The Right Way of Nominating a President

A talking point when people discuss the 2016 presidential election and the primaries is to talk about the unlikelihood of having Senator Ted Cruz or someone similar to him, who is considered to be an extremist on the Republican side of the political spectrum.  Often, the claim that the Republican party will nominate the one who has the best chance of winning, meaning that he is either a pragmatist or a moderate Republican, as opposed to someone who is more ideologically pure.

Let’s take a look.  We’re beginning with 1976, as it was the first time a Republican primary was held in every state.  This allows us to compare the past and present without having to rely on deals in the backroom filled with cigar smoke and scotch.


The 1976 Republican primary was slightly confusing.  President Gerald Ford initially announced that he would not seek re-election (technically, election).  But he re-considered and began a campaign to seek the nomination and eventual election.  Former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, began to criticize Gerald Ford in the summer of 1975 and officially announced his candidacy in the fall of 1975.  Reagan was considered the favorite of the Conservative section of the Republican party.  Reagan and his Conservative allies were critical of Ford on the policy of detente with the Soviet Union, Ford’s refusal of help for South Vietnam, the signing of the Helinski Accords, and giving the Panama Canal back to Panama.  The Heritage Foundation would like to remind people that Reagan also criticized Ford for the centralization of the federal government.  Ford criticized Reagan for being too extreme.  Despite this, there was not a nominee at the time of the Republican Convention.  Ford began with a slight lead in the votes but still shy of the number needed to secure the nomination.  In order to gain some votes, Reagan pledged to nominate moderate Republican Senator Richard Schweiker as vice-president.  The move backfired, as conservative delegates were outraged at Reagan.  Senator Jesse Helms who had helped Reagan’s comeback during primary season, was particularly angry.  Helms tried to draft James Buckley as the nominee.  Many Mississippi delegates also switched allegiances and Ford won the nomination.  The Mississippi chairman allegedly switched support because of the nomination of Schweiker.

Conclusion: Reagan was clearly the Conservative choice for the nomination, but in an effort to gain votes, he tried to placate the moderates within the party and it failed.  I feel uncomfortable saying that Ford was nominated because he was seen as the more pragmatic or moderate choice.


The 1980 Republican Presidential primary more closely resembles the primaries that we see. Ronald Reagan was considered the heavy favorite, almost as soon as the 1976 Republican presidential primary concluded.  Reagan had given a speech at the end that overshadowed Ford’s speech.

Minority Leader Howard Baker was known as the great conciliator in the Senate.  There was a story that Democratic Senators would privately support Baker’s quest to run for President.  Because of this, Baker would get the dreaded RINO tag, today, if he was in the political eye.  Baker lost the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire caucus before withdrawing.  A Gallup poll found him to be in 2nd place behind just Ronald Reagan in 1979.

Former Governor John Connally was a Democrat until 1973.  Then he switched parties.  Connally was friends with President Lyndon Johnson and supported the same candidates up until the 1972 election where Connally supported Nixon, instead of George McGovern.  But anyway, Connally was considered a great fundraiser, a fairly strong leader, and a strong orator.  Connally would probably be compared to Mitt Romney in 2008.  If Reagan had been defeated in 1980,  Connally would have likely re-emerged as a potential candidate in 1984.  But poor campaigning, as well as a lack of electoral chops, ultimately doomed him.

Senator Bob Dole,who ran for vice-president under Gerald Ford ran in 1976, chose to run in the 1980 presidential election.  He received less than 1% of the vote for the New Hampshire primary, and immediately withdrew.  Dole, while he was a war hawk and tough on crime, made his first Senate speech on increasing federal aid for the handicapped and disable.  He also joined Democratic Senator Jim McGovern in an effort to lower eligibility requirements for federal food stamps, a fairly liberal goal.  Dole later pleaded with Gerald Ford to run in 1980 as a stop-Reagan faction.

Congressman Phil Crane was a Conservative member of Congress since 1968.  Crane was one of the most Conservative members of the House of Representatives, who had been raised on Barry Goldwater’s campaign for president.  Crane was the first chairman of the Republican Study Committee to keep watch of the Republican party in Congress, who was considered to be too moderate.  Crane was also the Chairman of the Illinois Citizens for Reagan, trying to help in Reagan’s primary presidential run.  He was unsure if Reagan would run again in 1980, and said that if Reagan ran, he would drop out.  He stayed in, even after Reagan’s entrance, but dropped out in early March.

Congressman John B. Anderson initially started as one of the more Conservative members of the House but eventually shifted, gradually to the left for social issues.  His fiscal conservatism remained, though.  He broke with the administration on the Vietnam War and was an outspoken critic of Richard Nixon.  Anderson was also allies with Gerald Ford.  Anderson was primaried in 1978 but survived the primary by 16% of the vote.  He decided to run for President.  Actually, John Anderson deserves a much longer post all about him.  Anderson had considerable support from Rockefeller Republicans, who were more liberal than Reagan supporters.  He was considered much more liberal than many of the Republican nominees.  At one point, he stated that cutting taxes, increasing defense spending, and balancing the budget were an impossible combination.  Anderson withdrew and eventually ran as an independent garnering 7% of the votes in the general election.

Former CIA director George H.W. Bush supposedly represented the centrist part of the Republican party.  He criticized Reagan’s supply-side economic theory as “voodoo economics.”  This eventually proved to be successful in the Iowa caucus.  He also won a primary where Reagan did not bother to show up.  But for the most part, Bush was dead in the water by the end of April.  Bush finally withdrew on May 26, 1980.  Bush was later named the vice-presidential nominee by Ronald Reagan.

Former Governor Ronald Reagan who was unsuccessful in 1968 and 1976, finally was successful in 1980.  Reagan represented the true conservatives.  He campaigned hard on the idea of supply-side economics, proposing that tax cuts would increase revenues because people would work harder.  Reagan also promised a balanced budget for the first time since 1969.  Reagan was the front-runner and after firing his campaign manager finally started to act like it, culminating in a victory.

Conclusion: The conservatives’ Conservative won the nomination.


The 1988 Republican presidential primary started with Vice-President George H.W. Bush as the front-runner but eventually included Senator Bob Dole, Congressman Jack Kemp, Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV, and televangelist Pat Robertson.

Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV was governor of Delaware and announced his intention to run for the presidency in 1986, before anyone else.  But he had some radical ideas.  He proposed reforming social security by offering private saving options .  He also wanted to wean people off of welfare by offering jobs, even entry level jobs in the government.  He proposed instituting random drug tests to those who flunked driver’s license tests.  He was a novice and bowed out after a next-to-last finish in New Hampshire.

Congressman Jack Kemp had a difficult time convincing people of his ideas if he became president.  Kemp had a libertarian philosophy of supporting individual rights, preaching tolerance, supporting women, minorities, blue-collar workers, and organized labor.  These ideas clashed with the typical conservative view of ideas and values.  To Democrats and those more liberal, his free market philosophies were just a form of anarchy.  His fiscal policy was very similar to Ronald Reagan, in that he argued for supply-side economics.  He also wanted to freeze government spending.  His poor showing on Super Tuesday eventually forced him to withdraw.  Kemp could probably be compared to the libertarian wing of the Republican party, that is in vogue today.

Televangelist Pat Robertson announced he would run in 1986 if 3 million people signed up to volunteer for his campaign.  Robertson supported a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.  He also wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.  He also wanted to ban pornography.  He was a true social conservative.  His views are now basically the same as the generