will endure.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Governing With an Evenly Divided Senate is a Rare Tightrope Act

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D, AZ) may ultimately decide how much legislation passes the Senate before the midterm elections.



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



Today, America has, for the fourth time, an evenly divided US Senate. Already this has complicated the ability of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party to accomplish their goals.  Senate Democrats need party unity in an unusually urgent way. Passing most legislation under current Senate rules is blocked by the ability of the Republicans to filibuster. While 50 Democrats plus Vice President Kamala Harris could vote to change the rules, two party moderates, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have been prominently opposed to changing the filibuster despite Republican obstructionism.

The tactic of budget reconciliation has allowed the passage in March of the “American Rescue Plan,” and may be pursued for the “American Jobs Plan,” the much-debated infrastructure bill, due to constant refusal of Republicans in the Senate to present a counterproposal close enough to the Biden Administration plan to begin real bipartisan negotiation.  Another major initiative, the “American Families Plan,” a major federal initiative promoting education, healthcare and child care by raising taxes on individuals who earn more than $400,000 in income and on corporations, also faces political barriers.  

It is becoming apparent that only modifying or removing the filibuster, which requires a 60 vote supermajority to move legislation toward a final vote (and thus allows a minority faction to control legislation), will make it possible to accomplish such ambitious goals, the greatest since the Great Society or the New Deal. Likewise for Biden’s goals for civil rights, gun regulation, voting rights, climate change, immigration, the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and education.  What’s more, Biden faces another opponent in the calendar; Republicans are betting on the filibuster continuing to prevent Democrats from passing potentially popular legislation before the midterm Congressional elections in 2022, which historically favor the party opposed to the president.

The average age of current US Senators is 63. Five Senators are older than 80, 25 are in their 70s, and 18 of these 30 Senators are Democrats. There is also concern and alarm over the fact that if one of those 18 Democrats should become incapacitated or die, the Republican Party would hold a majority of the Senate.

The Senate has been evenly split three times in the past, with the 83rd Congress (1953-1955) covering the first two years of the Eisenhower presidency being the most chaotic.  In January 1953 the Senate had 48 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and Independent Wayne Morse of Oregon.  Three senators died in 1953, and six died in 1954, a total number never reached before or since that time. After the death of Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft of Ohio, on July 31, 1953, the Democrats had more members for nearly a year, until July 7, 1954.  However, while Independent Wayne Morse had left the Republican Party, he agreed to caucus with them to keep their majority. The Democrats would not be able to take over leadership in the 83rd Congress.  However, in 1955, with the Democrats controlling the Senate by one vote, Morse finally joined the Democratic Party, although he voted in an independent fashion.

Seven decades earlier, the 47th Congress (1881-1883) convened with 76 Senators from 38 states. With the Democrats and Republicans evenly divided, the two Independents divided their party support. Republicans could rely on the vote of Chester A. Arthur, the vice president under James Garfield, to break the tie. Arthur’s ascendancy to the presidency in September 1881 after Garfield’s death by assassination made the Republican hold on the Senate more tenuous as the vice presidency remained vacant for the remainder of Arthur’s only term, and the Senate elected presidents pro tem from within their ranks.

Most recently, the 107th Congress (2001-2003) under President George W. Bush saw party control of the US Senate switch a total of three times in a two year period.  The Republicans controlled from Inauguration Day on January 20, 2001 until June 6, 2001, when Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont became an Independent and agreed to caucus with the Democrats, switching the Senate from a 50-50 tie to 51-49 Democratic control.  It would remain that way for the rest of the two years in the Senate, although technically, with the Senate out of session, the Democrats lost the majority. Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone died in a small plane crash on October 25, 2002, and interim Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri was defeated at the polls that November.  Her husband, Mel Carnahan, had been elected posthumously to the Senate in 2000, three weeks after he was killed (also in a small plane crash), and she was appointed to the seat until the next regular Congressional election in 2002. Since the Senate was not in session or doing any important business in November and December 2002, the party switch had no consequences.

One must hope that the aging Senate will not see the loss of members of either party, but a death could be politically significant, depending on the timing and the partisan affiliation of the deceased.  History suggests the Democrats, the party in the White House, are likely to lose seats and thus control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.  But two thirds of the seats coming up for election are now held by Republicans, and a number of veteran Republicans are not running for reelection. The Democrats could defy that pattern, win seats, and achieve a solid majority in the Senate for the third and fourth years of the Biden term.  Having a record of popular legislation will be essential in that effort. If the Democrats can’t accomplish enough through reconciliation, scrapping the filibuster may be their only chance.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Eighty-Year Cycle of Existential National Crisis: How Will This One End? Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


America has faced many crises in its 245-year history as a republic (that has, over time, evolved toward a democracy).  History informs us that at 80 year intervals, in 1780, 1860, 1940, and 2020, the nation faced massive challenges, but overcame them within five or more years three times.  Hopefully, in the next few years, the same will happen to the threat to our nation provoked by Donald Trump.

In 1780, America was in the midst of the Revolutionary War, and a crisis arose that could have ended the American Revolution entirely.  Esteemed General Benedict Arnold, who had the full backing and confidence of General George Washington, committed treason, attempting to hand over the military garrison at West Point, New York to the British.  If the treason had succeeded, about 10,000 American soldiers would have come under British control. The loss of West Point to the enemy would have been, in the minds of many military historians, a fatal psychological blow to the Continental Army, and likely, would have changed the course of the war. 

Fortunately, British Major John Andre was captured in September 1780, and the negotiations to turn over West Point were revealed, with Arnold escaping to British lines and participating in later military engagements against the Americans in 1781.  Fortunately, military success was accomplished by US military forces at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia in 1781, and the British gave up the struggle to retain the colonies. Negotiations for peace commenced, with the final Treaty of Paris agreements signed in September 1783.

The new nation had further complications in dealing with the British, who undermined the economic recovery of the nation in the 1780s.  Conflict over the efficacy of the Articles of Confederation led to a decision to hold a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, which led to political and economic stability with the final adoption of the Constitution in 1789.  This marked the end of a difficult decade, but one that would never have happened if Benedict Arnold had succeeded in his betrayal in 1780.

Eighty years after Benedict Arnold’s attempted treason, the United States faced the challenge of a nation bitterly split over the institution of slavery, and the growing sectionalism between North and South.  In a four-way race for the Presidency in 1860, Abraham Lincoln won all Northern “free” states except New Jersey, winning the Electoral College with just under 40 percent of the national popular vote.  Attempts at negotiation to keep the nation together failed in the early months of 1861, and the undeclared Civil War began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. 

This challenge to the survival of the Union went on intensely for four years, with no certainty of Union victory over the Confederacy for much of the war, as the South had more of the outstanding military leaders, including, most specifically, General Robert E. Lee of Virginia.  The challenges to President Lincoln to preserve the Union was overwhelming, with many crises and threats, including on a personal level, and with an extremely high loss of life that tormented him and both Union and Confederate supporters.  The concept of a nation promoting the expansion of democracy, freedom and equality seemed unachievable.

Through all of the ups and downs of the military efforts of the Union, including the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862, the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863, and the long arduous later military engagements which seemed endless, Lincoln overcame political, economic, and diplomatic challenges. He put the Emancipation Proclamation in effect in January 1863, and delivered the inspiring Gettysburg Address in November 1863. More significantly, Lincoln prodded Congress to pass the 13th Amendment ending slavery and send it on to the states for ratification, even as the war came to an end, and Lincoln faced the final threat, which led to his assassination in April 1865. 

Lincoln’s death personified, however, the commitment to freedom and democracy, and the preservation of the Union.  During the next five years, the nation would adopt not only the 13th Amendment ending slavery, but also the 14th Amendment promoting due process, equal protection and African American citizenship, as well as the 15th Amendment promoting the right of African American men to voting.  Also, civil rights legislation was enacted, so the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, as tumultuous as it was, led to the advancement of the goals Lincoln had set.

Eighty years after the election of Lincoln, the United States faced its greatest challenge ever from foreign enemies, with World War II raging in Europe and Asia, and Fascist dictators attacking nations on both continents in alliance against the forces of democracy.  But in America, many political leaders were collaborating with or supportive of these dangerous authoritarians, particularly Nazi Germany, seeing either no danger or a positive inspiration for what should happen in America.  We had such demagogues as Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and many prominent public figures in Congress and the business world think Hitler and other Fascists were no threat to America, even if Europe and Asia were conquered.  Their isolationist beliefs made them believe the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans separating the US from Europe and Asia would keep America safe, or in some cases, thought a Hitler Nazi type government should replace American democracy. 

Fortunately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, after two terms as President, having taken us through the Great Depression, was eligible to run for a third term, as there was no constitutional limitation at that time on terms of office.  Others who were seeking the Presidency in 1940 were seen as inexperienced (Wendell Willkie), or isolationist (Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, and Thomas E. Dewey).  FDR ran against Willkie, who was at least responsible enough to oppose isolationism, and when Roosevelt won his third term, he shepherded the nation through the oncoming war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  And he won a fourth term over the inexperienced Thomas E. Dewey in 1944. 

While there remain controversies over FDR’s military, diplomatic, and political decision making during the years of the war, most historians and political scientists share the belief that FDR was indispensable in the crisis atmosphere that was present in 1940 and the next half decade. The movement toward formation of an international organization (the United Nations) as a way to prevent a third world war was also in process as FDR neared the end of his life in the closing months of World War II.

Eighty years later, in the year 2020, America again faced a crisis that is still in process.  President Donald Trump, arguably elected by Russian collusion in 2016, pursued a demagogic and fascist authoritarian agenda, and attacked the news media, the Foreign Service, the intelligence agencies, the federal bureaucracy and other government agencies, policies, and traditions.  He also promoted nativism, racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and consistently attacked his critics in both political parties in a vicious, dangerous manner, and presided over massive corruption and incompetence.  He also asserted that white supremacists who expressed antisemitism and racism at Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 were “good’ people.  Alarmingly, the vast majority of his Republican Party continued to back him, and ignore the abuses of power and danger to American democracy that many saw present in his four years in office.

But the election of 2020 became even more of a nightmare than the four years leading up to it, as  Donald Trump refused to concede when Joe Biden was declared the victor.  He continues, eight months later, to claim that he won the election, and despite being impeached (with some Republican support for his impeachment and conviction) for his role in inciting the January 6 US Capitol Insurrection, the threat of further violence and a possible coup remains real as America enters the summer of 2021.  

Joe Biden has taken on the massive challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic decline that resulted, and the many other challenges the nation faces after the tragedy of the Trump years. Hopefully, success will prevent Trump coming back to power in 2024.  But the “Big Lie” that Trump won the election still pervades the Republican party, with many believing Trump will be restored to power soon.

The challenges for Joe Biden include restoring our position of world leadership in an environment of authoritarianism spreading around the globe, and meeting the evolving threat of white supremacists and racists working to undermine American democracy.  The willing support of a political party that has sold its soul to Donald Trump, with Republican leaders competing to mollify him in hopes of being his successor if he is unable or chooses not to run in 2024, is a threat to the traditions and longevity of American democracy.  The propaganda promoted by right wing media and social media also threatens the stability of American democracy.

The survival of the United States as a functioning democracy is clearly at stake, including the ability of Americans to insure the facts and truth of science and history are taught in schools and promoted in journalism and public knowledge, rather than right wing propaganda that denies the importance of facts and truth.

Joe Biden has the potential, if he is successful in overcoming the authoritarian challenge of Donald Trump and his supporters, to be seen in the long run of history as influential on the level of George Washington against Benedict Arnold; Abraham Lincoln against the Southern defense of slavery; and Franklin D. Roosevelt against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.  As in those three times in our history, the success of promoting the survival of American democracy will take at least the years until 2025, when the next presidential inauguration takes place. 

The role of historians, political scientists, and journalists in this struggle to maintain and promote democracy, equality, and freedom is a major one as America looks to its future, and as we near the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026!

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Who's Up, Who's Down in the latest CSPAN Presidential Ranking Poll



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



C-SPAN has just issued its fourth Presidential Historians Survey on June 30, following up on three earlier surveys in 2000, 2009, and 2017, and there is lots of food for thought in the results.

First of all, Donald Trump, in his first appearance in a survey after leaving office, is tied with Franklin Pierce for third from the bottom, ranking above only James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson.  Only in three of ten categories of Individual Leadership Characteristics evaluated in the poll does Trump rise above 40th place, reaching 32nd on “Public Persuasion,” 34th on “Economic Management,” and 36th on “Vision/Setting an Agenda.”

Secondly, Barack Obama rose in the overall ranking from 12th in 2017 to 10th in 2021, passing Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson (something I predicted in a May 14 article on History News Network).  Obama rose in six of ten categories, most notably in “Relations with Congress,” his weakest score in 2017, going from 39th to 32nd, a sign that scholars in the future will reassess the complications Obama faced from a recalcitrant House Republican majority for six of his eight years, and a Republican Senate majority for the last two years of his presidency.

Three presidents formerly rated very highly by presidential scholars suffered major losses in status, including Andrew Jackson, who dropped four points to 22nd; James K. Polk, who also dropped four points to 18th; and Woodrow Wilson, who lost two points to 13th.  All three have suffered on issues centered around race, and Wilson’s reaction to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 harmed him in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two Presidents Adams (John and John Quincy) each rose four points from 19th to 15th, and from 21st to 17th respectively. James Monroe and James Madison also have seen their stock rise, with Monroe now 12th and Madison now 16th, so it seems as if the Founding Generation is doing well by comparison to many later presidents.

Ulysses S. Grant continued his dramatic rise in the esteem of scholars, reaching 20th place, when he had been 33rd in 2000, before rising to 23rd in 2009 and 22nd in 2017. Also, quite surprisingly, Chester A. Arthur rose five points to 30th from 35th place in 2017 after being 32nd in 2000 and 2009.  One wonders if Arthur’s ranking went up because of his promotion of civil service reform with the signing of the Pendleton Act of 1883, and his veto of the 20 year Chinese Exclusion Act (he signed a 10 year limit only under great political pressure), as otherwise it seems to make no sense.

Interestingly, the two presidents before Barack Obama had opposite fortunes in this latest poll: George W. Bush rose four points to 29th from 33rd in 2017 and 36th in 2009, and Bill Clinton dropped four points to 19th from 15th in 2017 and 2009, after having started at 21st in 2000 after the Monica Lewinsky Scandal and his impeachment trial. It seems that Trump’s presidency may have helped promote some sympathy for Bush by comparison, and harm for Clinton due to the impeachment issue, while Obama’s presidency may also have harmed Clinton. 

Also, the scandals and impeachments of Donald Trump may also have reflected on the falling status of Richard Nixon, who started off as 26th in 2000, 27th in 2009, 28th in 2017, and now is ranked 31st, below George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, despite Nixon’s many accomplishments.

Finally, we have had ten presidents who served less than a full term, whether by election or succession. None of them, with the exception of John F. Kennedy, who remains 8th, rank higher than 27th  (James A. Garfield, who like JFK, was assassinated).   And only Garfield, Gerald Ford, and Chester Alan Arthur are in the second group of fifteen ranked presidents.  The remaining five (Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore, John Tyler, and William Henry Harrison) range from 35th to 39th on the list. Finally, Andrew Johnson ranks ahead of only James Buchanan, securing the 43rd ranking by a grand total of three points. In Johnson’s case, his impeachment, his racism, and his prickly personality continue to harm his reputation, and the sense is that in the next poll, he may well end up below James Buchanan.

More evaluation of the presidency will follow when other surveys are completed, in the coming months, including the American Political Science Association Poll and the Siena Research Institute Poll.  But Presidential Studies is ensured to be ever more controversial, with plenty of research on the men who have served in that office on the horizon.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Influential Independent and Third-Party Senators (Part 1) Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

The United States has had 76 senators who have been either Independents or represented third parties for part or all of their senate careers. Fourteen have been of historic significance in their contributions in the US Senate.

Four of these political figures served in the senate under different affiliations in the 19th century, ten served since 1900, and two are still present in the US Senate in 2021.  Five of the fourteen are from the New England states, one from New York State, six are from the Midwest, one from the South, and one from the Pacific Coast. This article is the first of two to explain these 14 Senators and their impact on the nation.


Salmon P. Chase of Ohio served in the US Senate from 1849-1855 as a Free Soil Party member. He had been active before his Senate service as an antislavery advocate, frequently defended fugitive slaves in court, and left the Whig Party to help form the Liberty Party in Ohio in 1841.  He helped to recruit former Democratic President Martin Van Buren to form the Free Soil Party in 1848 as its presidential nominee.  He opposed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and helped to form the Republican Party in 1854. 

Chase was the governor of Ohio from 1856-1860, and was a serious presidential contender in the latter year, and was selected by Abraham Lincoln to be Secretary of the Treasury, a key cabinet post with the challenge of the Civil War.  He supported the Radical Republican faction and was chosen to be the 6th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court upon the death of Roger Taney in 1864. He served in that post until 1873, including presiding over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.  Even while Chief Justice, he sought the presidency unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee in 1868, and the Liberal Republican nominee in 1872.  Chase was one of a very few political leaders in American history to serve in all three branches of government.  He died in office while still on the Supreme Court in 1873.


Charles Sumner of Massachusetts served in the US Senate from 1851-1874, including almost four years as a Free Soil Party member to the end of 1854, before joining the newly created Republican Party, which he left in 1870. He opposed President Ulysses S. Grant, and joined the third party Liberal Republican movement until the presidential election of 1872.  Sumner stands out as one of the greatest US Senators of the 19th century, with his highly principled opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854.  Due to the tumultuous “Bleeding Kansas” Civil War over slavery expansion after 1854, Sumner was subjected to a vicious, severe caning on the floor of the US Senate in May 1856 by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, and it took until 1859 for Sumner to return to the Senate due to the psychological and physical effects of the most violent attack in American history by one member of Congress on another.

Sumner became ever more of a firebrand during the Civil War and Reconstruction years, criticizing Abraham Lincoln’s proposed plan of Reconstruction, and advocating for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He was a true advocate of civil rights for African Americans, and a key figure in the promotion of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, as well as the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.  His opposition to the corruption of the Grant Administration led him to support Horace Greeley and the alliance of Democrats and Liberal Republicans in the 1872 presidential election, but then returned to Republican ranks until his death in 1874.


Carl Schurz of Missouri served in the US Senate from 1869-1875, and later served as Secretary of the Interior under President Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877-1881.  Elected as a Republican, he left the party as part of the Liberal Republican opposition to President Grant, and actively worked in 1872 to try to elect Horace Greeley, but later returned to the Republican Party to serve under President Hayes.  He actively worked to promote civil service reform, and he was the Chair of the Liberal Republican convention in 1872.  Schurz had been a German revolutionary in 1848, served as a Union general in the Civil War, and was the first German American immigrant to serve in the US Senate.  Schurz in his later life moved to New York City, and served as Editor of the New York Post and of The Nation magazine, and an editorial writer for Harper’s Weekly. 

Schurz became known for helping to form the Mugwump movement for civil service reform in the 1880s, and helped to elect Democrat Grover Cleveland to the presidency in 1884, in opposition to spoilsman James G. Blaine.  He also was a leading figure in the Anti Imperialist Movement against the US involvement in the Spanish American War and the Filipino Insurrection under President William McKinley at the end of the 19th century, and supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan in 1900.  He remains regarded as one of the most prominent and significant immigrants in public service in American history. Carl Schurz Park in New York City has a monument, and is the site of Gracie Mansion, the New York City Mayor’s official residence.

David Davis of Illinois served in the US Senate from 1877-1883, after an earlier career as the campaign manager of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and then being appointed to the Supreme Court by Lincoln in 1862, serving until his resignation from the high court in the midst of the controversial Rutherford B. Hayes—Samuel Tilden Presidential Election of 1876, removing himself from involvement in that difficult, and divisive election,  where he could have been the decisive vote on the Electoral Commission.  His Supreme Court career for nearly 15 years had been significant on a number of cases.  

Despite having been involved with Lincoln, and being the administrator of his estate after his assassination, he was seen as an independent, and was elected by the Illinois legislature to a Senate term as an independent with no party label, when he resigned from the Supreme Court in 1877. He had promoted the Liberal Republican movement against President Grant in 1872, and had been an announced candidate for that nomination, which went to journalist Horace Greeley.  Due to his independent status, he was named President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1881, after the assassination of President James A. Garfield, putting him a heartbeat away from the presidency had Garfield’s successor, President Chester Alan Arthur, died in the remainder of the three and a half year term.   


The last three independent US Senators in this article were all part of the research done by this author in his first book, “Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).


George W. Norris of Nebraska served in the US Senate from 1913-1943, as a Republican for the first four terms, and then as an independent from 1937-1943. He had earlier served ten years as a Congressman before his Senate service, leading the fight against the power of House Speaker Joseph Cannon (the Revolution of 1910), and he gained a reputation as a leader for progressive and liberal causes in Congress.  He is best remembered as the sponsor of the Tennessee Valley Authority during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, and of the Rural Electrification Act. He also supported labor unions and a non-interventionist foreign policy, opposing World War I as a member of the “Irreconcilables” in the upper chamber, as well as the Treaty of Versailles, and membership in the League of Nations.

He only finally supported intervention in World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, although he expressed shock at the brutality of Japan in China in the late 1930s.   Norris also promoted the 17th Amendment (Direct Election of the US Senate), and the 20th Amendment, shortening the “lame duck” period between election and inauguration of the president.  Norris became a major supporter of FDR until he opposed the President’s Court Packing Plan, retaining his independent streak.  FDR called Norris “the very perfect, gentle knight of American progressive ideals”, and a group of 160 scholars in 1957 ranked him as one of the top five United States Senators of all time. 


Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota served in the US Senate from 1923-1947, as a member of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party for the first three terms, and then as a Republican for his fourth and last term in office.  He was the lone Farmer-Laborite in the Senate, and was able to gain membership on the Foreign Relations Committee.  He became controversial for his opposition to the League of Nations, the World Court, and the Selective Service Act of 1940 while still an Independent in the Senate. 

He also was seen by critics as an extreme isolationist, and as a Republican in his last term, he voted against the United States ratifying the United Nations Charter and participating in that organization after World War II, a major factor in his defeat and retirement after the Senate elections of 1946. However, he had supported, across party lines, much of the New Deal domestic programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first term, while being vehemently against the Court “Packing” Plan in 1937 and pre-Pearl Harbor military and naval buildup in the late 1930s.  He had also opposed US intervention in the Western Hemisphere, including in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, and also spoke out against the unwise Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, which made the Great Depression worse than it might have been.


Finally, Robert M. LaFollette, Jr. of Wisconsin served in the US Senate from 1925-1947, succeeding to the seat of his father, the famed “Mr. Progressive” Governor and Senator. The Senior LaFollette had been a candidate for the Presidential nomination in 1912 and a Progressive Party Presidential nominee for the 1924 election, winning his home state of Wisconsin and about 16.5 percent of the vote nationally.  LaFollette Jr.’s brother, Philip LaFollette, was also Governor of Wisconsin in the 1930s, and the two brothers formed the Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934, with LaFollette, Jr’s last 12 years in the Senate as a member of this Independent party. 

He became a star figure in advocacy of the progressive causes of his father, promoted organized labor, and supported much of FDR’s New Deal, until the rise of isolationism in foreign affairs in the late 1930s.  At that point, LaFollette, Jr. broke with the President, and became one of the leading figures in the America First Movement in 1940-1941, trying to keep America out of World War II.  In his last year in Congress, 1946, before his loss in the Republican primary to future Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, LaFollette Jr. sponsored the crucial Legislative Reorganization Act, which modernized the legislative process in Congress. He and his father stand out as the most prominent father-son team ever to serve in the US Senate.

One final point about these seven Senators—all were reform-oriented Republicans from the pre-Civil War period through the Gilded Age , the Progressive Era, and the New Deal, and all except Charles Sumner were from the Midwest (Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin). Clearly, they came from a reform tradition in the Republican Party, very different than the modern party since the 1980s.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Illinois's 16th Congressional District Has Put Forward Three Important National Politicians



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


The idea that one congressional district could have three historic national figures represent it in the House of Representatives in the past 90 years is startling, but that is the case for the 16th Congressional district of Illinois.

The district is centered around the city of Rockford northwest of Chicago, though its boundaries have changed due to reapportionment. The 16th regularly elects Republicans, and has managed to elect a future Senate Minority Leader in Everett Dirksen, a future independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson, and is now represented by Adam Kinzinger, who is defying his party’s leadership to take part in the select committee investigating the January 6th US Capitol Insurrection.

Everett McKinley Dirksen was a member of the House of Representatives from 1933-1949, followed by service in the US Senate from 1951-1969, when he died in office.  He was Senate Minority Whip from 1957-1959, and Senate Minority Leader from 1959-1969, and played a major role in opposition to the Presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.  He developed a good working relationship, however, with Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, and worked with President Johnson to accomplish the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, helping to break the Southern Democratic filibuster of the 1964 legislation.  He had a florid style of oratory and a rich baritone voice that made him famous; he recorded four spoken word albums of flamboyant speeches that became best sellers.  He also guest starred on many television variety shows.

Dirksen began as a moderate isolationist who supported much of the New Deal but opposed intervention in World War II before Pearl Harbor, and became a strong conservative internationalist and major supporter of Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War.  Dirksen proved that an opposition party leader could keep unity within his caucus,  argue and fight on the floor of the Congress in opposition to the administration, yet be invited to the White House for drinks and discussion of legislative deals in the public interest.  Dirksen was a premier wheeler dealer, arguably the equal to Lyndon B. Johnson in that respect.  Sadly that is no longer viable in Congress in the past few years.  But Dirksen remains memorable and significant in the history of the 1960s and social reform.

John B. Anderson was a member of the House of Representatives from 1961-1981. In 1980, he was the last serious, qualified independent or third party Presidential candidate, running against President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. Anderson won 6.6 percent of the popular vote.  Anderson was the third-ranking Republican, the House Conference Chairman, from 1969-1979.  Starting off as strongly conservative, Anderson moderated on social issues in the later 1960s, and became a major critic of the Vietnam War and of President Richard Nixon after the revelation of the Watergate Scandal.  He supported every civil rights bill that came to a vote, and by 1980 was perceived as quite liberal compared to that year’s Republican presidential aspirants.

Unable to make ground against more conservative and more prominent contenders, Anderson decided he would not seek reelection to the House, and instead would pursue an independent presidential campaign.  He drew the support of college students, more liberal academics, and some prominent public figures, including Gore Vidal, Norman Lear, Garry Trudeau and Paul Newman. He would also win the votes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., although this was not known for many years.  He was able to debate Ronald Reagan in a Presidential debate, due to the polls indicating about 15 percent support, but President Carter would not debate him.  While his performance in the election was disappointing, he had the seventh best performance for a third party or independent candidacy, after Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Ross Perot in 1992, Robert La Follette Sr. in 1924, George Wallace in 1968, James Weaver of the Populist Party in 1892, and Ross Perot in 1996.  His best performance was in the New England states, Colorado, Washington, and Hawaii. He is still remembered as an inspiring political leader in his time.

Adam Kinzinger has served in the House of Representatives since 2011. He was originally elected from the 11th district in 2011, but his district merged with the 16th district after one term due to reapportionment. Now in his sixth term, he represents eastern Rockford, the Rockford suburbs, and a swath of exurban territory around Chicago.  He has served in the US Air Force since 2003, and is now at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, having been in air combat in both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. 

Kinzinger is clearly a conservative on most social and economic issues, but is a true believer in the Constitution, American democracy, and the rule of law.  He has been a harsh personal critic of Donald Trump since the 2016 election, though he actually supported Trump’s position on most legislative votes during the past four years. After the 2020 election, Kinzinger has vehemently opposed Trump’s refusal to accept the election results, criticizing him for promoting a “Big Lie” and calling for the removal of Trump under the 25th Amendment after the January 6 US Capitol Insurrection. Kinzinger voted to impeach Trump for his incitement of that disastrous attack on the “beacon of democracy,” and was one of 35 Republicans (along with all of the Democrats) voting for the creation of the proposed January 6 Joint Commission, which was sunk by the Republican Party leadership’s refusal to cooperate. 

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi promoted a House select committee as an alternative way to conduct the investigation, only Kinzinger and Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming backed the proposal, and now Pelosi has added both to the January 6 Committee in defiance of the Republican House leadership.  Both Kinzinger and Cheney can expect to be subjected to bitter attacks by Republican colleagues, including possible expulsion from Congressional committees and Trump-backed primary challengers in 2022.

But Kinzinger, like Dirksen and Anderson before him, will stand out as a political figure of courage, principle and dignity, making the 16th Congressional district of Illinois proud.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
More Senators Who Impacted Politics Outside the Two-Party System


Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Since World War II, seven US Senators have served all or part of their Senate careers as independents or third party members. Two had a connection with the Republican party, but chose to break away from it; one was always linked to conservatism and often seen as a Republican; two others were Democrats who separated from the party as part of their service, and the last two have been Independents in the Senate from the beginning, although caucusing with Democrats.


Wayne Morse of Oregon served in the Senate from 1945 to 1969, starting off as a liberal Republican, but becoming an independent from 1952-1955, and then completing his tenure as a Democrat from 1955-1969. He was always, at all stages, a true curmudgeon who drew plenty of attention as a rebel who could not be counted on to follow any party line.  While an independent in the first two years of the Eisenhower presidency, Morse conducted the third-longest one man filibuster in the history of the Senate.  He opposed the antilabor actions of the Republicans, which led to the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, and criticized isolationists such as Senator Robert Taft, supporting the Cold War foreign policy of President Harry Truman in the late 1940s.  He also was a leading critic of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was promoting a Red Scare in the early 1950s.  He supported Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience,” which criticized the tactics of McCarthyism.

When Morse broke with the Republican Party in 1952, it affected the upcoming 83rd Congress, which was evenly divided, and saw nine Senators die between 1953 and 1955. Morse caused a loss of Republican control several times in that tumultuous Congress, only the second instance of an evenly divided Senate.  When he allied with the Democrats in 1955, it created difficulties for Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, and then for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s, as he opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which gave Johnson the power to bomb North Vietnam.  Morse made a limited campaign for the Presidency in 1960, but accomplished no success. He became the most outspoken critic of the escalation of the war in Vietnam for his remaining years in the Senate from his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, until he was defeated in 1968 by Republican Bob Packwood.  Morse made many enemies in the Senate, and was always outspoken as an extremely controversial maverick. 


Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia served in the Senate from 1965-1983, succeeding by election to the seat of his father, who had served 32 years from 1933-1965.  Byrd had been a newspaper publisher and a Virginia state senator from 1948 to 1965. A Democrat like his father, but a segregationist and a promoter of massive resistance to racial integration of public schools, he left the Democratic Party in 1970, opposed to what he saw as a “leftward tilt.” Byrd proceeded to become the first independent to win a majority of the popular vote in the Senate election in Virginia in 1970, and remained an independent for the rest of his time in the Senate, though he was allowed to keep his Senate seniority and to caucus with the Democrats.  He served as a leading member of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee.  Byrd had a very conservative voting record, and won reelection as an Independent in 1976, again by a majority vote of Virginians.  He advocated federal fiscal discipline, and contributed regular editorial content to his newspaper chain.  He and his father together were a major part of Virginia politics from 1916-1983, and the party organization dominated during that two thirds of a century.  In retirement, he lived on another 30 years until his death at age 98 in 2013, one of the longest surviving Senators in American history.


James L. Buckley of New York served in the US Senate from 1971-1977, elected in a three way race as the Conservative Party candidate, overcoming the incumbent appointed Republican Senator, Charles Goodell and the Democratic nominee Richard Ottinger, winning only 39 percent of the vote.  The brother of conservative intellectual and writer William F. Buckley, Jr., the leading conservative voice outside of Congress, James Buckley had run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1968 against incumbent Senator Jacob Javits, just as his more famous brother had run unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City in 1965.  Both brothers were proponents of the failed candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964, and both were challengers to the mainstream of the Republican Party in New York.  James Buckley lost reelection to future Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1976, moved to Connecticut and tried unsuccessfully for a Senate seat in that state in 1980, and then was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to a Circuit Court Judgeship on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 1985-1996.

In the Senate, Buckley stood out for proposing a “Human Life” Amendment to protect unborn children, but it went nowhere.  He also was the author of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that governs use of student records. Parents have ultimate rights over their children’s educational records, until a student reaches the age of 18, and gains the right to control who has access to their records.  Student medical treatment records also remain under the protection of FERPA.  Most notably, Buckley was the first conservative political leader to call for the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, doing so in the spring of 1974 before any well known figure, such as Senator Barry Goldwater, had yet moved to call for Nixon to leave the presidency. He remains alive at this writing at age 98.


Jim Jeffords of Vermont served in the US Senate from 1989-2007, after having served as Vermont’s Congressman at Large from 1975-1989, and earlier in the Vermont Senate and as Attorney General of the state.  He made national news when he resigned from the Republican Party and became an Independent months into the 107th Congress in 2001.  His decision to caucus with the Democrats put them into control in June 2001.  As a Congressman, Jeffords was openly progressive, supporting abortion rights, gay rights, environmental reforms, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  As a senator, he supported President Bill Clinton’s failed health care plan, and was one of five Republican senators to vote to acquit Clinton on impeachment charges in 1999.  He worked regularly on legislation regarding education, job training, and individuals with disabilities. 

Jeffords was motivated to switch party affiliation over his opposition to the George W. Bush tax cuts, and the refusal of Senate Republicans to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  As part of the deal to switch party affiliation, Jeffords became the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, losing his Republican Chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which he had headed since 1997. He became only the second Senator from Vermont in history to caucus with the Democratic Party.  He stood out as a Republican for voting against the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991, and for voting in favor of the Brady Bill and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. His voting pattern was unpredictable, but definitely veered to the left of all Republicans, which helped to lead to his party switch, which allowed Democratic control of the Senate for 19 months until 2003. Among his controversial actions after his party switch were to vote against the Iraq War and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.


Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut served in the US Senate from 1989-2013, running as an Independent Democrat for his fourth and last term, as he was defeated in the Democratic Senatorial primary in 2006.  He served in the Connecticut Senate and as state attorney general before being elected to the Senate over Republican incumbent Lowell Weicker in 1988.  Lieberman had the support of many conservatives and Republicans in that race, as Weicker was criticized for his liberal record in the Senate.  Conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. and his brother, former Conservative Senator James Buckley of New York, both endorsed Lieberman, and called him their “favorite Democrat”. He was also the Democratic nominee for Vice President, chosen by Presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, and was the first Jewish candidate on a major party Presidential ticket.   

Lieberman’s record in the Senate was very complex, as he clearly was seen as a moderate to conservative Democrat.  But he supported many liberal positions, including on abortion, gay rights, environmental protection, and the need for health care legislation, although he exercised influence to have the public option in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 removed from the legislation, pledging a vote to overcome the filibuster only if that provision were eliminated.  Lieberman was very hardline on national security, particularly after September 11, 2001, and promoted the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  Many observers saw him as in unison with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the Iraq War and Afghanistan War, and among the most hawkish Democrats in all areas of foreign policy. This helped to cause his defeat in the Democratic primary, and his decision to run as an Independent in 2006, but he was allowed to retain his involvement in the Democratic caucus with the approval of new President Barack Obama after the 2008 election, and continued to head the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs until his retirement in 2013.  This occurred despite his endorsement of John McCain over Obama in 2008, and the indication that McCain had considered him as a running mate in that election.  Lieberman had shown earlier signs of independence when he criticized Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky Affair in 1999, and he consulted with Donald Trump on the possibility of becoming FBI head in 2017, although he ultimately was not offered the position.  Lieberman refused to endorse Obama or Mitt Romney in 2012, but supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 as a former Senator.  Lieberman has continued to be seen as a very controversial, independent legislator, even in the years since retirement.


The final two independents are still in the US Senate in 2021---Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. Both allied with the Democrats, but retained their independence nevertheless.


Sanders has served in the US Senate since 2007, after serving eight terms and sixteen years in the House of Representatives from 1991-2007, after being the mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981-1989.  Sanders has the all-time record for service as an Independent in Congress, now in his 31st year. Sanders has identified as a Democratic Socialist, but pursued the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2016 and 2020. The second Jewish candidate for national office, he is perceived as in line with the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, updated, including labor rights, universal and single payer healthcare, tuition free postsecondary education, and a “Green New Deal” to address climate change.  He is seen as promoting the Nordic Social Democracy common in Scandinavian nations. In foreign policy, he supports reduced defense spending, and more diplomacy and international cooperation.  He was Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2013-2015, and now is Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. 

Sanders was a major challenger to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but endorsed her when she won the nomination, and did the same with Joe Biden in 2020. In both election cycles, he generated significant grassroots enthusiasm and funding from small dollar donors, and continues to have a major impact on Democratic party politics.  He won 23 primaries and caucuses and 46 percent of all delegates, to Hillary Clinton’s 54 percent in 2016.  In 2020, Sanders seemed to have an edge in the early Presidential campaign, but by April, he had withdrawn and endorsed Joe Biden.  His controversial stands, including criticism of Israeli settlement policies and support of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict; opposition to the Patriot Act and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; advocating a crackdown on police brutality and abolition of for profit, private prisons; denouncing of institutional racism and promotion of criminal justice reform; and crackdown on corporations and banks who abuse what he calls the public trust, wins him great support but also great criticism from those who think he is far too radical. His impact on the Biden Presidency is of great significance, as Sanders is attempting to move the President further to the left.


Angus King of Maine has served in the US Senate since 2013, after two four year terms as Maine Governor from 1995-2003, all as an Independent. Before 1993 he was a registered Democrat, and has allied with the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, like to Bernie Sanders. King makes it clear that he is not allied with any political ideology, and is best described as a moderate independent.  He speaks his mind, as when he has made clear his belief that the Senate filibuster, as early as his first year in the Senate, should be modified to make it possible for the Senate to take action.  Liberal groups see King as more of a friend than do conservative groups, and he is seen as near the Senate’s ideological center.  The nonpartisan National Journal has rated King as 59 percent liberal and 41 percent conservative. He supported Donald Trump about 38 percent of the time in his four years in the White House, but has been a very strong critic of Trump’s poor COVID-19 response, which caused Trump to claim King was worse than any Democrat.  King has been one of the strongest proponents of holding Trump responsible for the US Capitol Insurrection of January 6, 2021.

King has served on the Armed Services Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and earlier on the Budget Committee.  He has been particularly outspoken on many foreign policy and national security issues, including his being convinced of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election; his desire to normalize relations with Cuba; his desire for the US government to be more severe in its policies toward China and Saudi Arabia; his support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement; and strong criticism of policy toward Syria and Turkey in the Middle East.  He has expressed alarm over the Climate Change crisis, calling it one of the most serious threats to the United States, and supportive of return to the Paris Climate Accords now occurring under President Joe Biden, after Donald Trump repudiated the agreement.  King has strongly criticized the immigration policy of Trump, including separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border, and has supported reasonable gun regulation legislation to deal with the massive gun violence issue nationally.  He has consistently supported the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and remains a backer of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights.  He has been a supporter of gay rights and same sex marriage, but voted against a mandated $15 an hour minimum wage proposed in 2021 by his colleague Bernie Sanders.  So it is evident that King is complex, and not always easy to label politically, as he has said he is neither a liberal nor a conservative, but rather “an American”.


A final conclusion is clear about this second group of seven Independents in the Senate since World War II   The last four of the seven all come from the New England states (Connecticut, Vermont, Maine), just as six of the seven in the earlier group were from the Midwest (Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin), with Charles Sumner from Massachusetts.   So it is primarily the Midwest and New England that have been the main areas of outspoken independence of thought and action.  Only Harry Byrd Jr. and James Buckley have been rebels from the right side of the political spectrum, while the other 12 have all been, in varying levels, more to the left side of American politics, in their time in the Senate. And Wayne Morse is the only Independent from the Pacific Coast (Oregon), although he grew up in the Midwest state of Wisconsin and was influenced by “Mr. Progressive,” Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. and “The Wisconsin Idea.”

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First-Year Foreign Policy Disasters are a Frequent Feature of the Presidency



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The sad, shocking, and tragic Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in the seventh month of the Joe Biden presidency, after 20 years of American engagement in that nation, is yet another example of a foreign policy disaster in the first year of an American presidency, a heritage going back as far as John F. Kennedy.

The first year of the Kennedy presidency witnessed the failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961. This led to a disastrous Vienna Summit between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, Austria that June, where Khrushchev lectured, threatened, and pointed his finger at Kennedy in a deprecating manner.  By mid-August, the Berlin Wall was starting to be built, and would stand for 28 years until 1989.  Additionally, these foreign policy disasters led Kennedy to promote an escalation of the war in Vietnam, with the introduction of thousands of Green Beret Special Forces to fight an endless guerrilla war in Vietnam.

The first year of the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency witnessed the decision to create a crisis in Vietnam for political reasons, to help Johnson deal with the hawkish image of his Republican Presidential opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.  In the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis, false intelligence reports led Congress, except for two Senators (Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska), to rally around the President and pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964, which gave the president unlimited authority to further escalate the war after his full term inauguration in 1965.  This would lead to the greatest split in American society since the Civil War a century earlier, made Johnson unable to further expand his “Great Society” domestic reforms, and created a massive Democratic Party split leading to the victory of Richard Nixon in 1968.

The first year of the Richard Nixon presidency saw Nixon waiting nine months before announcing his “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam in October 1969, which turned out to be a long drawn out process that continued the war into the first days of the second term in 1973. No one could imagine that the number of American soldiers killed would double under Nixon, when most Americans thought the nation would exit Vietnam much sooner than 1973.

The first year of the Gerald Ford presidency would see the unexpected North Vietnamese attack on South Vietnam in April 1975, and the sudden, tragic flight from the US Embassy in Saigon. This led to the desperate attempt of South Vietnamese, who had worked with US forces, to escape on board the helicopters taking American personnel to safety.  This led to many dying as they dropped off helicopters, and others escaping to the sea and to their tragic deaths, or ending up in “re-education camps’ established by the Communist government of what was now a unified Vietnam. Additionally, with the collapse of Cambodia to the extremist Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces, the world witnessed the Cambodian genocide beginning in April 1975, continuing into the Carter presidency.

The first year of the Jimmy Carter presidency had no major problems, but later there would be the Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, and the Mariel Boatlift from Cuba in April 1980, all which undermined Carter in his attempt to win reelection in 1980.

The first year of the Ronald Reagan presidency saw the harsh rhetoric of the president lead to tensions and confrontation, including Reagan calling the Soviet Union “an evil empire.”  The administration also secretly began to aid the “Contra” rebellion against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Congress would later ban this aid, an edict the administration ignored. In the later years of the administration, this led to the Iran Contra Affair, involving secret sales of arms to Iran to raise funds to support the “Contras.”

The first year of the George H. W. Bush presidency saw no major damaging crisis, as Bush reacted in a calm manner on such issues as the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China in June 1989; the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989; and the invasion of Panama in December 1989.  Bush’s foreign policy expertise and skill was a rare case of early term Presidential leadership.  Many conservatives thought Bush was too “laid back” and unwilling to exploit the events in China and Eastern Europe, but history looks kindly on Bush for his measured responses.

The first year of the Bill Clinton Presidency saw the president inherit a last minute military intervention in Somalia in eastern Africa, where there was a breakdown of law and order. The situation became more chaotic and anarchic, leading, sadly, to a bloody military struggle, and the bodies of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu in October 1993. The US withdrew fully in March 1994. Also, the first attack on the World Trade Center occurred in February 1993, making clear the growing threat of Middle East terrorism.

The first year of the George W. Bush Presidency led to the most dramatic failure in American foreign policy since Pearl Harbor under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941.  The attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in northern Virginia on September 11, 2001 led to a 20-year intervention in Afghanistan, which now has ended up in total disaster after military intervention under four American Presidents.  American foreign policy and national security underwent massive change which still affects all Americans every day. The USA Patriot Act, an emotional action by Congress, led to many civil liberties violations in future years, as it allowed government and law enforcement agencies to detect and deter terrorism in ways many have considered unconstitutional.

The first year of the Barack Obama presidency fortunately had no major blunders, but the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China, North Korea, and the Middle East became major controversies and challenges in the future years of the Obama Presidency.

The first year of the Donald Trump presidency saw major upheaval, as Trump alienated America’s traditional allies in NATO, cozied up to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un, repudiated the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the opening up of diplomatic relations with Cuba, both initiated under Obama,and worked against the Paris Climate Accords.

And now, in the first year of the Joe Biden presidency, we are witnessing the tragic and sudden collapse of the Afghanistan government, leading to a military disaster and potential national security threat. The Taliban, who had housed Al Qaeda before September 11, 2001, now are back in power, and the danger to the American homeland is again a major threat for the future. It brings back memories, particularly, of JFK and the Bay of Pigs, Gerald Ford and the evacuation in South Vietnam, and most significantly, George W. Bush and the September 11 attacks.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Famous Parent-Child Pairs in the US Senate: Part 1-The Republicans \

Senator Lisa Murkowski and father Frank Murkowski, then governor of Alaska, 2003. 



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Since the 17th Amendment established the popular election of U.S. Senators, there have been 8 cases of a parent and a child both having historically significant careers in the upper chamber.

Four of these combinations were pairs of Republicans, and four were pairs of Democrats. This two-part series will discuss the Republicans, and later the Democrats.

Robert M. LaFollette Sr. (1855-1925) and Robert M. LaFollette Jr (1895-1953) gloriously served the state of Wisconsin for a joint total of 41 years in the US Senate, both making major contributions to American history.

LaFollette Sr. (1906-1925) had been the governor of Wisconsin from 1901-1906, and is regarded by most scholars as the most influential and significant governor in American history.  Known as “Mr. Progressive” and “Fighting Bob,” he was the most prominent single figure in the development of the Progressive movement, and made Madison a major center of political reform for long after his time as governor.  He was a leading figure in the Senate on both domestic and foreign policy, and pursued the Republican presidential nomination in 1912.  Later, he was the nominee of the Progressive Party in 1924, and won 16.6 percent of the national popular vote and the electoral votes of his home state.   He became controversial for his opposition to entrance into the First World War, to the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, and his isolationist viewpoints in the early 1920s. He was noted for his emotional rhetoric on the Senate floor on such issues as monopoly capitalism and protective tariffs, his strong opposition to militarism and imperialism, and his support of labor rights and civil liberties. He was able to gain credit for the LaFollette Seamen’s Act of 1915, cooperating with President Woodrow Wilson, but later he vehemently opposed the attacks of the Wilson Administration on civil liberties during and after World War I.

LaFollette was one of five US Senators to be judged by a Senate committee in 1957 to be among the greatest who had served in that body, and portraits were created to honor not only LaFollette, but also Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Robert A. Taft.  A 1982 poll of Senate historians, including this author, came to the conclusion that LaFollette was in a tie with Henry Clay as the greatest Senator in American history. An impressive statue of LaFollette is found in the Statuary Hall in the US Capitol.

His son, Robert Jr, succeeded him in the Senate, and his younger son, Philip, was Governor of Wisconsin from 1931-1933, and from 1935-1939.  He had Presidential hopes after forming the Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934, and formed a failed National Progressive Party of America in the spring of 1938, believing that a new third party could be viable under the incorrect assumption that Franklin D. Roosevelt would not run for a third term in 1940.

Robert M. LaFollette, Jr. (1925-1947) succeeded his father by election three months after the elder LaFollette’s death, having served as his private secretary from 1919-1925.  Like his father, he was a strong supporter of organized labor and promoter of civil rights and civil liberties. He headed what was known as the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee from 1936-1940, which exposed the anti-union tactics of large employers.  He carried the vision and message of his father throughout more than 21 years in the Senate, and crossed party lines to support much of the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-1930s.  But he opposed naval expansion legislation in 1938, and his isolationist bent, shared with his father and brother Philip, made him a leading spokesman for the America First Committee in 1940-1941, working to prevent America from going into World War II before Pearl Harbor.

 His support of his more ambitious brother’s formation of the Wisconsin Progressive Party from 1934-1946 caused criticism and opposition in that state, and helped to cause his defeat in the Republican primary in 1946 to future senator and demagogue Joseph R. McCarthy.  He stayed in Washington in the spring of 1946 to draft and win passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act, which modernized the legislative process in Congress, a blunder that made it difficult for him to campaign effectively for the Republican nomination.  Although he served as a foreign aid adviser to President Harry Truman after his Senate career ended, he had psychological issues, which sadly led to his suicide in 1953.  His brother Philip lived on to 1965, but never held public office after 1938.

Robert A. Taft (1889-1953) and his son Robert A. Taft Jr. (1917-1993) both served the state of Ohio in the Senate for 14.5 and 6 years respectively, a total of 20.5  years of service between them.

Robert A. Taft (1939-1953) was “Mr. Conservative” and “Mr. Republican” in the Senate, as much as Robert M. LaFollette Sr. had been “Mr. Progressive” in his time. Taft joined LaFollette on the list of the five greatest Senators chosen for portraits by a Senate committee in 1957.  Like LaFollette, Taft had presidential ambitions.  Of course, his father, William Howard Taft, had served as the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913), and had been opposed by LaFollette. Sr. in the 1912 battle for the Republican nomination.  The former President would also serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930.  The whole Taft Family made Cincinnati a major political location, like the LaFollette Family did with Madison.

Robert A. Taft sought the Republican presidential nomination three times, in 1940, 1948, and 1952, but his conservative economic views and isolationist foreign policy undermined his candidacy each time, as he was defeated by the “Establishment” Republicans Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, and Dwight D. Eisenhower respectively. He became a leader of the conservative coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats who worked against expansion of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He was a cosponsor of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which undermined the labor union movement, and promoted “right to work” laws, which still exist in many states in 2021.  But at times he surprised, supporting the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, though he opposed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and expressed concern about the evolving Cold War policy of the United States in the early 1950s.  He had served for only a few months as the Senate Majority Leader during the Eisenhower administration when he tragically died of cancer in July 1953. The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon, containing a 10 foot bronze statue and a bell tower, was constructed north of the US Capitol on Constitution Avenue and dedicated in 1959.

Robert A. Taft, Jr. (1971-1976) had served in the Ohio legislature and in the US House of Representatives (1963-1965, 1967-1971) before being elected to his one six-year term in the Senate.  With a political pedigree of a grandfather as president and his father a leading Senator and acknowledged leader of American conservatism, Taft Jr. had a tough act to follow, like Robert M. LaFollette, Jr.  He never stood out like his famous father, coming across as a moderate conservative in his Congressional career. He supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the House, wrote legislation to expand the National Labor Relations Act to cover health care workers, and advocated amnesty programs for those who had avoided the draft in opposition to the Vietnam War.  He waged three Senate campaigns, losing in 1964 and winning in 1970. After losing his seat after one term in 1976, he resigned a few days early to return to law practice.

John Chafee (1922-1999) and his son Lincoln Chafee (1953-    ) both served the state of Rhode Island in the United States Senate for 23 and 7 years respectively, a total of 30 years of service between them.

John Chafee (1976-1999) was a highly decorated and honored Marine Corps veteran of World War II, served as Rhode Island’s governor (1963-1969), and was Secretary of the Navy under President Richard Nixon for almost three and a half years from 1969-1972. After an unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate in 1972, he won election in 1976 to four terms in the senate, dying in office after 23 years of service.  He gained a reputation as a liberal Republican, and stood out particularly for his environmental record, becoming the Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works after 18 years of membership, and remained its Chair until his untimely passing.  He was a recipient of the Lady Bird Johnson Environment Award for his stellar service on that issue.  He promoted the Clean Water Act of 1986 and amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1990, and was an architect of the 1980 Superfund Program to clean up hazardous waste sites and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.  He also authored the Coastal Barriers Resources Act of 1982.

Chafee was very liberal on a multitude of issues other than the environment, including abortion rights, the North American Free Trade Agreement, gun control, and the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.  He opposed the death penalty, school prayer, and the ban on gays serving in the military.  He also supported the expansion of health care coverage, including improving Medicaid, and promoted foster care reform to assist youths in the transition from foster care to independent living, with that program now named after him in honor of his commitment to that issue.  He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000, and has been honored with a guided missile destroyer in the US Navy named after him, as well as a National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island.

Lincoln Chafee (1999-2007) was appointed to replace his father shortly after his death, and then was elected to one term in the Senate from 2001-2007.  Starting his political career in local Rhode Island government, he served as mayor of the city of Warwick, and had announced plans to run for the Senate when his father made known that he would retire after the end of his term in 2000.  So, Chafee was logically appointed to the remaining fourteen months of his father’s unfinished term before being elected himself. Keeping with his family’s political legacy, Lincoln Chafee was also a liberal Republican and active environmentalist.  He was described by conservatives as a RINO (Republican in Name Only), since he was a harsh critic of many of the policies of President George W. Bush.  National Journal rated him in 2006 as the most liberal Republican Senator, and to the left politically of two moderate Democratic Senators. 

He was endorsed while in the Senate by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters for his strong conservation ideas, and was one of a very few Republican Senators to vote against allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  He voted for free trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement; and against the upper-bracket income tax cuts championed by George W. Bush in 2001. Chafee was also pro-choice, for the legalization of same sex marriage, and supportive of affirmative action and gun control while opposing the death penalty.

During his service in the Senate, Chafee was a significant member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposing the authorization of the use of force against Iraq in 2002, a key step in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.  He also served on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  Chafee lost reelection to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, left the Republican Party, and won Rhode Island’s gubernatorial election, holding office, as his father had before him, from 2010 to 2014.  He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but only became a Democrat in 2013. He then became a Libertarian in 2020, and moved across the nation to Wyoming.  While not attracting much attention anymore, Lincoln Chafee is certainly an unusual political figure.

Frank Murkowski (1933-    ) and his daughter Lisa Murkowski (1957-    ) both have served the state of Alaska as Republicans in the US Senate for 22 and 18.5 years respectively, a total of more than 40 years, and counting, of service between them.  The younger Murkowski is the only example of a daughter succeeding to the Senate after her father.

Frank Murkowski (1981-2002) served for almost 22 years in the Senate, until he was elected Governor of Alaska and appointed his own daughter to his seat. This was criticized at the time as an act of nepotism. In the Senate, Frank Murkowksi was clearly conservative in his voting record, including being anti-abortion, anti-gun control, and anti-affirmative action.  He also supported preserving the ban on gays serving in the military, which his daughter voted to repeal (she also was the third Republican Senator to advocate and support gay marriage).  Frank Murkowski was Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 1995-2001, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate majority.  In that role, he fought unsuccessfully for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.  One could conclude that his significance in the Republican Party, coming from the least populous state at the time, was minor, but it would be very different for his daughter Lisa Murkowski, who remains a significant moderate force in the senate, often crossing the aisle in surprising ways.

Lisa Murkowski (2002-    ) has served nearly two decades in the senate, and has had an impact on the institution of the Senate and the Republican party.  She has been a crucial swing vote, and is the second most senior Republican woman behind Susan Collins of Maine.  She had served in the Alaska House of Representatives for almost four years, and had been elected Majority Leader in that body before her Senate appointment.  She served as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 2015 to 2021, and is presently Vice Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  She has also served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Murkowski has never won a majority of the popular vote in her three elections in 2004, 2010, and 2016, since there have been more than two candidates on the ballot each time.  And in 2010, she lost the Republican nomination and waged a write-in candidacy, which resulted in a miraculous victory. The only previous senator to win a write-in campaign was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954.  Murkowski likely faces a strong challenge in 2022, when she is up for reelection, as she refused to support Donald Trump in 2016 or 2020, and voted to convict him of impeachment charges in his second impeachment trial in February 2021.  She called for Trump to resign after the January 6, 2021 US Capitol Insurrection, and questioned whether she would remain a Republican in the future.  She also voted to establish a January 6 bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, but there were not enough votes to form the group. 

Murkowski is seen as to the left of Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia in her voting record, and has irritated both parties through political independence.  She has continued to support abortion rights and Planned Parenthood, and supports expansion of the time frame for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, which was declared dead in 1982.  She has condemned white supremacists and other racist groups, while fully backing Alaskan native and other native American rights, and has strong backing from the National Congress of American Indians.   While she voted against the Affordable Care Act of 2010, she later opposed repealing the law without a replacement plan.  She has evolved from opposition to same sex marriage to support of it, and reversed her father’s opposition to gays in the military.  While she has earlier voted against affirmative action, she has supported transgender rights.  She voted against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in 2017. 

After being against amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 2007, she reversed course and supported a comprehensive immigration bill that offered a pathway to citizenship in 2013.  She also opposed Donald Trump’s decision to build a border wall.   But on the issue of gun rights, she is fully supported by the National Rifle Association, which is further demonstration of her eclectic voting habits.  Finally, on foreign policy, Murkowski has been consistent in supporting Republican views on Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and other controversial foreign policy issues. She has advocated the avoidance of open conflict when possible, but has been particularly critical of the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama.  Overall, Murkowski is perceived as someone who will go against the party line, but is hard to figure out ahead of any controversy.

In summary, it can be stated that Robert M. LaFollette Jr. and Lisa Murkowski both had a significant impact in the Senate, while Robert A. Taft, Jr. and Lincoln Chafee had a lesser impact than their fathers due to their brief tenure in the Senate. No one could really match Robert M. LaFollette Sr.’s impact, but his son had a significant career, and Lisa Murkowski has been far more important than her father. The younger Taft and Chafee had terms of Senate service that were too short to make much impact.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Famous Parent-Child Pairs in the Senate-Part II: The Democrats

The family of Huey Long. Son Russell Long is next to his father. 



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of  Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

This second article examines the four significant cases of fathers and children serving in the US Senate who were members of the Democratic Party, following up on the earlier article on the four cases who were members of the Republican Party.


Huey P. Long (1893-1935) and his son Russell B. Long (1918-2003) both served the state of Louisiana in the US Senate as members of the Democratic Party, with Huey Long serving close to four years before his assassination, and his son Russell Long serving 38 years, as an extremely influential leader in the Senate. So together, the Longs served 42 years in the Senate.

Huey Long (1932-1935) served as Governor of Louisiana before his election to the Senate, and became, in his brief time in the Senate, a highly controversial and influential figure, seen as a potential future Presidential candidate, who might have even challenged Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Long was a populist member of the Democratic Party, vocally critical of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal as not radical enough.  He had a wide following in Louisiana and the nation, seen by many as the spokesman for the poor, but as a fascist demagogue by many other observers.

 Going by the nickname “The Kingfish,” Long promoted the “Share Our Wealth” philosophy, advocating massive federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution.  As Governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, he expanded social programs, and organized massive public works projects in his traditionally poor state.  His aggressive tactics, however, led to him being considered the virtual dictator of the state.  He had established a powerful political machine, and basically was acting as absentee Governor while rabble rousing in the US Senate, to the point that he was seen as a menace to Senate order. 

FDR saw Long as a political threat, and promoted a “Second New Deal” beginning in 1935, incorporating Long’s ideas even after Long’s tragic assassination. Long had gone on a national speaking tour during 1935 and made regular radio appearances, with large crowds attending his rallies.  Over seven million people were members of “Share Our Wealth” clubs across the nation.  After assassination at the Louisiana state capitol in September 1935 (discussed in Chapter 7 of my “Assassinations” book), other family members served in elected office in Louisiana, most notably his son Russell Long, when he reached the minimum age of 30 to serve in the Senate at the end of 1948.

Russell B. Long (1948-1987) was elected to the Senate shortly after his 30th birthday, making him one of the youngest Senators in American history, and served 38 years in the upper chamber.  He would play a highly significant role as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (1966-1981) during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and on through the Nixon, Ford, and Carter Administrations, and also was Senate Majority Whip from 1965-1969.  He played a major role in improving the lives of the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the middle class, as he shaped the tax legislation related to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, welfare and food assistance programs, foreign trade, and tariffs.  He was highly respected by his colleagues for his debating skills and his effectiveness as a committee chairman.  He was the author of the earned income tax credit, the establishment of the employee stock ownership plans, and the Presidential Election fund allowing taxpayers to contribute to presidential campaigns. 

Despite these accomplishments, Long was a Southerner resistant to civil rights, and was judged middling in his views on business and labor, not fully pleasing either economic group.  While he supported basic tenets of the “New Deal,” the ”Fair Deal,” the “New Frontier,” and the “Great Society,” Long signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956 in opposition to the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public schools in Brown V. Board of Education (1954).  Later, he repudiated the manifesto, and supported Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, environmental, and education laws, and backed the Immigration Act of 1965.  He supported ending the poll tax, and backed the extensions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after originally being against the legislation.  He also was one of a dozen Southern Democratic senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and therefore, did not attend the Democratic National Convention that year. He nevertheless became a major backer of  Johnson after the election.  He was also the first Southern senator to hire black staff members in modern times, so he helped to usher in change despite resistance from his white constituency.  And he always gained strong support from African Americans, once they had the right to vote after 1965.  Russell Long certainly had a major impact in his 38 year Senate career, after the abbreviated three and a half years of his father in the Senate.


Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (1887-1966) and his son, Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (1914-2013) both served Virginia as Democrats, although Byrd, Jr. became an Independent who caucused with the Democratic Party for the remainder of his time in the Senate, after winning his father’s seat in a special election, following the elder Byrd’s death. Together, they served a total of about 50 years in the Senate.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. (1933-1965) spent 32 years in the Senate after having been Governor of Virginia from 1926-1930, and established a powerful political machine (The Byrd Organization) which prevailed through his time and that of his son in the Senate.  He had also been a newspaper publisher with great influence in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  He personified the “Conservative Coalition” of Southerners who opposed the goals of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.  He promoted racial segregation in the public schools, and was a leader of the “Massive Resistance” in the South to the Supreme Court decision in Brown V. Board of Education (1954).  He also prevented African Americans from voting by methods including poll taxes and literacy tests, and was clearly a racist and white supremacist without any apologies. 

Despite his reputation, his seniority led Byrd Sr. to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and to be the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  He refused to support Harry Truman in 1948 or Democratic Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and voted against public works bills, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway legislation in the mid 1950s.  As a rebel, he received 15 electoral votes taken from John F. Kennedy by state electors in Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma, in 1960, making the election closer than it might have been.  His main positive legacy was public works in his state, including Shenandoah National Park, and the Virginia state park system.  But his legacy of discrimination remains part of the historical record, including shutting down public schools to avoid integration in the late 1950s, in defiance of federal law.


Harry F. Byrd, Jr, (1965-1983), a newspaper publisher like his father, was a Virginia State Senator from 1948-1965, succeeded his father in a special election to finish his late father’s term, and then was elected to two full terms for a total of 18 years of Senate service.  He saw the decline of the “Byrd Organization” in his first years in the Senate, and left the Democratic Party in 1970, serving his two full terms as an independent.  The policy of “Massive Resistance” was eventually overcome in the courts, but he resisted change, and was the first Independent to be elected to the Senate by a majority of the popular vote, despite having a Democratic and Republican opponent in his two full-term elections.  He continued to caucus with the Democratic Party in the Senate, however, and was allowed to keep his seniority. The younger Byrd continued the very conservative voting record of his father, including strict fiscal discipline on government spending, and like his father, he served on the Finance and Armed Services Committees.  He lived on past the age of 98, making him the 8th longest-lived Senator in American history.  But like his father, he stood in the way of progress and change.


Albert Gore Sr. (1907-1998) and his son Albert Gore, Jr. (1948-) both served Tennessee as members of the Democratic Party, with Gore Sr. serving 18 years in the US Senate after 14 years in the US House of Representatives, and Gore Jr. serving 8 years in the US Senate after having served 8 years in the House. Then, Gore Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States from 1993-2001, and was the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2000, winning the national popular vote, but losing the Electoral College after a disputed vote count in the state of Florida. Thirty-six days went by before the Supreme Court settled the issue in Bush V. Gore in December 2000. Together, the two Gores served a total of 26 years in the US Senate.


Albert Gore, Sr. (1953-1971) was one of three Southern Senators to refuse to sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956.  He proceeded to vote for the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  However, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, looking to protect his reelection prospects. 

With Tennessee moving toward the Republican Party, he lost his seat in 1970, due to the determined support of President Richard Nixon for his Republican opponent.  He became a victim of Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew’s “Southern Strategy”. Gore Sr.’s opposition to Nixon’s appointments of Clement Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court, his opposition to the Vietnam War, and his vote against an amendment promoting prayer in public schools aroused strong opposition in Tennessee. Vice President Spiro Agnew’s campaign swing for Republican opponent William Brock included his description of Gore as the “Southern regional chairman of the Eastern Liberal Establishment.” 

Gore had supported the development of the interstate highway system under Dwight D. Eisenhower, backed many of the “Great Society” programs of Lyndon B. Johnson, promoted Medicare, was a clear critic of Nixon’s Vietnam War policy, and supported a partial nuclear test ban treaty.  Gore Sr. lived on to nearly the age of 91, keeping his reputation as one of just a few Southern Democratic “liberals” in the Senate of his time.


Albert Gore Jr. (1985-1993) (better known as “Al Gore”), brought the Gore name back to Tennessee politics six years after his father’s retirement from the Senate. He won the House seat in 1976 that his father had once held, and in 1984, succeeded Republican Senator Howard Baker. He launched an unsuccessful presidential campaign 1988, as one of the three leading contenders with Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson.  He gained a reputation as a moderate Democrat, since he came from a traditional Southern state still tending more toward Republicans.  He took an interest in the development of the internet, which he termed the “information superhighway” and helped to author the first legislation on that topic.  He also grew to have great interest in the environment and held hearings on toxic waste, climate change, and global warming.  He served on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, and the Armed Services Committee, and was one of ten Democrats in the Senate to support the Gulf War of 1991, under President George H. W. Bush.  He voted against the nomination of Associate Justice William Rehnquist to be Chief Justice, and also voted against Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas for appointments as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

Gore was a critic of gay rights, against a ban of interstate sale of guns, against federal funding of abortion, and supported a moment of silence in public schools to replace outlawed school prayer.  His moderate to conservative stance transitioned toward a more liberal view as he sought the presidency in 1988, and although he did not run in 1992, due to his son’s recovery from an accident, he accepted the vice presidential nomination that Bill Clinton offered to him.  He played a major role on many issues as vice president for eight years, particularly on environmental and technology issues. It was believed that the Clinton-Gore team was the second closest association of a President and Vice President, only topped by Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, though some suspected a rivalry between First Lady Hillary Clinton and Gore. 

When Bill Clinton became enmeshed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it led to an awkward time. Gore visited former President Gerald Ford, claiming it was a social call reflecting his father’s close ties to Ford. But observers believed he was asking Ford for advice on how to handle the impeachment scandal, as Ford had skillfully done with Richard Nixon a quarter century earlier.

Once Gore became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, the strain between the President and Vice President grew, and Gore decided not to have Clinton campaign as much as the President was volunteering to do. After the contested election defeat to George W. Bush, there was bad blood between the two, fed the Clintons’ belief that a more active role for Bill Clinton the campaign might have helped Gore to victory.  Gore never attempted to run again for president, although it was often rumored that he might, and instead became both famous and controversial for his environmental activism, which included the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, an Academy Award for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” the same year, and his constant commitment to the Climate Change and Global Warming movement, for which he has been much criticized by many.


Birch Bayh (1928-2019) and his son Evan Bayh (1955-    ) both served Indiana as members of the Democratic Party, with Birch Bayh serving 18 years, and Evan Bayh serving 12 years for a total of 30 years of service between them in the US Senate.


Birch Bayh (1963-1981) spent 18 years in the US Senate after eight years in the Indiana state legislature, where he was the youngest Speaker of the state house in Indiana history at age 30, first coming to the Senate at age 34.  He hit the ground running, working to promote two constitutional amendments very rapidly, making him the only person outside of the founding generation to have authored two such amendments.  The 25th Amendment, providing for an orderly transition of power in case of death, disability, or resignation of the President was promoted by Bayh, and was passed by Congress in 1965, and ratified by 1967. It played an historic role, guiding the appointment to the vice presidency of Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, and the succession of Ford to the Presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.  The 26th Amendment, giving young Americans 18-21 years of age the right to vote was passed through Congress, and rapidly ratified within months in 1971. Bayh also led attempts to promote the Equal Rights Amendment for women, and the elimination of the Electoral College.  Had the latter worked out, it would have changed American history, preventing popular vote losers George W. Bush and Donald Trump from becoming White House residents.

Bayh was an extremely creative legislator, as he also authored Title 9 of the Higher Education Act in 1972 when the original 1965 law was up for renewal, banning gender discrimination in higher education institutions that receive federal funding. He also wrote the Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention Act, promoting federal protection in the care and treatment of youth in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.  Bayh also supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.  He led the fight against Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell, but backed the appointments of Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell to the high court.  Bayh was added to Nixon’s enemies list, which was later revealed during the Watergate investigations. 

Bayh tried for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1976, but failed to gain any traction.  He had always had to fight hard for his three Senate election victories, as Indiana was a traditional Republican state.  Two of his opponents for reelection were very substantial; William Ruckelshaus later became the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Richard Lugar, later served six distinguished terms in the Senate and was an expert on foreign policy.  In the sweeping victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bayh lost his seat to the undistinguished Dan Quayle, who went on to serve as Vice President for one term under President George H. W. Bush.  So Bayh’s public career ended at age 53, but he continued to lobby for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, until his death in 2019 at age 91.


Evan Bayh was actually named after his father, but used his middle name of Evans without the “s”. The younger Bayh spent 12 years in the US Senate from 1999 to 2011, after being elected Indiana Secretary of State at age 31 in 1986, and as governor two years later. After two four-year terms as governor of the state, he had a very high public opinion rating as he left office, but was ineligible under Indiana’s term limit law to run for a third consecutive term.  Two years out of office, he was elected to the Senate in 1998.  He became a notable figure in the Senate over the next twelve years, although his voting record put him in the more moderate camp in the Democratic Party, in comparison to his father.   He won his two Senate elections by massive margins of 64 percent in 1998 and 62 percent in 2004.  He published his autobiography in 2003, entitled From Father To Son: A Private Life In The Public Eye.

The younger Bayh, following his moderate Democratic stance, was Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council from 2001-2005, a member of the Senate Centrist Coalition, and a founder of the New Democrat Coalition and the Moderate Dems Working Group. He also served on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment For Democracy, a government agency with the stated goal of promoting democracy abroad. Bayh was a strong supporter of the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, and voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2006, despite its controversial nature.  He joined with many senators to endorse the bailout of US financial institutions in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009, highly criticized by many as catering to the elite on Wall Street. 

Bayh stunned many when he withdrew from reelection a day before the deadline in 2019, so no Democrat could announce, and one had to be chosen by the Democratic state party committee.  He also drew criticism for having over four dozen meetings with potential corporate employers in his last year in office, and raising potential conflict of interest concerns.  The fact that his wife had a corporate career also brought up issues of conflict of interest.  Additionally, his committee assignments in the Senate included Armed Services; Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence.  So Bayh had a reputation of being seen by some as more Republican than Democratic. 

Once he left the Senate, he was a part-time contributor for four years on Fox News Channel, which turned heads, and was a messaging advisor to the US Chamber of Commerce.  Bayh explored the idea of running for President in 2008, but later endorsed Hillary Clinton in her race against Barack Obama.  Rumors had it that he was on the short list to be Vice President under Obama, but Obama denied such assertions in his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land.  Bayh tried a comeback to the Senate in 2016, but lost to Todd Young by ten percentage points, 52-42, his first ever defeat in a state where he had previously been seen as unbeatable.


Evaluating fathers and sons among these four Democratic families, it could be said that Russell Long and Al Gore, Jr, were more significant historically than their fathers, while Harry Byrd Sr. and Birch Bayh stand out as more influential and significant than their sons.  So the historical rivalry of a father and son seems to be a balancing act, with some cases the parent, and some cases, the child, being more historically memorable.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Kennedys and the Levins: Two Significant Pairs of Brothers in Congress

Sander and Carl Levin each served Michigan for 36 years in the House and Senate respectively.




Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

Since the 17th Amendment provided for the popular election of U.S. Senators in 1913, there has been only one case of two brothers achieving prominence by serving in the Senate at the same time, and one case of two brothers with one serving impactfully in the Senate and while the other served in the House of Representatives.

One of these pairs is Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), who served New York in the US Senate, and Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (1932-2009), who served Massachusetts in the US Senate. The other is Carl Levin (1934-2021), who served Michigan in the US Senate, and his brother Sander Levin (1931-    ) who served Michigan in the House of Representatives.

Robert F. Kennedy served in the US Senate for only three and a half years before being tragically assassinated while seeking the 1968 Democratic Presidential nomination. He had served as US Attorney General under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and then for about eight months under his brother’s successor in the White House, Lyndon B. Johnson.  RFK was a rare figure in American politics, able to gain the support and endorsement of wealthy people, but also those who were poor or struggling middle class individuals and families. 

RFK spoke up against established norms, and gained the loyal support of African Americans, Latinos, working class whites, native Americans, young people, and those who believed in the cause of civil rights, human rights, and social justice.  He was an eager advocate and participant in Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, visiting the Mississippi Delta to bear witness to the horrendous poverty there and in many other areas of the nation.  He spoke up about the disaffected, impoverished and excluded, and became intimately engaged with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the National Farm Workers Association and the cause of migrant workers.  He was also close to Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader Walter Reuther. RFK traveled broadly around the world, and condemned apartheid in South Africa while opposing the continued escalation of the US war in Vietnam. 

Despite his short time in the Senate, RFK had a tremendous impact on the politics of the 1960s and beyond. His tragic assassination has made two generations and more since his death ponder how this loss affected the cause of justice in the nation. Democratic presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have been unable to implement massive reforms in the tradition of the Great Society.  And RFK’s desire to end the war in Vietnam gave way to two generations and more of constant military interventions around the world, which have not made America safe or respected in many nations around the world.  His loss, however, had a dramatic effect on his younger brother, Ted Kennedy, who continued to promote many of the goals and dreams of RFK. And President Joe Biden today finds inspiration from a bust of RFK, in front of which he is often photographed, indicating his commitment to attempt to accomplish many of the goals of a political figure who shares his birthday, 17 years apart.

Edward M. Kennedy served in the US Senate for 47.5 years, the fourth longest tenure in the history of the chamber.  He became recognized over his long career as a liberal “Lion of the Senate,” due to his long tenure and service, including authorship of hundreds of bills that became law.  He became the champion of American liberalism, and an advocate of economic, social, and racial justice.  But he also was notable for his ability to work with the Republican opposition to formulate compromises that moved the nation forward. 

Ted Kennedy was notable for legislation including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; the National Cancer Act of 1971; the COBRA Health Insurance Provision of 1985; the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986; the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990; the Ryan White AIDS Care Act of 1990; the Civil Rights Act of 1991; the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996; the S-Chip Children’s Health Program of 1997; the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; and the Edward M Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.  His lifetime goal was to promote immigration reform in the early 2000s, as well as universal health care, with the latter making progress forward at his death with the proposed legislation that became the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Recognized as a likely Presidential candidate after the death of his brother Robert F. Kennedy, his hopes were dashed as a result of the tragic Chappaquiddick incident in 1969, in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned.  Kennedy, dogged by the scandal, was unable to make the case for his candidacy when he challenged President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Having overcome the tragedy of both brothers’ assassinations and a serious plane accident in 1964, Kennedy now dedicated the last three decades of his life to becoming a giant figure in Senate history. 

Kennedy became notable for his strong opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991 to the Supreme Court, and was able to prevent Bork’s appointment being confirmed.  He became engaged in foreign policy with the changing Soviet Union leadership in the 1980s, as well as a strong opponent of South Africa’s apartheid policies, as his brother had been twenty years earlier.  He was able to work with Republicans including Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona on major legislation.  He supported fellow Massachusetts political leaders who ran for President, including Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004, and was a major endorser of Barack Obama early in 2008.  The diagnosis of a cancerous brain tumor in 2008 limited Kennedy’s presence in the Senate after the inauguration in 2009, but he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in July 2009.  He came to be seen as the voice and conscience of American progressivism, despite his many personal flaws. 

No Senator ever authored or coauthored as much legislation—an estimated 2,500 bills authored, with 300 becoming law, and 550 more bills coauthored.  The major committee Kennedy served on, and often chaired, was the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He also served prominently on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Many scholars would place Ted Kennedy in the top ten of all time great US Senators, which would surprise those who first regarded him as a lightweight riding on the Kennedy name when he first arrived in the Senate. But he came to carry his own weight and devote nearly a half century to the promotion and advancement of many causes that he believed in.

So the Kennedy brothers together served 50 years in the US Senate, and both RFK in his short time, and Ted Kennedy in his very long career, made a difference in Senate history.

Carl Levin (1979-2015) served as Democratic Senator from Michigan after having served eight years on the Detroit City Council as well as the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.  He had the distinction of being the longest serving senator in the history of his state.  In his years in the Senate, he served on the Armed Services Committee, and was chairman from 2001-2003, and again from 2007-2015.  He also was on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and the Select Committee on Intelligence.  He worked to improve the military by paring unnecessary Pentagon costs and shutting down unneeded bases.  He also worked on the problem of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in post-Soviet states, seeking to lessen the danger of rogue elements acquiring such weapons, and advocated Strategic Arms Reduction treaties with the Russian Federation to lessen the danger of nuclear war. 

Levin was also instrumental in the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, and legislation ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military in 2010.  He also pursued successful legislation addressing the problem of sexual assault in the military in 2013-2014.   Levin led Senate investigations into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq.  His Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 prohibited torture of detainees in US custody and allowed the writ of habeas corpus to be available to detainees, and he led investigations of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He also became the bane of corporate giants such as JPMorgan Chase, Apple, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and American Express, as he held investigations about overseas banking havens and tax avoidance maneuvers as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. 

Levin voted for the resolution to react to the September 11, 2001 attacks by going to war in Afghanistan, but became critical of the war as the years passed, and was opposed to the Afghanistan troop surge in 2009 under President Barack Obama.  He held hearings and questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but also opposed a deadline for withdrawal of all troops, believing in a “limited footprint” and bases in Afghanistan.  At the same time, he opposed the Iraq War as a diversion from the War on Terror, and condemned the Bush Administration’s false claims of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” as the pretext for the war.  As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman after 2007, he supported the idea of setting a withdrawal date of American forces, and commended Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. 

On non-defense matters, Levin was a strong supporter of the Department of Education, promoted environmental advancements, particularly dealing with his home state of Michigan, supported a Patient’s Bill of Rights, and advocated embryonic stem cell research.  Also, there was no more loyal supporter of the troubled auto industry in Michigan; Levin pushed $25 billion in loan guarantees for General Motors and Chrysler.  He was also a strong advocate of gun control measures, was highly rated on civil liberties by the American Civil Liberties Union, and was judged one of America’s Top Ten US Senators by Time Magazine in 2006.  A naval destroyer was named in his honor a year after his retirement from the Senate.  He also founded the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School in 2015, and published his memoir, Getting to the Heart of the Matter: My 36 years in the Senate in March 2021, four months before his death in July 2021. Former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said that Carl Levin had “intellect, integrity, good manners, and an unsurpassed work ethic.”

Sander Levin (1983-2019) served in the House of Representatives for 36 years, the same amount of time as his younger brother Carl, who started and ended his Congressional career four years earlier. Sander Levin had served in local government in Oakland County on and off for two decades, and had lost two gubernatorial elections in the 1970s. But he was finally elected to Congress and represented portions of the Detroit metropolitan area, although the boundaries of the district changed with each census as Michigan lost Congressional seats. But Sander Levin consistently won his district by wide margins in most of the 18 elections that he faced in his years in Congress.  For about a year from 2010-2011, he served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, when the chairman Charles Rangel of New York resigned due to ethics violations.  So the Levin brothers were both chairs of committees at the same time for that year, with Carl Levin the head of the Armed Services Committee.  Such a situation was the only time that has ever occurred in US history.

His major actions in the House of Representatives included being in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee at the time that the Affordable Care Act was passing into law in 2009-2010.  He worked to defeat George W. Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security, and was a leader in the effort to secure a federal bailout to help the domestic auto industry to survive the Great Recession of 2007-2009.  He also promoted environmental protection for the Great Lakes, and assistance to the city of Flint during its lead poisoning crisis. In foreign policy, Levin was a strong supporter of Israel and supported the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated under President Barack Obama. 

So the Levin brothers between them served the amazing total of 72 years in Congress, 36 for each brother.  This is even more impressive than the 50 years of the Kennedy brothers, and even if you were to add John F.  Kennedy’s 14 years in Congress (6 in the House of Representatives and 8 in the Senate), giving the three Kennedy Brothers a total of 64 years, the Levins outdid them in longevity by eight years.

So these two sets of brothers, the Kennedys more famously, and the Levins more in the background, contributed a great deal to American history.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Will New York State Return to Dominating Presidential Elections?  



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

America has had a total of 59 presidential elections since 1789, and it is clear that the state of New York has dominated presidential election history in many different ways.

As the largest state in population from the 1820 census through the 1960 census, it’s not surprising that there have been 29 New York residents nominated for president and 23 for vice president, 52 times a New York resident has been on the presidential ballot.

We have seen nine presidents who resided in New York State, whether elected or succeeding to the presidency by the death of the incumbent (Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and most recently Donald Trump).

We have also seen 11 presidential nominees from New York State who were defeated at election. (DeWitt Clinton, Rufus King, Horatio Seymour, Horace Greeley, Samuel Tilden, Alton B. Parker, Charles Evans Hughes, Alfred E. Smith, Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey and Hillary Clinton).

Eleven vice presidents resided in New York State (Aaron Burr, George Clinton, Daniel Tompkins, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, William Wheeler, Chester Alan Arthur,  Levi Morton, Theodore Roosevelt, James Sherman, and Nelson Rockefeller), and four of these also became president.

We have seen 6 vice presidential nominees who resided in New York State who were on the losing ticket (Rufus King, Nathan Sanford, Whitelaw Reid, William E. Miller, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jack Kemp).

There have also been 8 noteworthy presidential contenders who resided in New York State but failed to win their party’s nomination (Nelson Rockefeller in 1960, 1964, and 1968, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Shirley Chisholm in 1972, John Lindsay in 1972, Jack Kemp in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992, Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and Hillary Clinton in 2008).

No other state comes close to this dominance, with Illinois (9), Ohio (8) and California (6) having only a fraction of the numbers (29) of New York State residents who competed for the Presidency.

In more detail, here are the facts about New Yorkers on Presidential Election ballots:

DeWitt Clinton in 1812 and Rufus King in 1816 represented the two Federalists in a rapidly dying party who were Presidential nominees against James Madison and James Monroe of the Democratic-Republican Party. Rufus King also ran unsuccessfully for Vice President in 1804 and 1808.

The Democratic-Republican Party had Aaron Burr lose in 1796 and win in 1800 under Thomas Jefferson, while George Clinton won in both 1804 and 1808 under Jefferson and James Madison, and Daniel Tompkins won both in 1816 and 1820 under President James Monroe.  In 1824, Nathan Sanford ran and lost in the four party Democratic Republican race as Henry Clay’s running mate.

Once the second party system was established by the 1830s, we would see Martin Van Buren on the Democratic ticket successfully run for Vice President under Andrew Jackson in 1832, win the presidency in 1836, and lose against William Henry Harrison and the Whig Party in 1840.  As the third-party Free Soil candidate in 1848, Van Buren would gain about 10 percent of the vote and help to steer the election to Whig Zachary Taylor.  

The Whigs would run Francis Granger for Vice President in 1836 with Harrison on one of the multi candidate tickets offered as an alternative in that successful election of Van Buren to the White House. Millard Fillmore would be successful as Zachary Taylor’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1848, and then succeed him in the Presidency in July 1850, and later would run as the American (Know Nothing) Party nominee in 1856, winning the state of Maryland and 21.5 percent of the popular vote.

Since the time of the Civil War onward to the Great Depression, New York State nominees became even more prominent on Presidential ballots.  Three straight Democratic Party nominees, Horatio Seymore in 1868, Horace Greeley in 1872, and Samuel Tilden in 1876 lost to their Republican opponents, but Republican Vice Presidential nominees William Wheeler in 1876 and Chester Alan Arthur in 1880 won as running mates of Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield, and Arthur later succeeded to the Presidency upon the assassination of Garfield in 1881.

The Democrats then saw Grover Cleveland as the nominee of their party for three straight elections, winning the Presidency in 1884 and 1892, but losing the electoral vote to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, despite having won the popular vote again.  Levi Morton served as Vice President under Harrison but was replaced due to differences with Harrison, in 1892 by Whitelaw Reid, on what became a losing ticket that year.

As the 20th century began, Theodore Roosevelt, the Spanish American War hero and Governor of New York, became vice president under William McKinley, ascended to the presidency six months later, and then won a full term in 1904. He later was the candidate of the Bull Moose Progressive Party in 1912, gaining 27.5 percent of the national popular vote, winning six states and 88 electoral votes, all-time records for a third party nominee.  New York Supreme Court Judge Alton B. Parker ran as the Democratic nominee in 1904 against fellow New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt, in a race that set a record at the time for popular vote margin, the greatest since James Monroe in 1820.

James Sherman served as Vice President under President William Howard Taft after the 1908 election, but died weeks before the 1912 election, and the 8 electoral votes that Taft and Sherman won in 1912, were cast for Sherman’s replacement on the Electoral College vote, Nicholas Murray Butler, the longtime President of Columbia University in New York City and another New York resident.

Former Governor and Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes nearly won the 1916 Presidential Election against President Woodrow Wilson, but went on to become Secretary of State and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his later career. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt would have his name on the ballot five times, losing the vice presidency as the running mate of James Cox in 1920, but then winning the presidency four times, in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  His Republican opponent in 1940, businessman Wendell Willkie, was a New York resident when he ran against FDR.  Roosevelt had backed the losing Democratic presidential candidate in 1928, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, but later they became bitter rivals.  And when FDR ran for the last time in 1944, he had the New York Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey as his opponent. Dewey lost then, and suffered a shocking defeat to President Harry Truman in 1948.

Not often realized is that Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was living in New York and was President of Columbia University, would remain a New York resident for both of his successful elections to the presidency in 1952 and 1956.  His two term vice president, Richard Nixon moved to New York after losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and won the Presidency in 1968, although he would claim California residency when he ran for reelection in 1972.

Three losing Vice Presidential candidates from New York were William E. Miller, the running mate of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Geraldine Ferraro, the running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984, and Jack Kemp, the running mate of Bob Dole in 1996.

The final battle of New Yorkers came in 2016, when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton competed against Republican nominee and real estate businessman Donald Trump.  It marked only the fourth time that both major Presidential contenders came from New York—the earlier times being 1904 (TR vs Parker), 1940 (FDR vs Willkie), and 1944 (FDR vs Dewey).

With New York State having now declined to fourth rank in population, and the nation’s demographics shifting toward the South and West, it is highly unlikely that any future ballots will have both parties represented by New Yorkers.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Seven Ex-Presidents Have Tried To Reclaim the Office. Will There Be an Eighth?


Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


A year after the election of 2020, Donald Trump flirts with the idea of running for president, claiming that the election was “stolen” by President Joe Biden.  Trump has refused for the past year to do what every contender for the presidency who has lost has done: accept defeat graciously.  Instead, Trump has promoted what is called “The Big Lie.” Despite the participation of two Republicans,  Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, on the House committee investigating January 6, most Republicans in Congress and in Republican states have been unwilling to criticize or challenge him. This includes Kevin McCarthy of California, who stands to become the Speaker of the House if the Republicans were to gain control of Congress in the midterm elections a year from now.

If he ends up running, Trump would be the 8th former president to attempt to return to the office. Only one, Grover Cleveland, was successful.  Three others---Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, and Theodore Roosevelt----ran as third party candidates.  Three others—Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Gerald Ford--- attempted to run after leaving the Presidency, but failed to accomplish that goal.

Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) served one term in the White House as successor to Andrew Jackson, but the Panic of 1837 doomed his Presidency, partly because Jackson’s destruction of the Second National Bank exacerbated the depression. Van Buren was unable to repudiate what his predecessor had done, since he had been vice president under Jackson in his second term.  As a result, Van Buren lost by a landslide in the Electoral College to William Henry Harrison in 1840.

Four years later, Van Buren sought the Democratic Party’s nomination once again. This time, the debate and controversy over the Texas Treaty promoted by President John Tyler forced Van Buren to take a stand on the subject of slavery expansion.  The issue of Manifest Destiny gripped the nation, and prevented Van Buren, who was the frontrunner at the Democratic National Convention, from being able to gain the two thirds majority required for nomination, as he came out against the Texas Treaty.  So instead, James K. Polk, former Speaker of the House, an ardent supporter of the Texas Treaty and Manifest Destiny, became the dark horse nominee of the Democratic Party, and surprised many by his victory for the Presidency over the better-known Whig, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky.

But Van Buren was not stymied by his defeat. After the Mexican War ended in early 1848, and the ensuing debate over the expansion of slavery shaped the 1848 presidential campaign, Van Buren formed the Free Soil Party with others who opposed the expansion of slavery.  This third party, backed by abolitionists, northern “Conscience” Whigs, and northern “Barnburner” Democrats, nominated Van Buren for president, and Charles Francis Adams, a Whig Party member and son of former President John Quincy Adams, for vice president.  They won more than 290,000 votes, about 10 percent of the national popular vote.  The fact that Van Buren was from New York, the state with the most electoral votes,  helped Whig  Zachary Taylor to win the election over Democratic presidential nominee Lewis Cass.  Van Buren split the normally Democratic state vote of his party, actually ending up having about 6,000 votes more than Cass.

Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) served two years and eight months as the successor to Zachary Taylor, who died in office on July 9, 1850.  Fillmore is most remembered for having signed the Compromise of 1850, which Taylor seemed ready to veto.  While there was much controversy over the legislation, and the Fugitive Slave Law included in the legislation, advocates argued it delayed the Civil War by a decade.  Fillmore also made the decision to promote the opening of Japan to the Western world, arranging for Commodore Matthew Perry to take a naval voyage to that nation, with the intention of using force if there was resistance by the Japanese shogun to start diplomatic and economic relations. However, by the time Perry arrived, Franklin Pierce had succeeded Fillmore as president.

General Winfield Scott, a hero of the Mexican War, defeated Fillmore for the 1852 nomination. In 1856, Fillmore was nominated by a third party, as Van Buren had been, but on a very different set of issues opposing slavery’s expansion.  The former president was the nominee of the anti-Catholic and nativist American Party, known colloquially as the “Know Nothings.” But Fillmore, who was out of the country at the time of the convention of the party, did not support the main platform of the party, nor was he a nativist or even a member of the party.  His celebrity as a former president gained him the nomination, but Fillmore never campaigned on the prejudicial issues the party set forth.  Rather, he campaigned for national unity in a time of the struggles over slavery, most notably the miniature civil war of “Bleeding Kansas.”

Fillmore won a surprising 21.5 percent of the national popular vote, and took the 8 electoral votes of Maryland, beating Democrat James Buchanan by about 8,000 votes in that state.  His popular vote was about 873,000, and he became the first of two former presidents, along with Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, to win electoral votes.

Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) served two full terms as president, and is remembered as a great Civil War General.  In his two terms, he advocated for Reconstruction and African American civil rights, but was undermined by widespread political corruption in Congress and among his  appointees, and the Panic of 1873 that lingered on beyond the Grant Presidency.  When the dispute over the contested presidential election of 1876 between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden seemed to have the potential for violence, Grant considered staying on for a brief period if needed, but the dispute was resolved by the Compromise of 1877, which placed Hayes in the White House.

Hayes announced he would not run for reelection in 1880, and Grant decided to make a comeback attempt at that year’s Republican convention.  Grant had a great desire to return to the White House, and was backed by the “Stalwart” faction of the Republican Party, in competition with the “Half Breed” faction for power and patronage.  His biggest supporter was New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, and his leading opponent was Maine Congressman James G. Blaine, who had been the Speaker of the House during the first six of Grant’s years in the White House. 

Grant led on the first ballot, only 75 votes short of the number needed, but the Republican convention turned out to be the longest in the party’s history, requiring 36 roll calls of the states before James A. Garfield, a supporter of Blaine, was nominated.  There had been substantial opposition to the concept of a third term, and Grant personally had expressed growing doubts as tensions grew in the convention hall and balloting continued, until a dark horse, Garfield, finally won the nomination. The fact that Grant was very consistent in delegate votes throughout the long balloting was impressive, but he never was able to gain more than a few additional delegates, and fell short by 62 delegates on the 35th ballot, before Garfield surged to victory.

Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) (1893-1897) is the only president to win, then lose, and then regain the presidency.  In an era of Republican dominance, the conservative Cleveland was the only Democratic president between James Buchanan before the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson in 1913. He is best remembered for supporting the Interstate Commerce Act (1887), supporting a lower protective tariff that only came about in his second term, demonstrating white supremacist views toward African Americans, native Americans, and Asian Americans, intervening in the suppression of the Pullman Strike of 1894 in his second term, and opposing the western free silver crusade headed by William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Cleveland also appointed four Supreme Court Justices in his two terms, and utilized the veto power more times than any president, except for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Cleveland was also an anti imperialist, refusing to annex Hawaii when Benjamin Harrison tried to arrange a treaty as he left office in 1893, refusing to intervene directly in the Cuban war against their Spanish masters in 1895, and opposing the Spanish American War and American intervention in the Filipino Insurrection under his successor, William McKinley.

Cleveland had barely won in 1884 against James G. Blaine, and in 1888, he won the national popular vote by about 90,000, but lost in the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison.  As he left office, First Lady Frances Cleveland proclaimed that her husband would be returning to the White House in four years. Indeed, in 1892 Cleveland easily defeated Harrison and came back for another four year term.  He is the only president, other than Franklin D. Roosevelt, who won four elections, to win the popular vote three times. His greatest victory in popular and electoral votes was gained in his third campaign for the presidency.

Eight years after leaving office, Cleveland toyed with the idea of trying once again, but realizing the great popularity of Theodore Roosevelt, he declined to announce in what seemed clearly a losing year for Democrats. Instead, Alton B. Parker suffered the worst defeat to date of any presidential candidate in the 1904 election.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) served seven-and-a-half years as president, finishing the term of the assassinated William McKinley and then winning a massive victory in 1904.  His mistake was indicating on that election night that he would not run again in 1908. Unwilling to go back on his pledge, he backed Secretary of War William Howard Taft to be his successor. Within a bit more than a year, he became very disenchanted with Taft, who was alienating the progressive wing of the Republican Party in Congress.  Finally, he decided to challenge Taft for the Republican presidential nomination in 1912, and was able to win most of the delegates in the dozen states that had presidential primaries that year, but was unable to prevent the incumbent Taft from winning the nomination for reelection.

Roosevelt had established himself as a progressive and made the term fashionable, promoting use of the Sherman Antitrust Act against corporations, supporting labor rights, becoming the most active and committed environmental president in American history, advocating pure food and drug regulation, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his activities in negotiating the peace treaty in the Russo-Japanese War, promoting the building of the Panama Canal, and becoming aggressive in his policies toward Latin America with the “Big Stick” policy and Roosevelt Corollary.

Now, Roosevelt decided to form a third party, the Progressive Party, also known by its “Bull Moose” symbol, and run a vigorous third party campaign against Taft in 1912, as an alternative to Democrat presidential nominee Woodrow Wilson.  Roosevelt launched a national campaign, promoting the “New Nationalism,” a more advanced platform of ideas than anyone before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” He was seen as a serious third party candidate, with some potential to stage an upset victory.  The attempted assassination of Roosevelt in Milwaukee (covered in Chapter 5 of my presidential assassinations book) forced the suspension of his campaign, but boosted his heroic image.  He had been an extremely popular president, and he would become the only third party nominee to end up second, ahead of the Republican Taft.  He also won the all time highs for a third party candidate of 6 states, 88 electoral votes, and 27.5 percent of the national popular vote, receiving a total of 4.1 million votes.

Roosevelt was interested in running in 1916, but Republican leaders were still furious over his break with the party in 1912, and while the Progressive Party remained viable, he turned down their nomination and supported Charles Evan Hughes.  Even as World War I ended, there were rumors spreading that Roosevelt would contest the presidency in 1920, but he died at the young age of 60 on January 6, 1919.  Many have felt that he would have had a good chance to win the 1920 election, which was ultimately taken by Warren G. Harding.  Roosevelt was always in the competition right up until his demise.

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) served as president during the Great Depression, difficult times exceeded only by Lincoln’s presiding over the Civil War. He seemed unable to figure out what should be done to overcome the worst economic downturn in American history.  Hoover had had a very impressive career as an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson and as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Calvin Coolidge.  But his inability to turn the nation around doomed him in his reelection campaign against Democratic nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, resulting in a massive defeat; Hoover won only six states in the Electoral College.

Hoover wished to restore his reputation, and made sure the Republican Party knew he wished to run against FDR again in both 1936 and 1940, but he did not announce his candidacy or run an active campaign either time, hoping instead to be drafted by the party, but instead Kansas Governor Alfred Landon in 1936 and businessman Wendell Willkie in 1940 were the Republican nominees.  But Hoover was incessant in his denunciations of FDR, who had once been a close friend and had even suggested in 1920 that the Democrats nominate Hoover for president. 

So there was bad blood between Hoover and his successor. Hoover refused to chat with FDR on the way to the 1933 inauguration, and FDR refused to have any contact with Hoover during the more than 12 years of his presidency.  Only when Harry Truman became president was Hoover invited back to the White House to head the Hoover Commission to reorganize the federal government bureaucracy.

Finally, Gerald Ford (1974-1977), who finished the term of Richard Nixon when he resigned in August 1974 and undermined his chances for election to his own term by pardoning Nixon a month later, considered running for president in 1980.  He considered his opponent in the 1976 presidential primaries, Ronald Reagan, to be far too conservative for the electoral prospects of the party.  But he ended up deciding not to run, although Reagan did consider Ford to be his vice presidential nominee; had Ford accepted, it would have been the first time that a president would agree to serve as vice president after being the president. 

But negotiations on the role that Ford would have as vice president broke down, as Ford wanted a co-presidency, which Reagan rejected.  Ford ended up supporting Reagan as the party nominee against President Jimmy Carter, but Ford, being a moderate, was not truly comfortable with Reagan.  Ironically, although Ford had lost to Carter in 1976, once Carter left the presidency, a genuine friendship developed between them, unlike any such example since John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Carter gave the eulogy at Ford’s funeral in 2006.

In the next year’s time, it will likely become clear whether Donald Trump becomes the 8th former president to seek a return to the Oval Office, and whether he follows the trend of failure in such efforts.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Senate Votes Against War Resolutions Have Been Rare; Here are some Noteworthy Ones

US Senators William Fulbright and Wayne Morse (r) during Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the progress of the war in Vietnam, 1966.

Photo Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine (public domain)


Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


At a time when courage seems to be lacking in Congress to uphold basic principles of avoiding war and protecting civil liberties, it is refreshing to look back over the past century and discover examples of US Senators who resisted the popular tide, stood up for their conscience, and voted to oppose what was an overwhelming tide of support for entrance into World War I, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War, and to oppose the Patriot Act as the reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda.

Three Republicans—Robert LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska in 1917 and Mark Hatfield of Oregon in 1991; and three Democrats---Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska in 1964, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin in 2001—all braved condemnation and denunciation, and exemplify what John F. Kennedy called “Profiles in Courage” in his 1956 book.  Interestingly, both Wisconsin and Oregon have had a senator of each party—one Republican and one Democrat—demonstrate true leadership. This bipartisan standard of principle, sadly, is too uncommon in American political history.

Robert LaFollette, Sr., known as “Fighting Bob” and “Mr. Progressive,” and immortalized for the “Wisconsin Idea” that became the foundation of the progressive movement and modern American liberalism, is regarded by many scholars as the greatest state governor in American history.  He has been rated as one of the five greatest US Senators of all time, including by a Senate committee headed by John F. Kennedy in 1957, joining Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Robert A. Taft. The members of that group are all now honored by commissioned portraits in the Senate Reception Room.  LaFollette served 19 years in the upper chamber (1906-1925), had an unsuccessful quest for the Republican nomination in 1912, and then ran as the Progressive Party nominee in 1924, winning his home state in the Electoral College and 16.6 percent of the national popular vote, the third best percentage for a third party in a national election. 

LaFollette fought for all kinds of progressive reforms, and his sons, Robert Jr. and Philip, continued his crusade as Senator and Governor respectively, in the generation after his passing. LaFollette also promoted anti-imperialism and isolationism in foreign affairs, and gained more enmity and fury from critics in this area than any other. In 1917, he started a filibuster in opposition to arming US merchant ships after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare during World War I. This earned him condemnation by President Woodrow Wilson and a campaign in his home state to recall him from his Senate seat, which failed. But LaFollette defied all criticisms, vocally condemning civil liberties violations during the war and after.  His willingness to stand up for what he considered unwise and dangerous abuse of power has made him a hero for the ages.

George Norris was termed “the very perfect, gentle knight of American progressive ideals” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Norris supported the New Deal with enthusiasm.  He served in the US Senate from Nebraska (1913-1943) after ten previous years (1903-1913) in the House of Representatives.  He was perceived as the great progressive reform champion from the Progressive Era through the New Deal years.  He promoted reform of the House of Representatives early on in his career, stripping Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon of his total control over proceedings in 1910, revolutionizing the chamber for the long-term future.  

Then, after being elected to the Senate, he became a staunch noninterventionist, and with LaFollette, opposed President Wilson’s call to arm merchant ships in 1917. He would oppose the Versailles Treaty after World War I, as did LaFollette.  Becoming a staunch Independent in so many ways, he became a leading advocate of the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority during the 1930s, and would cross party lines consistently in support of FDR, except on the Supreme Court “packing” plan, and foreign policy.  But even on the issue of nonintervention, he would eventually back US entrance into World War II, defying the views of other progressive Republicans in that regard, as outlined in this author’s book on Progressive Republicans and the New Deal (Twilight Of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).  Historians recognized his impact and have judged him as one of the top ten US Senators of all time, due to his strong convictions and conscience.  And John F. Kennedy included Norris in his 1956 book, Profiles In Courage.

A half-century later, as the Vietnam War became controversial and American engagement increased, two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon, and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, stood up against the tide and refused to support the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in August 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted immediate action against North Vietnam, after the reported attack on US ships in the Tonkin Gulf, claiming it was an attack in international waters that justified an aerial bombing in retaliation.  The House of Representatives voted unanimously to back the President’s resolution, but the two Senators started a filibuster, which delayed the final vote of 89-2 in the Senate.

Wayne Morse had been elected to the Senate as a Republican with a progressive heritage, having grown up in Madison, Wisconsin, and influenced by the heritage of the LaFollette family.  He moved to Oregon and started his Senate service in 1945, became an Independent in 1953, and then a Democrat in 1955, until his time in office ended after four terms in the Senate.  He was a thorn in the side of Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Johnson.  His controversial career was one of constant debating and promoting use of the filibuster, setting a record for one of the longest such uses of that tactic. Consistently, he advocated labor rights, women’s suffrage, and education, and railed against corporate domination and political corruption. 

Morse spoke up against isolationism and for internationalism in foreign policy, and was highly critical of the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s. Both parties lobbied him when he was an independent serving in a nearly evenly divided US Senate from 1953-1955, before he was convinced to join the Democrats. His relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson when he was Senate Majority Leader was not cordial, as Morse accused Johnson of trying to dictate to the Democratic Senate caucus.

After being critical of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba under President Kennedy, Morse became a major critic of the Vietnam War even before the controversial Gulf of Tonkin resolution, calling it “McNamara’s War,” referring to the Secretary of Defense.  Morse became recognized as a cantankerous, stubborn character, widely disliked and shunned by other senators. He had a reputation of working to uphold Congressional authority over the Presidency.  His fight against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution led him to speak at antiwar rallies over the next few years. After losing his seat in the 1968 election, he attempted two comebacks. In 1972 he failed to win the nomination. He succeeded in 1974, but passed away in July 1974 before he could be reelected to extend his 24 years of service in the Senate.

Ernest Gruening joined Morse in opposition to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964, despite having a much lower profile in the Senate.  Gruening had been appointed Governor of territorial Alaska from 1939-1953, and had been involved in the statehood fight during his time in office and after. When statehood was granted in January 1959, he became one of the first two senators from the new 49th state.  Born of Jewish parents in New York City, Gruening trained to be a medical doctor at Harvard Medical School, but found journalism and politics his passion. He worked for various newspapers, and then became involved in New Deal politics, including in the Interior Department, and as administrator of the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration in the mid-1930s.  As Territorial Governor, he was engaged in defense preparations for Alaska during World War II. 

He was as outspoken as Morse was in opposition to escalation of the Vietnam War, joining Morse to hold up the vote on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution on August 7, 1964.  But he had actually spoken up earlier on March 10, 1964, against engagement in Southeast Asia.  He condemned the expense of the war in a 30 page speech and accompanying exhibits, also critically noting the refugee crisis being created by the war, the immorality of the war, and the drain of blood and treasure caused by engagement.  He continued to speak up for the remainder of his time in the Senate, but was defeated in the primary by future Senator Mike Gravel in 1968. Gruening then ran as an Independent, ending up in third place in the vote count.

Mark Hatfield served two terms as Oregon’s governor (1959-1967) and five terms in the US Senate (1967-1997). He became notable for speaking out against the Vietnam War in 1966 while still governor.  He always saw former President Herbert Hoover as a personal role model, due to Hoover’s pacificism and noninterventionist spirit, which carried on beyond his presidency through involvement in the America First Committee (until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into World War II).  Hatfield witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was unleashed, and it affected his views on peace.

He cosponsored the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment with South Dakota Democratic Senator George McGovern in 1970, which called for an end of all appropriations for the Vietnam War at the end of 1970, and a complete withdrawal of all US forces by the end of 1971.  It was a defiance of Presidential authority against President Richard Nixon and his own Republican party, an act of courage and principle. 

Hatfield voted consistently against military spending bills, as a believer in noninterventionism in foreign affairs.  Ultimately, he stood against the tide for war when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and was one of only two Republican senators to vote against the Gulf War Resolution in 1991, at a time when there was great unity in Congress about engaging in war to remove Iraq from Kuwait. He always stood out as unusual and unique in his votes on all foreign policy matters, but his seniority made him someone who drew attention by utilizing morality and ethics. His prominent religious convictions as an evangelical Christian and his self-proclaimed libertarianism made him someone who could not be ignored.

Russ Feingold was born to a Jewish family in Wisconsin, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He was inspired by the LaFollette family tradition, by his own father, and by his older brother, who was a Vietnam War conscientious objector.  After gaining a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford, he attended Harvard Law School, and was engaged in the Presidential campaigns of Mo Udall and Ted Kennedy.  He served in the Wisconsin State Senate for ten years, and then had three terms in the US Senate (1993-2011).  He became notable for promoting campaign finance reform in the Senate, in tandem with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, and shared the 1999 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award with McCain for that principled stand.

Feingold served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and on the Select Committee on Intelligence.  He gained a reputation as a political maverick with an independent streak.  He became most controversial after the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when he became the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, complaining that its provisions infringed upon the civil liberties of American citizens.  When the bill came up for renewal in 2005, he led a group of bipartisan senators to remove some of the more controversial provisions, and ultimately led a filibuster against renewal in 2006, but the Senate voted to overcome the filibuster by a 96-3 vote.  In 2009, a further extension of the Patriot Act led to his continued opposition, since it failed to promote adequate civil liberties protections that Feingold thought essential. 

Feingold also voted against authorization for President George W. Bush to use force in Iraq, in 2002, arguing against military action based on false pretenses.  In 2005, he called for withdrawal of troops to begin, and wanted the end of the involvement in war by the end of 2006.  He also moved to censure Bush for violations including illegal wiretapping and mismanagement of the Iraq War, accusing him of an assault on the US Constitution.  Unfortunately, he lost his seat in the US Senate in 2010 to Ron Johnson, and again lost to Johnson in 2016.  But his principled stands on war and civil liberties made him a hero with courage and principle worthy of praise.

So these six US Senators, three Republicans and three Democrats over a period of a century, fought against the tide on matters that made them unpopular, but their consciences, morality and ethics governed their courageous responses. They should all be recognized as heroes in American history.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Strained Relationships between Presidents and Vice Presidents are Nothing New



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The United States has had 45 presidents of the United States, and 49 vice presidents.  The relationship between presidents and vice presidents has not always been easy or supportive, with the understanding that presidents have great authority, and vice presidents are considered historically as insignificant and powerless.

 So the news that former vice President Mike Pence, belatedly, finally made clear his disagreement with President Trump regarding the issue of the Electoral College vote count on January 6, 2021, brings to mind that while it seemed on the surface that Trump and Pence had a cordial relationship, with Pence being very obsequious and sycophantic with Trump, clearly it was a difficult relationship in private.

And it brings to mind how many times a vice president has been either openly or quietly critical of the president they served under, in or out of office. For a total of 19 times, there have been difficult relationships between the top two officeholders in American history.

To begin with, we have the case of President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson  (1797-1801), with the odd circumstance that Jefferson was Adams’ opponent in the first ever contested presidential election in 1796.  The two men were once friendly colleagues, and would again become cordial after retirement, but had a very testy, strained relationship in their term of office, as Jefferson opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and joined with James Madison in issuing the defiant Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response.  The two men competed against each other again in 1800, and Adams was so embittered by his defeat that he refused to attend the inauguration on March 4, 1801.

After that same election, Jefferson’s running mate Aaron Burr contended that the two men had tied in electoral votes, forcing the decision to the House of Representatives. Alexander Hamilton promoted Jefferson, leading to the fatal duel between Hamilton and Burr in 1804.  Jefferson was furious with Burr for creating the constitutional crisis, refused to communicate with him during the four years of the term, and dumped him when he ran for reelection in 1804.

John Quincy Adams had John C. Calhoun (1825-1829) as his vice president, but the two men did not get along, particularly on the issue of the 1828 Tariff. Calhoun called this “The Tariff of Abominations.” He wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest that year, promoting the concept of nullification and secession.  Calhoun switched his support to Andrew Jackson in 1828, serving as his vice president from 1829-1832. Jackson was not aware that Calhoun had authored the controversial document, which would lead to a break between Jackson and Calhoun, starting at the Jefferson Day Dinner in 1830 and continuing to 1832. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky intervened to stop the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833 from leading to secession and potential civil war; Calhoun resigned from the vice presidency with three months remaining in the term.

James Buchanan’s vice president John C. Breckinridge (1857-1861) had strained relations with him, as he had supported incumbent President Franklin Pierce at the Democratic National Convention in 1856, and then switched to support Stephen Douglas.  While Breckinridge did some sustained campaigning for Buchanan, the two men were never very close and had very few meetings during the four years of the term. Rarely did Buchanan consult Breckinridge on patronage appointments.  Breckinridge went on to run for president when Buchanan decided not to run for reelection in 1860.

Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president (1861-1865), had a good working relationship with Lincoln during their four year term, but did not visit the White House very often, had little influence on Lincoln, and for some unknown reason, did not get along with the First Lady.  So Lincoln chose to replace him with Andrew Johnson in an attempt to gain Democratic votes for the election of 1864 against General George McClellan, whom Lincoln had dismissed for incompetence in battle.  Hamlin missed being president by six weeks, but clearly would have been a better president than Andrew Johnson.

Charles Fairbanks, Theodore Roosevelt’s vice president in his full term (1905-1909), was hostile to Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” progressive agenda, as he was a strong conservative.  Roosevelt had earlier labeled him a “reactionary machine politician,” and refused to give Fairbanks any significant role in his administration. Roosevelt backed Secretary of War William Howard Taft to be his successor in the 1908 campaign.  As a result, Fairbanks backed President Taft in 1912, over Roosevelt’s third-party “Bull Moose” Progressive candidacy.

Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson’s vice president (1913-1921), had a very difficult relationship with Wilson.  Wilson refused to give Marshall any significant tasks, and growing animosity emerged as Wilson developed a strong dislike for his vice president.  After Wilson suffered a stroke in the fall of 1919 Marshall was kept out of the loop as to Wilson’s health conditions. First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson conducted cabinet meetings, and Marshall was not utilized to try to win support for the controversial Versailles Treaty and League of Nations membership. There was a push for Marshall to take authority as “acting president,” but Marshall was unwilling to antagonize Wilson, whom he never was able to visit until the last day of the term.  This was a constitutional crisis, due to Wilson’s stubborn personality, but did not lead to action to prevent similar future crises of succession in cases of presidential incapacity. Only after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 did Congress move toward the adoption of the 25th Amendment in 1967, a half-century after the Wilson debacle.

Calvin Coolidge’s vice president Charles G. Dawes (1925-1929) was not able to get along well with Coolidge; Dawes promoted the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief legislation during the term, but Coolidge vetoed it.  They became alienated from each other, and Dawes declined to attend cabinet meetings.  Dawes hoped to be the running mate of Herbert Hoover in 1928, but Coolidge made it clear that he would consider his nomination to be an insult.  The fact that Dawes, while vice president, had shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, for promoting the Dawes Plan, which allowed Weimar Germany to restore and stabilize its economy, did not help the relationship between the two men.

John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president in his first two terms (1933-1941), was a southern conservative, who had competed against FDR in 1932, but agreed to be his running mate. Garner disagreed on much of FDR’s New Deal programs, including New Deal deficit spending, the enlargement of the Supreme Court proposal of 1937, and the response to sit-down strikes and other labor policies in the late 1930s.  Garner also was angered by FDR’s attempt to purge Southern conservative House members in the midterm elections of 1938.  Garner assumed FDR would not run again in 1940, so began a campaign for the presidency. Not until the summer of that year did Roosevelt engineer a “spontaneous” call for his nomination at the Democratic National Convention, further alienating Garner. So FDR ran for his third term with Henry A. Wallace as his vice president.


Lyndon B. Johnson’s time as vice president under John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was an unhappy period, as the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, worked against Johnson having any real impact on the policies of the administration. This came about after RFK tried to convince his brother to withdraw the offer to make Johnson the vice presidential nominee in 1960.  There were rumors that Johnson might be dropped from the ticket in 1964, as President Kennedy was campaigning in Florida and Texas the week before his assassination in November 1963.

Johnson, unfortunately, treated his vice president Hubert Humphrey (1965-1969) very poorly, demanding total loyalty and making him campaign on the escalation of the Vietnam War, a policy about which Humphrey had doubts.  Humphrey was under constraint, and it undermined his presidential candidacy in 1968.  But Humphrey did have a major role in promoting Johnson’s Great Society programs.  Humphrey later advised his fellow Minnesotan Walter Mondale to get a guarantee of having direct engagement if he was to be Jimmy Carter’s vice president, based on his own sad experiences under Johnson.  Mondale was fortunate that his impact on Jimmy Carter was massive, and that he was close to being a “co-president.”

Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president (1969-1973), found that Nixon did not wish him to be deeply engaged in policy, and was often irritated by Agnew’s independent nature and outspokenness.  While Nixon had Agnew do his dirty work and go after the news media and liberal politicians, the president felt that Agnew was becoming too popular with conservatives, and considered dropping him from the ticket in 1972 and replacing him with John Connally.  Ultimately, Agnew stayed on the ticket, but with the growing Watergate Scandal and the revelation Agnew had taken cash bribes as governor of Maryland and even as vice president, Nixon allowed Agnew to “swing in the wind,” refusing to back him when the first hints of the Agnew troubles emerged. Agnew resigned under fire in October 1973.  The two men never spoke again; when Nixon once called Agnew, Agnew’s wife informed Nixon that her husband did not wish to speak with him, having felt that he had done Nixon’s dirty deeds, and then been totally abandoned.

Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford’s appointed vice president (1974-1977), had an unhappy time in that office. Ford had promised him a significant role in the administration, but allowed Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld to undermine the influence of the more liberal Rockefeller, whose three presidential campaigns had alienated much of the base of the party in the runup to the 1976 election. When Ford was twice threatened by women assassins in September 1975, it caused horror among conservative supporters of Ronald Reagan that Rockefeller might have become president. By the end of 1975, as Ford faced Reagan’s challenge from the right, Rockefeller took himself out of the running. Ford accepted Senator Bob Dole of Kansas as his running mate to please the Reagan wing of the party at the Republican National Convention in 1976.  But later, after losing to Jimmy Carter, Ford expressed the belief that he had made a mistake in not insisting that Rockefeller run for the full term. 


George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan’s vice president (1981-1989), was careful not to antagonize White House staff, keeping a low profile and avoiding any criticism of the administration.  His experience in foreign policy was a strength, and he won support by staying in the background when Reagan was shot in March 1981, rather than asserting himself.  Bush played a significant role as a two-term vice president, but interestingly, he and his wife were never invited for a private dinner at the White House with the Reagans over the eight years they shared the leadership of the nation.  It seems that Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush did not get along well personally, and the fact that Bush had contended for the nomination with Reagan in 1980, and had been highly critical of Reagan in the primaries, apparently had an impact.

Dan Quayle served as George H. W. Bush’s vice president (1989-1993), but gained a reputation for multiple gaffes, and was often an embarrassment in debates and public statements.  When Bush had a health crisis, it caused many to worry about the effect on the stock market, at the thought of the possibility of Quayle becoming president.  There was consideration of dropping Quayle in 1992, but Quayle stayed on the ticket, and one can never know if that hurt Bush’s campaign for a second term in a three-way contest with Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot.

Al Gore served as Bill Clinton’s vice president (1993-2001), and had a major impact on Clinton on environmental issues, and on the development of the internet as an “information superhighway.” But he had to contend with the influence of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, which was often seen as a barrier.  When Clinton became engaged in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals, and faced investigation and impeachment proceedings, it put Gore on the spot, trying to keep a balance between loyalty to the president, and the need to separate himself from Clinton.  This convinced Gore to avoid using Clinton during his 2000 presidential campaign; many believe this hurt Gore in his very close election contest with George W. Bush.  It became known that after his defeat, Gore and Clinton had a major confrontation in the Oval Office, each blaming the other for the loss.  Their relationship after the presidential years took a period of time to be restored.

Dick Cheney served as George W. Bush’s vice president (2001-2009). With his experience as a former Congressional leader and Secretary of Defense under Bush’s father in the early 1990s, he was perceived as more knowledgeable and more aware of details than Bush was.  Many believe that the younger Bush’s terrorism and war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan were constructed by Cheney, with the assistance of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  The vice president became regarded as the most powerful and assertive vice president in modern memory.  In the second term, however, Bush asserted himself to a greater extent, and Cheney’s influence and desires were often pushed to the sideline.  So while they remained a team, the influence and assertiveness of Cheney dwindled over time.

And finally, Mike Pence (2017-2021) was extremely obsequious and sycophantic with Donald Trump, although it was known that Karen Pence, the Second Lady, had problems and issues with Trump.  So the fact that it took Pence a full year before he finally spoke up against Trump’s role in stoking the January 6, 2021 insurrection, which credibly threatened Pence’s own life and that of his family, is startling to many.  With Trump’s enduring popularity with the Republican base, Pence’s own presidential prospects seem dim.  But at least, Pence finally showed some principle regarding the horrific events of January 6.

Pence is only the most recent of 19 vice presidents who have had serious disagreements or difficult relationships with the president they served with; whether POTUS and VP get along has historically been close to a coin toss.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Why Two Congresswomen, Generations Apart, Stood Alone Against the Tide of War

Portrait of Jeannette Rankin by Sharon Sprung, House of Representatives Collection



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

The first ever Congresswoman, Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana (1917-1919, 1941-1943), had the courage to speak up and vote against both World War I and World War II, making her very distinctive in the history of the House of Representatives.

Nearly a century later, Democrat Barbara Lee of California (1998-Present) had the courage to speak up and vote against the authorization of the use of force after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which led to the war in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and the Taliban government in that nation.

Both Rankin and Lee resisted the overwhelming tide of war in a moment of deep conscience and strong principle, and both should be regarded in American history as true pioneers of opposition to what they saw as the war machine.  A look at both of these courageous women’s evolution toward their principled stands is instructive of what is too seldom witnessed in American political history.

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) was the first woman to hold federal office in American history.  Born in Montana territory, she grew up on a family ranch, and graduated with a biology degree from the University of Montana in 1902.  She lived in San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle, entering the new field of social work, and becoming active in the women’s suffrage movement.  Becoming noticed for her activism, she ran a campaign for the US House of Representatives.  With her brother being an influential member of the Montana Republican Party, she campaigned all over rural areas, running as a backer of progressivism, emphasizing her suffrage work, social welfare, and liquor prohibition. 

She became a national celebrity by becoming the first woman to serve in either house of Congress. Little more than a month after her two year term began, Rankin became one of 50 House members and 6 US Senators (including Robert LaFollette Sr. and George Norris, leaders of the progressive movement) to vote no on Woodrow Wilson’s call for war against Germany in World War I. She was more bitterly criticized than others, clearly because she was a woman working against the norm of male control of Congress.  She also pushed the adoption of what would become the 19th Amendment, after most individual states had adopted suffrage and women had contributed a great deal to the war effort. 

Rankin left Congress after her two year term, taking her notoriety as a war opponent to work for progressive causes from outside the government. She supported the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, the first social welfare program for women and children and a forerunner of Social Security.  She also became a peace advocate, promoting pacifism and opposing FDR’s attempts to offer support to Great Britain against the growing threat of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.  She testified before Congressional committees against preparedness measures, including fortification of the Guam territorial base in the Pacific as a protection against a potential threat from Imperial Japan. 

Rankin was back in Congress in 1941 after campaigning for the seat she had left 22 years earlier.  And when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Rankin stood out as the only member of Congress to vote against the war resolution FDR offered the next day. Met with hisses from the House chamber, she was pursued by reporters, and took refuge in a phone booth until Capitol police arrived and took her to her office. There she was inundated by telegrams and angry phone calls, but she stood tall in her pacifist beliefs.  She later abstained in the vote on the war declaration on December 11 against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but her loss of popularity made her give up the idea of running for reelection.  She never regretted her stand on war. 

A generation later, however, pacifists, feminists, and civil rights advocates rallied around her symbolism as a woman of strength and principle, and Rankin led an antiwar march in January 1968 against Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War.  A statue of Rankin representing Montana is located in the National Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, and a replica is in the Montana state capital in Helena.  And she was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Barbara Lee (1946-  ), an African American, has served as a Democratic member of Congress from California since 1998 and is now in her 12th term and 24th year representing Oakland and the northern part of Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay area. Born in El Paso, Texas, Lee moved with her family to southern California as a teenager, had two children while still in her teens, and eventually found herself when she attended and graduated from Mills College in Oakland. Lee then gained a Masters in Social Work from the University of California, Berkeley.

Lee first became engaged in politics at Mills, working on Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 Presidential campaign and serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that year. She was a California state legislator from 1990-1998, serving in the State Assembly for 6 years and in the State Senate for 2 years. She then replaced her mentor, Congressman Ron Dellums, for whom she had been a staff member before her state legislative service.  Lee won election easily, and has never had a difficult election campaign, as her district is the most Democratic in the state, and 4th most Democratic nationwide. 

Lee made news by being willing to challenge American foreign policy consensus. Only three years into her Congressional service, she became an outlier when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In lieu of a declaration of war, President George W. Bush called for Congress to pass an “Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists” (AUMF) on September 18. She stated that she believed the AUMF granted the President overly broad powers to wage war at a time when the facts regarding the situation were not yet clear.  She was concerned about an open-ended war with no exit strategy or focused target. 

The reaction against Lee was massive, angry and hostile, and she was accused of being a “traitor” and a “communist”.  Conservative newspapers and editorials were highly critical. She got round-the-clock plainclothes police protection from the US Capitol Police after receiving death threats. Lee has voted consistently against military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and continued to seek repeal of the AUMF, passing an amendment to do so out of committee in 2017 and steering a bill for repeal through the full House in 2021. A generation after her first courageous actions, the Senate has not taken action to withdraw the AUMF.

Drone strikes and the detention of so-called enemy combatants at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terrorist suspects are being held indefinitely for a generation, without access to civilian courts has been, unfortunately, the outgrowth of national policy under three Presidents since George W. Bush.  Lee also has tried, unsuccessfully, to promote revocation of the War Powers Act of 1973.  She supported President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in August 2021.

Lee has served as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (2009-2011), the chair emeritus and former co chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (2005-2009), and co-chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee since 2019.  She has served on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees.  Now aged 75, she has said she intends to remain in the Congress for the long run.

Both Jeannette Rankin a century ago, and Barbara Lee in the 21st century are models of courage and determination, and expand the image of strong women willing to take a stand no matter what fierce opposition they engender.  They are a model for women in politics in the American future.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Reputation of Presidents Takes a Hit in Their Second Term


Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


America has had 15 presidents who have won reelection, one out of every three chief executives.

The thought of running for reelection motivates all presidents, but the historical record demonstrates that with the exception of James Monroe (The Era of Good Feelings), Abraham Lincoln (assassinated six weeks into his second term), and William McKinley (also assassinated six months into his second term), being reelected to the Presidency has been a disappointment, and has affected the overall historical reputation of the individual presidents. So while the other 12 presidents had some second-term achievements, they also had a great deal of heartache and many setbacks.

George Washington’s second term (1793-1797) presented the internal uprising known as the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.  Washington also saw factional politics and political parties, which he vehemently opposed, becoming part of the American government. When Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in 1794 to form the Democratic-Republican Party, in opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party, both domestic and foreign policy abandoned the unity that Washington had wished to continue.  The negotiation of the Jay Treaty, when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court traveled to the former “mother country” of Great Britain led to anger and division at home. Washington was even hanged in effigy, a shocking sign of bitter division over the treaty.  Additionally, Washington’s tough policy toward Citizen Edmund Genet and Citizen Pierre Adet, the ambassadors sent from France, created further division that fueled the bitterness of the presidential campaigns of 1796 and 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson’s second term (1805-1809) was complicated by warfare in Europe and on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea between Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and Great Britain.  The American expectation of “freedom of the seas” in wartime led to crises between the United States and both nations, and the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807 led to the danger of direct warfare with Great Britain.  Instead, Jefferson promoted the Embargo Act of 1807, cutting off all trade with Europe and causing an economic depression which lasted until the inauguration of Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, in 1809.  Additionally, former Vice President Aaron Burr became the center of controversy when he was brought to trial for reported collusion with Spain to take away some of the US’s western territory.  Jefferson and Burr had been at odds since the disputed election of 1800, and Burr had been dropped as vice president for Jefferson’s second term.  Burr was brought to trial for treason, and found not guilty in a trial presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, a cousin of Jefferson who had a totally different view of the Constitution. So the political controversy that erupted after the 1803 Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison continued, and Jefferson left office under a cloud.

James Madison’s second term (1813-1817) witnessed the mostly disastrous War of 1812, with the White House and the US Capitol attacked by the British in the summer of 1814.  Madison was perceived as an ineffective wartime leader, and Federalist opposition held the Hartford Convention, which proposed anti-Southern measures including the threatened secession of the New England states.  Madison’s inconsistency about the National Bank and the protective tariff led to further division. Madison belatedly realized that the Federalist ideas of Alexander Hamilton made sense after the experience of the war, so he promoted the revival of the National Bank and the tariff in 1816 as he was getting ready to leave office. Certainly in historical perspective Madison’s influence over the Constitution was greater than as president.

Andrew Jackson’s second term (1833-1837) became highly controversial as he set out to destroy the Second National Bank.  He had to go through three Secretaries of the Treasury to accomplish this goal, which helped lead to the Specie Circular and the Panic of 1837 as he left office, damaging the political chances of his successor Martin Van Buren.  Jackson’s forced removal of five Indian tribes to Oklahoma (the Trail of Tears), was a horrendous violation of human rights, and his working to prevent abolitionists from sending their antislavery literature through the US Mail helped to besmirch his image as a spokesman for “the common man,” as he came across to principled Americans as a demagogue. He also faced the first recorded assassination threat in January 1835 at the US Capitol. Emotions were always high around Jackson, who came across as confrontational, and was regularly controversial in his utterances and his actions in office.

Ulysses S. Grant’s second term (1873-1877) included the Panic of 1873, as well as constant corruption and scandals involving appointees in various government agencies.  This included two Cabinet officers, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of Interior. Grant seemed naïve and clueless in many of his appointments and associations. The Republican Party lost the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1874, and the upcoming presidential election of 1876 resulted in the closest possible electoral vote result in American history. The negotiated Compromise of 1877 put popular vote loser Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House over Samuel Tilden.   Grant’s presidency would be viewed as the most corrupt until the regime of Warren G. Harding.

Woodrow Wilson’s second term (1917-1921), was a significant disappointment following the many domestic reforms of his first term. With America’s entrance into the First World War, Wilson showed a narrow minded, authoritarian bent, including a refusal to recognize the contributions to the war effort by African Americans and support for white supremacy. The expansion and formation of government agencies during the First World War threatened civil liberties during wartime and after. Wilson created the Committee on Public Information to control war information, and promote pro-war propaganda.  The military draft became highly controversial, and critics of the war, including Socialist Eugene Debs, were jailed. Debs was not released until President Warren G. Harding granted amnesty in 1921.  The Espionage Act of 1918 and the Sedition Act of 1918 criminalized antiwar activity.

Additionally, Wilson refused to work with the Republican opposition after they gained control of the Senate in the midterm elections of 1918.  Instead, he campaigned across the nation for the much criticized Versailles Treaty and membership in the League of Nations.  This led to to the tragic 1919 stroke that left him incapable of leadership, but Wilson refused to allow any knowledge of his medical condition to be given to Vice President Thomas Marshall.  While Wilson was incapacitated, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, authorized an attack on civil liberties, and what became known as the “Palmer Raids” anchored the first great “Red Scare” in modern America. Thousands of suspected radicals, socialists or Communists were denied the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and were detained for months in late 1919 and early 1920, an attack on the Bill of Rights that led to the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Most of those arrested were freed without charges, but had lost their constitutional rights for a period of many months.  So Wilson had a tragic second term in office.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term (1937-1941) came off a massive, amazing landslide victory over Republican nominee Alf Landon in 1936, but was a major disappointment.  Unfortunately, FDR had a cocky, overly optimistic attitude, and decided to pursue massive change that repulsed even members of his own party.  First, he suggested “reorganization” of the Supreme Court, wanting six new appointments for each Justice on the Court who was over 70.  This caused a major split within Congress and drew the vehement opposition of Vice President John Nance Garner. The “Court Packing” scheme failed.  Then, FDR wanted to promote reorganization of the executive branch agencies, but ran into opposition from a Congress seeking to protect its prerogative of oversight of the executive branch.   He also tried to defeat southern members of the Democratic party in the House of Representatives in the 1938 midterm primaries. This effort, which came to be known as the “Purge,” only yielded one victory out of ten attempts to retire conservative members of Congress.

Additionally, the economy, which had been improving throughout Roosevelt’s first term, went into a new recession, leading to the loss of Democratic seats in Congress in 1938, after the party had gained seats in both 1934 and 1936. Foreign policy took over with the growing threat of Fascism in Europe and Asia in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II later that year. FDR had to fight tooth and nail for a repeal of portions of the Neutrality Acts he had reluctantly signed in the mid 1930s.  FDR wanted to promote a “Cash and Carry” policy under which friendly nations could purchase military goods from the United States, and won the battle by the end of 1939 at a great cost of lost supporters and suspicion of his intentions by a war-averse nation.  FDR also had to work very hard for the establishment of the Selective Service Act in 1940, and while running for a third term, promoted the Destroyers for Bases Deal with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  He contended that he wanted to keep America at peace, reflecting the power and influence of the isolationist organization, the America First Committee.  While FDR won a third term, he had to go through many battles and had been scarred by controversies in marked distinction to his first term in office.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term (1957-1961) was undermined by the Soviet Union’s successful launch in October 1957 of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth.  Sputnik started a rapid buildup to challenge the Russians in space. Notable initiatives included the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the promotion of math, science, and technology, through the National Defense Education Act of 1958, an action that should have begun before Sputnik became a crisis.  With the opposition Democrats in power in Congress, Eisenhower seemed less influential, and while he hosted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at Camp David, Maryland in 1959, the seeming “thaw” in the Cold War was broken by the U-2 Spy Plane Incident in May 1960.  An American spy pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was shot down over the Soviet Union, and displayed before the cameras by Khrushchev, after Eisenhower lied, claiming that the plane that went awry was a weather plane.  Khrushchev came to the United Nations, and denounced Eisenhower and the American government, pledging that the Russians would “bury” the United States.  He also visited with Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, who had come to the United Nations in New York City.  The second-term turn of the Cold War diminished Eisenhower’s reputation.

Ronald Reagan’s second term (1985-1989) saw the Democrats win both houses of Congress in 1986.  The Iran Contra Affair was a major scandal that besmirched his second term, with many believing Reagan should have faced impeachment.  Reagan embraced the apartheid policy of South Africa; his veto of antiapartheid legislation was overridden by a two thirds vote of both houses of Congress in 1986, a very rare occurrence historically and a significant rebuke of the president.  His nomination of the controversial Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 failed, though he did place Anthony Kennedy on the court as an alternate.  His response to the AIDS epidemic seemed weak and uncaring to many, as Reagan was slow to acknowledge the crisis until his actor friend Rock Hudson and the young hemophiliac Ryan White became publicly prominent victims of the disease.  His drug policy was extremely harsh toward people of color, causing great controversy.  

It was also speculated that Reagan might be showing signs of dementia, possibly related to being shot by John Hinckley in his first weeks in office. This was an assertion made later by son Ronald Reagan, Jr., but denied by his adopted son Michael Reagan.  Reagan left office with a high popularity rating despite these controversies and issues in his second term, but many observers had questioned the wisdom of running for a second term at an older age than any president in US history (until Donald Trump and Joe Biden ran for president in 2016 and 2020).

Bill Clinton’s second term (1997-2001) was dogged by the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit, which led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, an Independent Counsel investigation of his conduct, impeachment in 1998, and Senate trial in 1999. The terrorist group Al Qaeda attacked US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa in 1998 and the Navy guided missile destroyer USS Cole near Yemen in 2000.  A 2000 Camp David summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Palestinian Authority’s leader Yasser Arafat failed to bring progress. Clinton’s utilization of pardons and commutations on a massive scale as he left office in 2001 also contributed to a sense of corruption that undermined the image of his presidency. A split had developed between Clinton and his Vice President Al Gore; Gore decided to avoid campaigning with Clinton in his presidential campaign, which arguably contributed to his loss to George W. Bush.

George W. Bush’s second term (2005-2009) saw the Iraq War and Afghanistan War continuing relentlessly despite growing opposition, allowing Democrats to take control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 midterms.  Some Democrats demanded impeachment, although Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi discouraged it.  Controversy grew over Bush’s authorization of harsh interrogation policies, including CIA torture.  Bush came under personal attack in the nation of Georgia in 2005 by an unexploded grenade, and by two shoes thrown at him in 2008 in Iraq; both times he was not harmed. Domestically, the lax response of the Bush Administration to Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005 with tremendous loss of life and property, and the inadequate response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dogged Bush for his second term. 

More seriously, the nation faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the late summer and early fall of 2008. The “Great Recession” threatened economic stability, until a bailout of large banks was launched in order to avoid what economists thought could become an economic catastrophe.  Unemployment rose to 10 percent, and recovery in employment lagged behind the markets. It would take until 2010, the second year of the successor Obama Administration, for the downward trend in unemployment that would continue through the Obama Presidency and into Donald Trump’s Presidency.

Barack Obama’s second term (2013-2017) faced great opposition from a Republican House of Representatives under Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and from a Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell from 2015 onward.  Obama continued to face resistance from the Republican opposition over the Affordable Care Act (or “ObamaCare”), and other issues including climate change, immigration, and gun regulations after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre in 2012.  Therefore, Obama utilized executive orders and presidential memoranda, methods that led to constant attacks by right-wing media that he was radical and dictatorial. 

Obama also had great difficulties with the war in Afghanistan, and strained relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the US in 2015 on the invitation of Speaker John Boehner, who did not seek presidential approval for the visit. The Syrian Civil War and the disarray in Libya became a heavy burden, and the rise of ISIS and ISIL created a new terrorism threat to the US and the civilized world.  The Russian invasion of the Crimean area of Ukraine in 2014 was not prevented or reversed by diplomacy, and relations between Russian Federation leader Vladimir Putin and the West deteriorated.  Finally, Mitch McConnell refused to have the Republican-controlled Senate consider his nomination of Merrick Garland to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court,  a ploy which affected the future  composition and reputation of the Supreme Court.

So as speculation begins about whether President Joe Biden will seek a second term as president, the experiences of these 12 presidents are food for thought.  In a major sense, second terms in the Presidency are times of decline and stress. One could argue that many of the 12 presidents discussed might have had second thoughts on the wisdom of a second term.  This is part of the equation that Joe Biden and the Democrats are likely to be considering as the 2024 campaign will begin in earnest next year.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Projecting the Next Presidential Winner from the Midterm Results is a Fool's Bet

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the latest politician to be anointed president-in-waiting after the midterms. A lot can change in two years. 



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015). A paperback edition is now available.


With the midterm elections of 2022 now completed, the projection game around the presidential election of 2024 has begun, with the early prognosis being that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is on the way to the White House.  This is due to his massive reelection victory in the third largest state (and the largest one likely to be in play in the Electoral College), but it is folly to put betting money on DeSantis, just as it has been after every midterm election in American history in modern times. Two years is an eternity in politics, and putting bets on a presidential winner has never worked out in the modern history of the presidency, going back a century.

At the end of 1910, Woodrow Wilson, the president of Princeton University, had been elected Governor in New Jersey, but was not considered to be a factor in the presidential election of 1912.  The Democratic Party had been in the political wilderness nationally, having only won the presidency twice since the Civil War, with Grover Cleveland’s victories in 1884 and 1892 separated by a defeat.  But the Republican Party under William Howard Taft was split between conservatives and progressives, and when former President Theodore Roosevelt chose to challenge his own anointed successor in 1912, it created an unusual opportunity for the Democrats.  However, it would take 46 ballots at the Democratic National Convention before Wilson, with less than two years in elected office, was chosen as a true dark horse nominee.  In a four-way race, including Socialist Eugene Debs who won 6 percent of the national popular vote (an all-time high for any American party with “socialist” in its name), Wilson was able to win the presidency and 40 states, despite garnering the second-lowest winning share of the popular vote (42 percent) in American history (only Abraham Lincoln, in another four-way race in 1860, took office with a lower portion of the vote).

At the end of 1918, Warren G. Harding was a first-term Republican Senator from Ohio. He had accomplished nothing significant in office, but ended up a true dark horse nominee in 1920, chosen at the Republican National Convention on the 10th ballot, after other candidates with greater reputation and accomplishments were passed over.  This was an election shaped by the desire to get away from the aftermath of America’s entry into the first World War in 1917, and demonstrated the goal of restoring isolationism.

At the end of 1926, the American economy was seemingly purring under President Calvin Coolidge, who had succeeded to the presidency upon Harding’s death in August 1923.  After winning his own election easily in 1924, it was assumed that Coolidge would run again in 1928. Few anticipated Coolidge’s decision not to run, nor did many imagine that a cabinet member, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, would defeat a more public figure like a governor or US Senator to succeed Coolidge in 1928.  But Hoover had made a strong impression, and is still considered one of the most successful and significant cabinet members in American history. With the economy seemingly in great shape, it was assumed that he would have the upper hand in 1932. However, the Great Depression would change the course of history.

At the end of 1930, while the Great Depression was worsening rapidly, there were few observers who would have bet on New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, a paraplegic due to polio, to overcome either Democratic rivals or the incumbent Hoover, who had been a close friend during the Wilson administration (FDR promoted Hoover as a potential Democratic successor to Wilson in 1920).  After FDR had been the losing vice presidential nominee alongside Democratic Governor James Cox of Ohio in 1920, no one in their right mind would have imagined that he would have any political future. Well-known columnist Walter Lippmann had described FDR as a pleasant man but not possessing any important qualifications to be president—a gross underestimation in hindsight, but conventional wisdom at the time.  But FDR went on to serve an unprecedented three full terms as president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944.

At the end of 1942, Senator Harry Truman had gained notice as the head of a committee investigating wasteful military spending occurring during World War II.  Henry A. Wallace was FDR’s third term vice president. No one then expected that Roosevelt would seek a fourth term, or that Wallace would antagonize Southern Democrats, who would oppose his renomination for vice president.  Yet Truman would become a surprise vice president who assumed the presidency after 82 days in office with the death of FDR on April 12, 1945.

At the end of 1946, after the Republican Party won control of both houses of Congress, President Truman’s poll ratings made many think he would not seek election for a full term.  And when Thomas E. Dewey became the Republican nominee in 1948, every public opinion poll anointed him as president-elect before the election.  Instead, in the upset of the century, Truman went on to a surprise victory, going out to the country in a whistle-stop rail campaign and gaining the nickname “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” for his aggressive attacks on a “Do Nothing Congress.” This triumph occurred despite the fact that Henry A. Wallace ran on the Progressive Party line and Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina won four southern states campaigning against Truman’s civil rights initiatives on the States’ Rights Party ticket.  Ironically, Truman had replaced Wallace on the 1944 ticket precisely because he had never spoken up on civil rights as Wallace had done.

At the end of 1950, with the nation engaged in the Korean War, speculation was rampant that Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the standard-bearer of conservatism and son of former President William Howard Taft, was the likely Republican nominee in 1952. However, moderate Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. recruited General Dwight D. Eisenhower to challenge Taft. Eisenhower had refused an earlier entreaty to run; a desperate President Truman suggested in 1948 that Ike run as the Democratic nominee, with Truman going back to the second spot on the ticket. In 1952, Eisenhower would defeat Taft for the nomination, and serve two terms in the White House; Taft sadly passed away of a brain tumor six months into Eisenhower’s first term.

At the end of 1958, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts had just won a smashing reelection victory, and many observers thought he would seek the presidency, but the fact that he was a Roman Catholic was perceived by others as an insurmountable problem. An earlier Catholic nominee, Alfred E. Smith in 1928, had been unable to overcome the religious barrier.  But JFK would overcome the disadvantage, and go on to victory in a close election result in 1960; his running mate, Lyndon B. Johnson, was a major factor in keeping the Southern states in the Democratic column.

Lyndon B. Johnson had sought the presidency in 1960, but the reality that a Southerner had not been elected president since Zachary Taylor in 1848 was seen as a barrier.  His succession to the Presidency after the assassination of Kennedy, however, gave Johnson the upper hand in 1964, and LBJ would go on to the greatest popular vote percentage in American history, 61.1 percent, defeating right wing Republican Senator Barry Goldwater.

At the end of 1966, with the war in Vietnam beginning to split the nation, very few would have thought that Richard Nixon, the loser in both the presidential election of 1960 and the 1962 California governor’s race, would have an opportunity to make a comeback.  Governor George Romney of Michigan was thought to be the Republican frontrunner, and many observers thought that for a former presidential loser to recover from two defeats seemed impossible.  But Nixon’s foreign policy expertise was a plus, and he surprised everyone with his resilience, defeating Vice President Hubert Humphrey and third party candidate former Governor George Wallace of Alabama.

After Nixon’s reelection in 1972, few expected the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in October 1973. This led to the first use of the 25th Amendment, under which both houses of Congress approved Republican House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to replace Agnew as VP.  Ford had never had the ambition to run for national office, but eight months into his time as vice president, Ford would succeed to the presidency after Nixon’s resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal.

As Ford became president in the last few months of 1974, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was finishing the one term allowed by state law, and had gained some national attention as a “New South” governor.  But when he announced for president at the end of 1974, few observers saw him as more than a footnote, as many other Democrats in Congress were perceived as more likely and stronger potential candidates.  Carter was labeled as “Jimmy Who?”, but totally surprised the nation with his outstanding campaign strategy and organization. The idea that he would be elected to the White House in 1976 seemed unlikely, but he defeated President Ford in a close election.

At the end of 1978, Ronald Reagan was well known as a former Hollywood movie actor and two-term California governor, but he had failed to stop the nomination of Gerald Ford at the Republican convention in 1976.  Speculation was that he was too old to run in 1980, as he was nearing the age of 70, Eisenhower’s age when he left office in 1961. Ike had suggested that no one older than himself should be considered for president.  But Reagan overcame skepticism, and rivals including George H. W. Bush.  He decided that Bush’s foreign policy expertise was useful, so a team of Reagan and Bush became the winning combination in 1980; with high inflation, a brief recession, the Iran hostage crisis, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan plaguing President Carter, Reagan would go on to a massive victory in the 1980 general election.

At the end of 1986, speculation about Bush being nominated to succeed his boss was met with skepticism, as no vice president had succeeded the president he served in 152 years, since Martin Van Buren followed Andrew Jackson in 1836.  Bush had to deal with challengers including Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, who had run with Gerald Ford for vice president in 1976, but he overcame opposition, and was elected president by a substantial margin over Michael Dukakis in 1988.

At the end of 1990, and especially after the brief first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the early months of 1991, Bush looked invincible. Two leading Democrats, Al Gore and Mario Cuomo, decided not to run in 1992.  A so-called second tier of candidates emerged, including Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who had bored the 1988 Democratic National Convention with a long, uninspiring speech to formally nominate Michael Dukakis.  When evidence of his womanizing emerged, it seemed clear that Clinton’s candidacy was in trouble, particularly since a revealed affair had derailed the candidacy of Colorado Senator Gary Hart in 1987.  However, Clinton overcame the scandal, and in 1992 had the fortune of a recession that harmed the Bush administration and the independent candidacy of H. Ross Perot which took 18.9 percent of the vote.  Bush, despite enjoying the highest approval ratings of any president in American history during the Gulf War, ended up losing with a lower percentage of votes (37.5 percent) than any earlier president except William Howard Taft in 1912.  For his part, Clinton had the third-lowest vote percentage for any presidential winner (43 percent), better only than Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

At the end of 1998, speculation was that Arizona Senator John McCain would be the Republican favorite, although Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of former President George H. W. Bush, was considered a contender.  But to the surprise of many, Bush went on to triumph over McCain, and although outgoing Vice President Al Gore won the national popular vote in 2000, Supreme Court intervention in Florida’s vote count would make Bush the first president to win the election while losing the popular vote since Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

At the end of 2006, future Illinois senator Barack Obama had drawn a lot of attention since his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, but when he announced his presidential candidacy, it was thought that former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton had the upper hand for the nomination in 2008.  But after a long, hard fought battle, Obama emerged the nominee. The Great Recession undermined Republican nominee John McCain, and led to Obama’s substantial victory.

At the end of 2014, as Republicans began planning presidential campaigns for 2016, real estate mogul Donald Trump, who had flirted with running before, was seen as unlikely to either announce or to overcome seasoned politicians in his party, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and others.  Trump overcame all of his Republican opponents, but was still seen as unlikely to defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But for the second time in 16 years, a candidate who lost the national popular vote went on to win the Electoral College, making him the fifth president to do so. This was certainly the biggest surprise since the upset victory of Harry Truman over Thomas E. Dewey in 1948; to many, it was even more startling.

At the end of 2018, as the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign began, former Vice President Joe Biden, who had passed on running in 2016 after the death of his son Beau, decided that he should run to work against the authoritarianism and destructive domestic and foreign policies of Trump. Biden lost the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary, but then won the South Carolina Primary, and was able to overcome a multitude of competitors in other primary contests, including among others, Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  Biden would then go on to defeat President Trump by flipping five states that aided Trump’s win—Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona—and become the 46th President of the United States, despite the shocking attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021.

So now at the end of 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is getting all the hype, but he will have many challengers in the Republican Party, likely including Donald Trump.  And the question of whether Joe Biden, who will turn 82 two weeks after the 2024 election, will run, or who might challenge him within the Democratic Party, is wide open.

So to project who will be president on January 20, 2025 is a pure guessing game, with the likelihood that it could be one of a multitude of alternative candidates, including Joe Biden himself.  After the surprising midterm election of 2022, with Biden emphasizing the emerging threat to American democracy and Democrats performing much better than expected of the party in power at the midterm, who can say that he might not have a good chance for a second term?

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Sinema's Switch Reminds Us: Independent Senators Have Been a Colorful Bunch



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced on December 9 that she is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent. It’s unclear what the move will mean for control of the Senate—Sinema seems to be planning to organize with the Democrats which would allow the party to keep a majority and Sinema to continue to sit on Senate committees. But it does bring to mind the group of colorful and significant independents and third party senators that have graced the chamber in the years since the 17th Amendment allowed the direct election of senators by voters, not party leaders, in 1913.

The list of independent or third party senators in the past century has been a significant one, and it is worth examining the impact of these “mavericks.”  In total, we have seen ten senators become independents for a substantial period of time before Sinema’s announcement.

In the period from the 1920s through World War II, there were three independent senators, all of whom had been originally Republicans, who strayed from the more conservative base of their party, and had an impact on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and the battle over isolationism before entrance into World War II.  This author examined these three mavericks in his book Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican senators and the New Deal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota was elected as a Farmer-Labor Party member of the senate, serving from 1923-1947. He switched to the Republican Party from 1941 onward, becoming noted for his vehement isolationism and opposition to American engagement in World War II before Pearl Harbor.  He opposed membership in the League of Nations and the World Court in the 1920s and the Selective Service Act in 1940, and also voted against the United Nations Charter after World War II.  He was also known as an antisemite, joining with Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh in promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.  His career ended when he was defeated in the Republican primary in 1946, after intervention by internationalist former Republican Governor Harold Stassen, who had been in vehement disagreement with Shipstead throughout World War II.

Robert M. LaFollette, Jr. of Wisconsin, the son of “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, who had run for President as a Progressive in 1924, was elected as a Republican to replace his father after his death the following year, and served until he was defeated in the Republican primary in 1946, by of all people, future Senator Joseph McCarthy.  In 1934, “Young Bob” joined his younger brother Philip LaFollette in forming the Wisconsin Progressive Party. Philip angled to run for President by forming the National Progressives of America in 1938 as a vehicle for national office, but he was defeated that year for another two-year term as Governor of the Badger State.  Bob LaFollette stayed a third party Progressive until he ran in the Republican primary in an attempt to retain his seat after World War II.  While he had been a loyal supporter of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal domestic agenda, his strong isolationism until Pearl Harbor, and his continuing suspicion of international engagements after World War II caused his defeat and retirement in 1946, alongside Shipstead.

George Norris of Nebraska was elected to the Senate as a Republican with progressive credentials, and served for five terms from 1913-1943, but switched to independent status in 1936.  A man who had led the fight in the House of Representatives against the power of Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon in 1910, revolutionizing the office of Speaker, was a consistent progressive in his views. He was a loyal supporter of most of the New Deal.  He promoted the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a crucial New Deal agency, but opposed FDR on his court packing plan in 1937.  He maintained an isolationist reputation in foreign affairs from World War I through the late 1930s, but changed his views after seeing the destruction in China by Japanese military forces, and  became a backer of US intervention in World War II, which caused his defeat in Nebraska in 1942 by Republican Kenneth Wherry.  He was later judged one of the most outstanding senators in American history, and had been called by FDR “the very perfect, gentle knight of American progressive ideals.” John F. Kennedy in his book Profiles in Courage selected him as one of eight political leaders meriting that description.

Wayne Morse of Oregon, brought up near Madison, Wisconsin in the traditions of Robert LaFollette Sr., was elected to four terms, serving from 1945-1969, first as a Republican, but became an independent in 1953 in response to Dwight D. Eisenhower selecting Richard Nixon as his running mate.   Then, he switched to the Democratic Party in 1955 and remained there until his defeat by Bob Packwood in 1968, after serving four terms.  He was the epitome of an insurgent maverick, alienating members of both major political parties during his career.  His opposition to the Vietnam War, including his delaying a vote on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964 made him a hero to many, and an annoyance to others. He led many filibusters in his career, alienating both parties, and was constantly involved in controversies.  Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson convinced Morse to become a Democrat in 1955, but their relationship was always tempestuous, and made worse by Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam.  Morse made many enemies in his political career, but was always front page news.

Harry F. Byrd, Jr., son of Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., served in the senate from Virginia from 1965 to 1983, originally as a Democrat, but an independent since 1970. An inheritor of the Byrd Organization’s influence in Virginia, and its vehement opposition to the civil rights movement and racial integration, he chose to become an independent, and continued his very conservative voting record.  But, he was able to retain his committee memberships on the Finance and Armed Services Committees, still caucusing with the Democratic Party.  He was the first senator to win election and reelection as an independent, and the first senator to win election as an independent by a majority of the popular vote.  Upon his death in 2013 at the advanced age of 98, Byrd became the eighth oldest U.S. Senator to have served.

James L. Buckley of New York served in the Senate from 1971 to 1977 as a member of the New York State Conservative Party, losing reelection as a Republican in 1976 to Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  The older brother of famed conservative author and commentator William F. Buckley, Jr., he was elected in 1970 against sitting Republican Senator Charles Goodell and Democrat Richard Ottinger in a three-way race,  winning about 39 percent of the popular vote. He was listed with a Conservative-Republican affiliation during his one term in the Senate.  He was the first conservative to call for Richard Nixon to resign in the Watergate scandal, promoted the Family Educational Rights and  Privacy Act (FERPA), and was the lead petitioner in the 1976Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court case on campaign finance. Buckley was a forerunner of the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision lifting limits on contributions to campaigns by corporations. Later, he served on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, by appointment of President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1996, and has been a Senior Judge on that Court since then.  He will reach the age of 100 on March 9, 2023.

Jim Jeffords of Vermont served in the Senate from 1989 to 2007 as a Republican until he left the party in 2001, became an independent, and caucused with the Democrats for his last term, due to his opposition to the George W. Bush tax cuts in the early months of 2001.  His switch gave control of the Senate to the Democrats, the first time a switch has ever changed party control.  Jeffords served as Vermont’s congressman from 1975 to 1989 before his senate service. He served as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (1997-2001) and then for 19 months as Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (2001-2003).  He was a more liberal Republican through most of his career, and supported abortion rights, gay rights, expanded health care, environmental reform, and disabilities legislation.  Often, he supported President Bill Clinton across party lines, and was one of five Republican senators to vote to acquit him in his impeachment trial in 1999. During his time as an independent, Jeffords voted against the use of force in Iraq in 2002, and against the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bernie Sanders of Vermont was elected to succeed Jeffords in 2006, after having the longest term of service for an independent congressman in American history—16 years from 1991 to 2007.  His 16 years so far in the senate is also a record for independents. He has had a close relationship with the Democratic Party throughout his career, having caucused with them most of the time.  He is seen as a leader of the democratic socialist movement in America, and has campaigned as a presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020, ending up second in both campaigns.  He was Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2015, and became Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in 2021.  His social democratic and progressive policies have been compared to left wing populism and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.  He has supported labor, education, and health care reforms more advanced than most Democrats, and is a promoter of the “Green New Deal” to deal with climate change.  He has been a strong critic of much of American foreign policy over the years he has served in Congress since 1991, but has a very supportive relationship with President Joe Biden despite frequently prodding him from the left wing perspective. Sanders has had a strong connection with millennials and Generation Z Americans.

Joe Lieberman of Connecticut served in the senate from 1989 to 2013, the first three terms as a Democrat and the last as an “Independent Democrat,” caucusing with and chairing the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for the Democratic Party.  Also, he was the vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party alongside Al Gore in 2000, making him the first Jewish candidate for the vice presidency.  He won his original senate election in 1988 against Republican Senator Lowell Weicker, who was perceived as more liberal than Lieberman. Conservative author and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. termed Lieberman his “favorite Democrat,” due to his more conservative stands on issues in comparison to Weicker. Lieberman lost the Democratic Party nomination for the Senate race of 2006 to a more leftist candidate, Ned Lamont. He then ran as an independent, but remained allied with the Democrats, although he supported Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona for president in 2008, and was considered for the vice presidency before McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  In a three-way race in 2006, when he lost the primary, Lieberman won 50 percent of the vote, with national Democrats divided about his candidacy against the establishment.  He had a reputation of being a more conservative Democrat on fiscal matters, and a hawk on foreign policy, being strongly supportive of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush.  He led the fight for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, and was also a major promoter of environmental legislation.  Compared to Bernie Sanders, he is clearly a political figure much more to the right in the Democratic Party.

Angus King of Maine has served in the senate since 2013, after earlier having served as Governor of Maine from 1995 to 2003.  He was a Democrat until 1993, but has been an independent ever since, caucusing with the Democrats during his Senate service.  He won a three-way race in 2012 with 53 percent of the vote, and has continued to caucus with the Democrats even when they did not control the Senate from 2015 to 2019.  He has served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence.  He is best described as a moderate, but receives higher approval ratings from liberal groups than conservative groups.  He is considered near the ideological center of the Senate.  He is a strong supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, as well as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  King was a critic of much of American foreign policy under President Donald Trump, and condemned the immigration restrictions promoted by Trump, who was harshly critical of King.  He supports action to combat climate change, and believes in the need for gun regulation and safety measures as a result of so many gun massacres nationally.  He has supported normalization of US relations with Cuba, and was in favor of the Iran nuclear deal under President Barack Obama. Also, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, King participated in its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. He was also critical of Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID 19 pandemic. 

Now Kyrsten Sinema has announced that she is becoming an independent, while still caucusing with the Democratic Party.  This means the US Senate will now have three independents, all allied with the Democratic Party, giving them a majority of 51 senators. Sinema was elected to the senate in 2018, and is likely to face a three-way race for reelection in 2024, with the likelihood that Arizona’s 7th District Congressman, Democrat Ruben Gallego, will seek the Senate seat, making it possible, strategically, for Sinema, with her moderate centrist perspective on multiple issues, to have a better chance of retaining her seat in the general election than in the primary.  She has often been a thorn in the side of the Democratic Party, particularly during the past two years, when there has been a 50-50 Senate.

Sinema began her political career as a Green Party advocate, a strong progressive and promoter of gay rights and opposition to the War on Terror under George W. Bush.  But once she joined the Democratic Party and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, she joined the New Democrat Coalition, the Blue Dog Coalition, and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, making her one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus.  She has become an unpredictable centrist, hard to fathom, but a key swing vote in the Senate. She is seen as generally socially liberal, but fiscally moderate to conservative. In summary, she is totally unpredictable, and has enraged many party colleagues who see her as uncooperative and not a team player.

That characteristic—a lack of interest in being a team player and a preference for being mavericks—unites the eleven independent senators since the 17th Amendment in 1913.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Three Ex-Presidents have Tried to Return to Office with Third-Party Runs. None Have Succeeded  



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman-Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


As 2022 came to an end, former President Donald Trump issued a threat and warning that if he were not treated properly and with respect by the Republican Party, he would run for president in 2024 on a third party line, as a rebuke to the party, undermining its ability to win the presidency. This brings to mind three earlier presidents who chose to run as third-party candidates after their presidency, with two of the three being factors in the defeat of the party nominee, and helping the opposition party candidate to win the presidency.

President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) had one term as the successor to Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), but, burdened by the Panic of 1837, was soundly defeated by Whig nominee William Henry Harrison in 1840.  Van Buren continued, however, to desire to return to the White House, and was the frontrunner in delegates at the Democratic National Convention in 1844. The issue of the annexation of Texas, which he opposed, undermined his ability to gain two thirds of the delegates (this was the established threshold to win the Democratic Party’s nomination from 1832 to 1936, and caused many long, drawn-out conventions with dark horse candidates emerging on late ballots).  In 1844, former Speaker of the House James K. Polk surged on late roll calls of the states, finally won the nomination on the 9th ballot, and went on to be elected president. 

In 1848 Van Buren again sought the nomination, opposing any expansion of slavery in territory taken in the Mexican War. Michigan Senator Lewis Cass, who supported “popular sovereignty” to determine the future expansion of slavery in new territories, won the nomination.  Van Buren had formed a faction (the “Barnburners”) in his home state New York Democratic Party, totally opposing the expansion of slavery and withdrawing from the convention proceedings when the rest of the New York Democrats were seated. Van Buren went ahead and formed a third party, the Free Soil Party, merging the “Barnburner” faction, the “Conscience Whigs” (an antislavery faction which opposed the nomination of slaveowner and Mexican War General Zachary Taylor), and remnants of the small Liberty Party, which had competed for the presidency in 1840 and 1844, seeing an elevenfold growth in its support from the first to the second election.

Van Buren secured as his running mate Charles Francis Adams, Sr., the son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams, who was often considered in later life as a potential presidential candidate on his own.  He would serve as Envoy to the United Kingdom during the Civil War presidency of Abraham Lincoln and also under Andrew Johnson, helping to ensure that the British would not recognize the Confederate States of America.  This was an attractive ticket of a former president and a son and grandson of former presidents. The ticket finished second in New York and Massachusetts. Those two states accounted for about 160,000 of the 290,000 votes that Free Soil won nationally (10 percent of the national popular vote). More importantly, these results helped decide the election in favor of Whig nominee Zachary Taylor, who won the national popular vote by only about 138,000 votes but, by capturing New York’s 36 and Massachusetts’s 12 electoral votes, secured a 167-123 electoral college victory. Van Buren would go on to support Abraham Lincoln at the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, before his passing in 1862.

Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) succeeded Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) as a Whig president, after only 16 months of Taylor’s term.  He finished out the remaining 32 months of the term, and faced a major crisis with the debate over the Compromise of 1850 regarding the status of slavery in territory taken from Mexico.  While it seemed clear, although not publicly known, that Taylor planned to veto the Compromise of 1850, Fillmore ultimately decided to sign the Compromise, which caused much upset in many quarters, but in retrospect, delayed the eventual Civil War by a decade, giving the Northern states the ability to industrialize and gain higher population growth than the future Southern Confederacy.  Fillmore also worked to enforce the highly unpopular Fugitive Slave Law, which gave him support in the South.  Fillmore sought to be elected to his own term as president in 1852, but at the Whig convention, he was defeated by Mexican War General Winfield Scott on the 53rd ballot, as what Fillmore had done since 1850 bitterly divided the nation and the party which had elected him vice president in 1848.

By 1856, the Whig Party had dissolved and been replaced by the Republican Party, which joined opponents of expanding slavery with outright abolitionist elements. So a vacuum had opened for a third party, the American (“Know Nothing”) Party, which was nativist, opposed to immigration by Catholics from Ireland and Germany.  Fillmore had never been a member of this party or attended any of its gatherings. However, seeking the prestige of a former president, the party convention nominated him while he was in Europe. Fillmore did not fully realize what the American Party stood for, and was clearly not a nativist or particularly anti-Catholic in his utterances.  He ran his campaign more on the prestige of seeking office once again.  Seen as a moderate alternative to the new Republican Party candidate John C. Fremont and Democrat James Buchanan, the former Whig president managed to win 873,000 popular votes, 21.6 percent of the national vote, and the 8 electoral votes of the state of Maryland, ironically the original Catholic haven in the colonial period under Lord Baltimore. 

Fillmore later opposed secession of the South and supported the use of force by President Abraham Lincoln, but was critical of his specific war policies, and later was a strong supporter of the besieged President Andrew Johnson, who faced impeachment in 1868.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) succeeded the assassinated President William McKinley (1897-1901), and was the first vice president to succeed to the presidency during a term and then go on to win election in 1904. At the time, this was seen as a ringing endorsement of his first three and a half years in office.  In a moment of exultation, however, Roosevelt made a blunder by proclaiming that he would not run again in 1908, following the tradition set by George Washington in the 1790s, that two terms in the presidency were enough.  Having put himself into a situation that he felt he could not reverse, he ended up promoting his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, a close friend and longtime colleague, to be his successor.  Taft ended up winning a clearcut victory over third-time presidential contender William Jennings Bryan in 1908, and Roosevelt went home to Oyster Bay, New York and Sagamore Hill, believing Taft would follow his path of “progressivism.” He soon set off on a grand tour of Europe, after visiting East and Central Africa and engaging in a safari on an expedition to gather specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Roosevelt was wined and dined as he traveled through Europe, and was referred to by many as the greatest man in the world, after meeting many major European government leaders. 

While he was gone from America, however, President Taft was involved in many political disputes within his own divided Republican Party, as progressives in the party had emerged as major rivals of the traditionally conservative Congressional leadership.  So when Roosevelt came home, he was dismayed at the inability of Taft to manage the clashing wings of his party, which the former president had done with more success during his seven and a half years in the White House.  As a result, Roosevelt became disillusioned with Taft, and started to formulate, in his correspondence and contacts within the Republican Party, a plan to challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination. 

In August 1910, a few months after his return from his foreign travels, Roosevelt journeyed to the heartland of America, and gave an electrifying speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, enunciating his expanded ideas of progressivism beyond his earlier “Square Deal” to promote “The New Nationalism,” much of which would be adopted later by Democratic Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After the disappointing midterm elections of 1910, which progressives blamed on Taft, congressional progressives led by Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin and California Governor Hiram Johnson, moved to challenge Taft. LaFollette announced his candidacy for the White House when Roosevelt initially reneged on running against his own successor.  But once LaFollette became an announced presidential candidate, he was attacked by the conservative national media. Roosevelt saw an opening, and announced his run against Taft on February 24, 1912.

The battle for the Republican presidential nomination became heated, as Roosevelt was able to gain support in the states that used the new method of selecting convention delegates through presidential primaries, but only about a third of the states chose delegates this way.  So Taft ended up easily winning the nomination, and Roosevelt decided he would not endorse his successor, but instead would run for president on a third party line.

Roosevelt chose to use the name “Progressive” for his third party effort, and used the Bull Moose that he had mounted in his den in Oyster Bay as the symbol of the new party. There were well-known animal symbols for parties by the late 19th century, including Thomas Nast’s famous depiction of the Republicans as elephants and the opposition Democrats as donkeys.   So the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party was named, and chose California Governor Hiram Johnson as Roosevelt’s running mate.  Roosevelt campaigned on calls for vigorous government intervention to protect the people from “selfish interests.”  The campaign was halted for nearly two weeks after Roosevelt was the victim of an assassination attempt (covered in Chapter 5 of my 2015 book Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama) by John Flammang Schrank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Roosevelt, though bleeding, insisted on giving his planned speech at the local auditorium before going to the hospital, and didn’t have the bullet removed. 

Roosevelt gained an amazing amount of public support, particularly after being wounded, but a third-party effort was doomed to ultimate failure because of the traditional two party system.  However, he accomplished the greatest third party performance in American history, ending up second in electoral votes, winning 88 votes from six states in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast, although he did not penetrate the Democratic Party South.  He won 4.1 million popular votes, and 27.5 percent of the total national vote, leaving the sitting president Taft in third place with 3.5 million votes, only 8 electoral votes and 2 states supporting him, the worst defeat for a sitting president in the history of the presidency before and since.  Roosevelt had been much more “progressive” than winning Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, as Roosevelt had supported women’s suffrage and child labor laws, which Wilson believed were issues to be dealt with statewide, not by the federal government. Roosevelt went on to become a critic of Wilson’s conduct of the “Great War,” having suffered the loss of his youngest son, Quentin, who was killed at 20 years of age in 1918 in aerial combat in France. Roosevelt passed away at age 60 a few months later.  But he had remained in public life, constantly outspoken and frequently controversial.

The common theme that comes out from the three failed attempts of former presidents to return to the White House on a third party line is that such efforts are doomed to failure, due to our traditional two party system. Moreover, the victor in such elections has thus far always been the candidate from the opposition party. Should Donald Trump run against the Republican Party establishment on a third party line in 2024, it seems safe to say that it would harm the Republicans, and increase the likelihood of the Democratic Party retaining the White House in 2024.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Two Years In, Biden Faces Decision about 2024

Will this become a common sight in the coming months? 



this post originally appeared on Prof. Feinman's blog The Progressive Professor.

Last week at noon (Friday, January 20) marked the two-year anniversary of the Joe Biden Presidency!

Considering the difficult political circumstances, of an evenly divided Senate for only the fourth time in American history, and a five seat margin in the House of Representatives, Joe Biden accomplished a great deal in his first two years in office.

From a progressive view, he was the most successful in his first two years domestically than any President since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s with his “Great Society” legislation, which was far greater, but with a massive margin of his party in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Biden accomplished more than Democrats in the Presidency after Johnson, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even Barack Obama, after their first two years in the Oval Office!

Foreign policy has been difficult, as it always is, but Biden’s strong support of Ukraine in its war with Russia, and backed by NATO, has been a very strong example of his promotion of democracy against totalitarianism, reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt coming to the aid of Great Britain in 1940-1941, before America’s entrance into World War II.

Having said all the above, the question now is should Joe Biden, having reached the age of 80 precisely two months ago, run for a second term, and would he win a second term?

This author and blogger has always had great and warm feelings toward Joe Biden, going back to when he gravitated toward Biden as, in my mind, the replacement in commitment and personality traits of Hubert Humphrey, who was this author’s original political “hero”!

I wish that Biden had been able to run for President in 2016, but his son Beau’s death prevented that, as I believe he would have won the nomination, and would have defeated Donald Trump, and saved America from the nightmare four years of horrendous policies and criminal actions.

Hillary Clinton had too many barriers, including controversies surrounding her and her husband, along with simply being the first woman nominee for President. Of course, Hillary Clinton still won the national popular vote by 2.85 million, and only lost because of Russian collusion with Trump that threw the Electoral College vote to him in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Even a Republican controlled Senate committee came to that conclusion, despite the continued lying and deception that continues unabated to the present.

But the present is the issue, and this author and blogger sincerely believes that while Joe Biden would win a second term, against Donald Trump or anyone else on the horizon, that for the future of the Presidency and of Joe Biden’s own lifespan, that he should announce that he will retire.

It would make him a “lameduck President”, but freed from politics of his own ego, he could be seen as a statesman, helping to bring the future of the nation toward a Democratic Party successor, who would pursue his principles, goals, and common decency and compassion!

We need a future President who has the character traits of Joe Biden, as we do not want to promote selfishness, greed, nastiness, and lack of compassion and common decency, which too many Republicans who plan to run for President, possess as their basic character traits!

This way, Joe Biden can leave office at age 82, with head held high, having accomplished a decent record under difficult circumstances, having assisted for his own succession. And he can have peace of mind, planning his own Presidential Library and Museum, writing his own memoirs, and enjoying his wife, Dr Jill Biden, and his family in a relaxed, well deserved retirement, which is likely to lead to a longer life, than having the stress of another four years in office!

He should not join the list of Presidents who either died in office or had very short retirements, such individuals as Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon B. Johnson!

So, President Biden, do what is best for you and for the nation you have served so well, and announce your decision to leave office two years from today, having insured the succession of a Democratic President who will carry on with your commitment to decency, fairness, and compassion!


Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
The Rarity of the Two-Term VP

John Adams, portrait by Gilbert Stuart c. 1800-1815. Image National Gallery of Art



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman-Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

America has had 49 individuals who have served in the vice presidency, while only 45 people have served as President of the United States

A total of only 9 vice presidents have served two complete terms of office under the same president.  Only two individuals had that distinction before the 20th century.

John Adams served as vice president under George Washington (1789-1797), and then succeeded him as president.  He expressed frustration and great dissatisfaction with a position he considered superfluous.  He would serve one term as president, and then be defeated by his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson. This was the first and only such case, as under the nascent party system and prevailing Electoral College rules, the vice presidential winner was the opposition party nominee for president. This situation, an invitation to a divided executive branch, was soon resolved by the passage of the 12th Amendment in 1804.

Daniel Tompkins served as vice president under James Monroe (1817-1825), and then died just months after his service in that office. He had served as Governor of New York for the ten years previous.  For much of his time in the vice presidency he was in poor health and debt, and died at the young age of 50, earning the distinction of being both the youngest vice president at death and the one retired for the shortest time among any vice president who finished their term, only surviving 99 days.

Never again for a century did a vice president serve under the same president for two complete terms, until Thomas Marshall did so under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).  Sadly, Marshall was ignored by Wilson and not given any assignments. When Wilson suffered a paralytic stroke in 1919, Marshall was kept in the dark about his condition. First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson conducted Cabinet meetings, while Marshall was not allowed to see Wilson or know details of his health condition.

The fourth vice president to serve two terms under the same president was John Nance Garner, who was often unhappy under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1941), and opposed much of FDR’s New Deal agenda, particularly his “Court Packing” scheme in the spring of 1937.  Thinking that FDR was going to retire after the standard two terms, Garner announced for president in 1940, only to discover that FDR was allowing himself to be “drafted” for president for a third term. This caused a major breach between the conservative Southern vice president and FDR, leading to Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace’s selection as the third term vice president. Garner also came up with a uniquely nasty comment about what he thought of the vice presidency, after he had been Speaker of the House of Representatives in the two years before he became vice president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower had a vice president, Richard Nixon, who was a generation younger than himself, and allowed Nixon to take authority and leadership, which was also necessitated by Eisenhower’s three serious illnesses in 1955, 1956, and 1957.  So Nixon became the first vice president who would grow the office in a major way, allowing him to claim himself uniquely qualified to be president while winning the 1960 Republican nomination. Of course, Nixon would be defeated by John F. Kennedy and have to wait until 1968 to win the presidency.  

Ronald Reagan had George H. W. Bush, who had been his chief opponent for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, as his vice president.  Reagan had no foreign policy experience, making Bush’s experiences as United Nations Ambassador, head of the Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency important assets in that area.  They were not warm friends, but Bush’s role in the Reagan presidency prepared him to become the first vice president to be elected to succeed his boss since Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1837.

Bill Clinton had a close relationship with his vice president, Al Gore, with whom he made up the youngest team in the White House in American history. Gore particularly had a great impact on environmental issues, an area where Clinton had been very lax as Governor of Arkansas.  Their relationship suffered due to Clinton’s involvement in the Monica Lewinsky scandal during their second term. Fearing association with the scandal, Gore chose not to employ Clinton in his 2000 presidential campaign.  Gore lost the highly contentious election to George W. Bush, and the loss of his and Clinton’s respective home states of Arkansas and Tennessee led to a falling out between them that only healed over time.

George W. Bush had a vice president, Dick Cheney, who had served as a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, and as Secretary of Defense under the president’s father.  His foreign policy and defense expertise made him a very powerful and influential vice president, particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Possibly the most highly controversial and divisive vice president in American history, Cheney’s influence declined a bit in Bush’s second term. Cheney evinced no interest in going for the top job in 2008, partially due to having had four heart attacks over the previous 20 plus years.

Finally, President Barack Obama, comparatively inexperienced, chose Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, who had served 36 years in the U.S. Senate, chaired the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees over the years, and knew most foreign leaders, as his vice president.  Biden’s friendships across the aisle and his experiences and contacts made him invaluable for Obama, and they developed what was called a “bromance.”  At times, Obama was frustrated at Biden’s tendency to talk too much, including revealing views, such as support for gay marriage, before Obama was politically prepared to take those public positions. The friendship that developed was very genuine and close, but Biden chose not to run to succeed his boss after the loss of his beloved son Beau.  However, four years later, seeing President Donald Trump as a “clear and present danger,” Biden became a contender for the presidency, and overcame adversity and barriers to become our 46th president. By many accounts, despite mixed approval ratings, Biden accomplished more in his first two years in office than any Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s.

If Biden chooses to run for a second term as president in 2024, it seems clear that Vice President Kamala Harris will remain on the ticket, and would, in theory, be the front runner to succeed him in 2028, bringing diversity into the office after 48 white males, as she is the first mixed race and woman vice president.

The future is impossible to predict, but is very fascinating to ponder regarding the vice presidential office.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
William Leuchtenburg and Bernard Weisberger Achieve a New Honor: Centenarians  



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman-Littlefield Publishers 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


A major celebration is in order as two eminent and prolific American historians, William E. Leuchtenburg (born September 28, 1922) and Bernard A. Weisberger (born August 15, 1922), reached the age of 100 last year.

I had the opportunity decades ago to meet both of them at conferences of the American Historical Association, and even then, felt so privileged to be in the company, albeit briefly, of these brilliant contributors to American historical writing.


Leuchtenburg is the preeminent living scholar of the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (1963) won the Bancroft Prize in 1964, as well as the Francis Parkman Prize. This book had an impact on me as a college student, and motivated me to conduct research and complete a PhD dissertation under Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, at the City University of New York Graduate School. This became my first book under the title Twilight of Progressivism: The Western Republican Senators and the New Deal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

Leuchtenburg has published more than a dozen distinguished works, including: The Perils of Prosperity: 1914-1932 (1958); A Troubled Feast: American Society Since 1945 (1973); The Supreme Court Reborn: The Constitutional Revolution in the Age of Roosevelt (1996); In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Barack Obama (4th Revised Edition, 2009); The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy (1997); The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson (2005);  Herbert Hoover (The American Presidents Series, 2006); and The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton (2015), in addition to textbook surveys coauthored with others; and two volumes in The LIFE History of the United States (1963).

Leuchtenburg is a past president of the American Historical Association (1991), of the Organization of American Historians (1985-1986), and of the Society of American Historians (1978-1981). He taught at Columbia University for nearly three decades, and then became a member of the faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1982, retiring in 2002 as the William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Emeritus Professor.  He also collaborated with documentarian Ken Burns on many of his film projects for PBS.  He held the Harmsworth Chair at Oxford University, and was a visiting professor at Harvard, Cornell, William and Mary, and other American universities.


Bernard Weisberger has had a massive impact on the study of American history, having taught at Wayne State University, the University of Chicago, University of Rochester, and Vassar College.  Receiving his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, he has been a prolific writer, including decades of involvement with American Heritage Magazine. He has been the author of more than a dozen books, and worked on documentaries with Bill Moyers and Ken Burns for PBS.  His article on the Reconstruction Period, published in the Journal of Southern History in 1959 under the title “The Dark and Bloody Ground of Reconstruction Historiography” revolutionized the study of the post Civil War period, and won the Charles Ramsdell Prize.

His most significant varied published works include Booker T. Washington (1973), The Dream Maker: William C. Durant, Founder of General Motors (1979), The American Heritage History of the American People (1971), Many People, One Nation (1987) The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America (1994), America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800 (2000), and When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906 (2006).

Weisberger was also a social activist, participating in the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, along with many other political engagements, and is a member of the Authors League of America and the Society of American Historians.

Both of these scholars are highly honored and respected, as having contributed so much to the field of American historical research.  They have been a true gift to the historical profession, and one can hope that they will live on into the future.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Custom and Law Have Limited Most Presidents' Time in Office. Who Could Have Had a Third Term?

Grover Cleveland attends the swearing-in of successor William McKinley, March 4, 1897. 

Cleveland's Democratic Party chose William Jennings Bryan as its nominee in 1896; Cleveland endorsed but declined the nomination of a pro-gold standard splinter party, missing the chance to run for a third term in office. 




Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman-Littlefield Publishers 2015). A paperback edition is now available.

Students of the American presidency are well aware that George Washington set the tradition of a two-term limit in office, but that it was legally possible for a president to seek a third term.  The 22nd Amendment, passed by a Republican Congress in 1947 and ratified by the states in 1951, limited a president to two elected terms (or a total of ten years if they finished the last part of a preceding president’s term).

But, while only Franklin D. Roosevelt ever served more than two terms (elected four times, he served 12 years and 39 days in office), there were others who could have mounted a strong campaign for a third term if they so desired, both before and after the 22nd Amendment.

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), despite his controversial handling of the Second National Bank controversy, was supremely popular among his supporters, who saw him as “the man of the people.” While the Panic of 1837 has been attributed to Jackson’s attack on the bank, his reelection would have been already secured against divided opposition. Jackson’s vice president, Martin Van Buren succeeded him with an easy victory over his multiple Whig opponents in 1836. At the then-advanced age of 70, Jackson’s health issues, including those related to bullets lodged in his body from past duels, dissuaded him from running for a third term.

Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) presided over massive corruption due to the spoils system that had begun under Jackson, and the aftermath of the Panic of 1873 also derailed any thought of a third term. However, Grant attempted a comeback for a third term in 1880. He was leading in early balloting, but fell short in a divided Republican convention, where dark horse Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield was chosen on the 36th ballot, the longest convention in Republican Party history. 

Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) is a special case, as he was the Democratic Party’s nominee three times, winning the national popular vote all three times, but losing the Electoral College in the election of 1888.  After losing in that year, Cleveland’s wife, First Lady Frances Folsom, predicted that the family would return to the White House in 1892. When it occurred, it made Cleveland the first and only president to have non-consecutive terms in office. Had Cleveland won reelection in 1888, he might well have pursued a third consecutive term in 1892. Cleveland’s actual second term was plagued by economic depression and labor conflict, as well as a tumor in his mouth. The Democratic Party turned toward William Jennings Bryan as a populist alternative in 1896. Cleveland supported a splinter faction of the party that favored the gold standard, but refused its nomination.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) made a fateful announcement when he won election to a full term in 1904, after succeeding the assassinated President William McKinley in 1901. His blunder was announcing that he would not run again in 1908, a statement he quickly regretted, but chose not to renounce.  Instead, he promoted his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft as his successor, and once his seven and a half years in office came to an end, Roosevelt went off on a safari in Africa and a tour of European nations, where he was saluted as the greatest American figure.  However, upon returning home in 1910, Roosevelt was dismayed at the divisiveness in the Republican Party between progressives and conservatives, and began to think of challenging his own promoted successor.  He would go on to challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination, but fell short. He then mounted a third party candidacy, creating the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party. Roosevelt ended up second behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson, winning six states in the Electoral College and 27.5 percent of the national popular vote, the only time in American history that a major political party nominee (Taft) ended up behind a third-party candidate.  If Roosevelt had been able to secure the Republican nomination and then the presidency in a two-way race, he could have served a total of eleven and a half years in the presidency, only about seven and a half months fewer than his distant cousin Franklin.

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), despite suffering a massive stroke in the fall of 1919 (and recovering very slowly out of the public spotlight), expressed desire to run for a third term in 1920, intending to continue to promote the Versailles Treaty and League of Nations membership, which failed twice to be ratified by the opposition Republican controlled Senate. Wilson’s determination to continue in office to champion the League took him to extreme lengths. He (and his wife) prevented Vice President Thomas Marshall from visiting lest he declare Wilson unfit to govern, while First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson presided over Cabinet meetings.  Despite being ill, physically immobile, and in seclusion from the public and his own administration, when the 1920 Democratic National Convention deadlocked and unable to muster 44 ballots to select Ohio Governor James Cox as the nominee, Wilson tried to use his influence to convince the convention to nominate him.  He even worked to block his own son in law, William Gibbs McAdoo, who had been his Secretary of the Treasury, from winning the nomination. It is unclear how Wilson could have campaigned had he won the nomination, but his sense of mission on behalf of the League made him try, arguably against all medical sense.

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) succeeded Warren G. Harding about 19 months before the presidential election of 1924, and ran to succeed himself despite the tragic loss of his younger son, Calvin Jr. in July 1924.  It seemed to many that Coolidge’s bereavement made him sadder and less communicative than he had been in his first year in the presidency.  His popularity remained high, and many thought Coolidge would run successfully for reelection in 1928, a term that, if he completed it, would have given him a total of nine and a half years in office. But Coolidge announced in the summer of 1927 that he would not run again.  He never explained himself, but the loss of his son seemingly affected his decision.

Harry Truman (1945-1953) succeeded the four times elected Franklin D. Roosevelt just 82 days after becoming the vice president. Although the 22nd Amendment passed Congress in 1947 and was ratified by the states in 1951, its terms would only have applied to presidents entering office after its ratification. Truman therefore could have legally run again for a second full term, which, if completed, would have made him the second longest-serving president behind his predecessor.  But low public opinion ratings, partisanship, and a major red scare attending the ongoing Korean War, plus his wife Bess’s desire to return to Missouri, led Truman to announce in the spring of 1952 that he would not run again.  His prospects appeared dim for reelection, but the same was true before his upset victory in 1948. Who could say that Truman would not have won a third term had he chosen to pursue it?

Beginning with President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), presidents were legally limited to two terms or ten years in office if succeeding in the last half of a term. Eisenhower pointed out that he was the oldest president after eight years in office, and that no one, in his view, should be in the Oval Office after age 70.  But leaving aside the law and Eisenhower’s own reluctance due to age, polls indicated that he might have been able to win a third election.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) actually announced for another campaign in 1968, as he was eligible to seek and complete another full term. This would have given him a total of 9 years and 2 months in office.  But the divisiveness of the Vietnam War, and the announced candidacies of Senators Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Robert Kennedy of New York convinced him to withdraw from the race on March 31, 1968, in a speech that shocked the nation.  Many of the political winds were indeed against Johnson, but given the advantages of incumbency, it’s not impossible that Johnson would have been able to overcome opponents Richard Nixon and George Wallace, which Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was unable to do.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was very popular, and speculation was that he would have had an opportunity to be elected to a third term in 1988, if the 22nd Amendment had not been in place.  There was discussion in the 1980s that maybe a repeal of the 22nd Amendment might have been attempted, despite growing evidence of Reagan’s mental decline in his second term.  Reagan remained highly popular within his party and the nation and was seen as a transformative president, so there were those supporters who dreamed of the concept of a third term.

Bill Clinton (1993-2001) kept high popularity ratings despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal in his second term; the impeachment and trial promoted in the Republican Congress backfired.  After the controversial presidential election of 2000, there were many who thought that, had Clinton been able to run for a third term, that he might have been able to overcome George W.  Bush.  There was also discussion of the idea of Clinton running for vice president, which would place him in the line of succession for the presidency in the future, a thought that went against the letter and spirit of the 22nd Amendment.  And again, there were those who made futile calls for the repeal of the 22nd Amendment.

Finally, Barack Obama (2009-2017) had great popularity in office, despite the difficulty posed by Republican control of the House of Representatives for his last six years and the Senate for his last two years in office.  While he expressed no interest in staying on, and endorsed the constitutional limits of the 22nd Amendment, it was clear to many that Obama would have been likely to defeat Donald Trump in 2016, had he been able, legally, to run for another term.  Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.85 million popular votes, and only lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by tiny margins that were enough to elect Donald Trump.

So when one evaluates the concept of a third term, it is clear that Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry Truman all were in a position that they could have been serious candidates legally for a third term in office.  And since the 22nd Amendment, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama can be imagined to have the potential, if not for that amendment, to have sought and possibly won a third term in the Oval Office.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Will 2024 Follow 1912 with a Former President Running on a Third Party Ticket?



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


In 1912, a former president, loved by many, but also with many critics and detractors, decided to challenge the president who had succeeded him in the White House.  Theodore Roosevelt challenged President William Howard Taft. While he won the support of a substantial number of Americans, he was unable to win the Republican presidential nomination.  Irritated by the fact that the Republican convention favored Taft, Roosevelt decided to challenge him by running on a third party line, the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, staying in the race all the way to election day in November.  At the end, Roosevelt ended up in second place with 27.5 percent of the national popular vote, winning 6 states in the Electoral College and 88 electoral votes, the best-ever performance of a third party in American history.  The incumbent Republican president ended up in third place, the only time a major political party has not ended up either winning or being in second place in the election results.

Now, in the upcoming presidential election of 2024, we have a situation that, while different, could potentially mirror what happened in 1912.  The current Democratic president, Joe Biden, defeated the former president, Donald Trump. Trump refused to accept defeat and incited the Capitol Insurrection on January 6, 2021.  Even now in early 2023, as Donald Trump faces investigations that could lead to his indictment for inciting the tragic events at the US Capitol or financial transgressions related to the payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels, he is seeking the Republican nomination. In theory, he could continue to run even if indicted, a scenario that has never been conceived before the present moment.

A whole group of Republican challengers is likely, as many as a dozen, and a bloodbath of accusations and character assassination between Trump and his Republican opponents seems certain to occur over the next fifteen months.  Although Trump would be regarded as the favorite, a challenger, most likely Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, could win the nomination if a knock down, drag out primary fight sufficiently divides the conservative base.  But if that happened, many Congressional Republicans, along with a possible contingent of 30-35 percent of Republican voters might refuse to abandon Trump, even if he lost the nomination at the Republican National Convention.

Donald Trump has already suggested that he might form a third party. Such an event would split the Republican Party down the middle and would give a great advantage to the Democratic Party and its likely nominee, President Joe Biden. In 1912, the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson was able to sweep all but eight states in an Electoral College landslide despite only winning 42 percent of the national popular vote.

As a third party candidate, Trump would have an excellent chance to win such states as Alabama (9 electoral votes), Mississippi (6), Louisiana (8), Arkansas (6), Tennessee (11),  Kentucky (8), West Virginia (4), Oklahoma (7), Utah (6), Montana (4), Idaho (4), Wyoming ((3), and Alaska (3). This would be a total of 13 states and 79 electoral votes, rivaling what Theodore Roosevelt accomplished in 1912.  Ron DeSantis, or whoever the Republican nominee might be, could end up losing such supposedly red states as Florida to the Democratic nominee, since both Trump and DeSantis are from the Sunshine State. But even Texas, along with South Carolina, Ohio, or Missouri—likely Republican states if the party was united—could be lost to the Democratic nominee due to the party split.  And battleground states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona could all end up in the Democratic column for Biden or an alternative Democratic presidential nominee.

Trump could win at least the same 27.5 percent of the popular vote that Theodore Roosevelt won in 1912, and possibly more, and could come close to the number of electoral votes Roosevelt won.  The Republican nominee could, therefore, end up gaining a lower percentage of the national popular vote than any Republican nominee since President Taft won 23 percent of the vote in 1912 (while winning only two states and 8 electoral votes).

What occurred in 1912 was a boon to the Democratic Party and extended the progressive movement at the time. Similar outcomes in 2024 could, once again, help the Democrats keep the White House in their hands, and lead to the advancement of more progressive goals with a stronger base in both the House of Representatives and US Senate.  The conservative philosophy so prevalent in the Republican Party could be decimated and have great difficulty returning to power, at least in the near term.

But of course, there are so many competing factors in any presidential election cycle, including the issue of economic conditions and foreign policy events influencing the outcome.  So there will be no lack of personalities and issues determining the future of American democracy as the nation nears the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026. 

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
US Senators are Older than Ever – Could California Actually Continue the Trend with Barbara Lee?



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.


California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has already announced that she will retire at age 91 when her current term ends in 2024. While Feinstein’s absence from the Senate and from her post on the Judiciary Committee have raised calls for her to resign immediately, as of publication, she has not done so. An immediate resignation would allow Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint her successor, but if Feinstein finishes her term there will be a fierce battle among many California Democrats for what will be an assured Democratic seat into the foreseeable future.

Whenever Feinstein retires, there will only be a handful of US Senators who served since the popular election of senators was instituted by the 17th Amendment in 1913, to have served at an older age. None of the senators who were elected by state legislatures before 1913 reached that age while in office.

The advanced age of Senators is by no means confined to Feinstein. Current Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley is 3 months younger than Feinstein, and was just reelected by his constituents in 2022 to another six-year term. If he finishes the term at the beginning of 2029, he will be past 95 years of age, making him the second oldest US Senator in American history.

Grassley would also move into a tie for third place for years of service with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who retired in 2023 after 48 years of service (though at the relatively young age of 82).  Grassley will have passed both South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond (who served more than 47 years) and Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts  (nearly 47 years), if he completes his term.

Beyond Feinstein and Grassley, only a few others have reached their 90s as members of the US Senate.

The oldest was South Carolina Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, who left office at 100 years and 29 days in 2004, and died six months later.  He was the 4th longest serving Senator with more than 47 years in office, and he was President Pro Tempore for about six years in the mid and late 1990s, just three heartbeats away from the presidency.

Next oldest was Rhode Island Democratic Senator Theodore F. Green, who left office at 93 years and three months in 1961 after four terms in the Senate. First taking office in 1937 at age 69, Green lived past 98 years of age, dying in 1966.

The third oldest was West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert F. Byrd, who died in office at age 92 years and seven months, serving 51.5 years in office from 1959-2010, the longest service of any US Senator. He served as President Pro Tempore for more than ten years, most of it in his last years in the Senate.

The fourth oldest was Arizona Democratic Senator Carl Hayden, who left office at 91 years and three months, after serving 41 years and ten months from 1927-1969. This was after serving in the House of Representatives for 14 years, dating from the beginning of Arizona statehood in 1912.  For a period of 14 months between 1963 and 1965, Hayden was the second in line for the Presidency as President Pro Tempore of the Senate after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was 86 years of age at that time. He died in 1972 past the age of 94, and is the 8th longest serving US Senator..

Fifth oldest was Hawaii Democratic Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who served 49 years and 11.5 months in the Senate, from 1959-2012, dying in office at age 88 and three months, and having served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate from 2010-2012.  His service in the Senate was the second longest, behind Robert Byrd.

Feinstein has already passed Inouye in age, as she turns 90 in June of this year. Chuck Grassley will reach the same age in September of this year, and if he finishes his term in 2029, at age 95, only will be behind Strom Thurmond in age in the Senate.

Although many progressives lament what they call a “gerontocracy” in the Senate and other parts of the government, it’s ironic that a progressive candidate in a possible scrum to succeed Feinstein in 2024 would take office past the age of 78.

This would be Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. Although she has represented Oakland and the East Bay in the house since 1988, Lee is most famous as the only member of either house of Congress to vote against support of the AUMF (Authorization For The Use Of Military Force) resolution following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Lee was honored in my article of March 4, 2022 on two antiwar Congresswomen, Jeannette Rankin and Barbara Lee on the History News Network website.

The only Senators previously inaugurated for service in the US Senate at age 78 or higher took office by short-term appointment, not by election. 

The oldest was Georgia Democratic Senator Rebecca Latimer Felton, who served exactly one day by appointment at age 87 and five months in November 1922, and was the first woman to serve in the Senate.  Interestingly, she was a supporter of women’s suffrage and feminism, but also was a white supremacist, Congress’s last former slave owner, and a strong supporter of lynching.  She lived to age 94.

The other such appointment was Texas Democratic Senator Andrew Houston, who served by appointment for three months at age 86 in 1941. This makes him the oldest man ever to enter the Senate; Houston died in office a few days after his 87th birthday.  Interestingly, he was the son of the famous Texas statesman Sam Houston, who had been the President of the Republic of Texas.  So were Barbara Lee to be elected and be sworn in the US Senate in 2025, she would be the oldest first-time elected Senator in American history, and only the third African American woman ever elected to the Senate, after Illinois Democrat Carol Moseley Braun and California Democrat Kamala Harris, who is of course now the vice president. 

Lee’s first term would end with her aged more than 84. Lee has said she would only seek one term, but the advanced age of so many other senators, including Feinstein, shows that the lure of remaining in office is strong. Should Senator Lee remain in good health, it’s not beyond possibility that she could seek reelection in 2030.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0
Trump Poised to Join Short List of 3-Time Presidential Nominees



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015, Paperback Edition 2017).



As the presidential campaign of 2024 becomes the center of public attention, former president Donald Trump seems far ahead in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination; if he does win, Trump will join a select group of presidential nominees who have been on the ballot three or more times.

All by himself as the only four-time candidate is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the nominee of his Democratic Party in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  After World War II, the move for a constitutional amendment to limit presidential longevity in office to two elected terms (or a total of ten years if succeeding to the office) was accomplished with the 22nd Amendment, which took effect beginning with the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. FDR also had the unique distinction of being on the presidential ballot as a vice presidential running mate in the failed presidential campaign of Democrat James Cox in 1920.

Two three-time presidential nominees failed to be elected despite multiple attempts.  Henry Clay was on the ballot in the presidential elections of 1824, 1832 and 1844, and was a contender in 1840 and 1848. The winning Whig candidates in those years (William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor) died early in their terms of office. William Jennings Bryan was the nominee of the Democratic Party in 1896, 1900, and 1908 and was bandied about as a possible nominee in 1912, before he threw his support to Woodrow Wilson, who went on to win two terms in the White House.

Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson both lost their first bids for the presidency in 1796 and 1824. In times of constitutional crisis and division, they were defeated respectively by the father and son John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Jefferson and Jackson would defeat their Adams nemeses in the next elections, and each served two terms in the presidency. 

Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s second-term vice president would be the last vice president to succeed to the presidency by election (1836) until 1988, when George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan. But Van Buren lost the election in 1840, and then ran as the candidate of the Free Soil Party in 1848, winning ten percent of the national popular vote.  If one counts his being on the ballot with Jackson in 1832, Van Buren was on the ballot more often than anyone except FDR.

Grover Cleveland was on the ballot three times, winning the popular vote all three times (1884, 1888, 1892), but losing the Electoral College in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison (whom he then defeated in 1892).  If Donald Trump ends up as the Republican nominee against Joe Biden, this would be the first such scenario of a rematch since 1892.

The final example of a three-time nominee was Richard Nixon, who lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, but came back as the successful Republican nominee in 1968 and 1972.  He joined only Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as candidates who had lost, and then came back to win two terms as president.

So Donald Trump might join a short list of third time nominees, but he also has a unique situation as the only president to have lost the national popular vote twice (although he was elected president in 2016).  He would join only Thomas Jefferson (before the era of popular vote being a factor in elections), and Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan (three time losers) in being on the ballot three times.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023 12:43:05 +0000 0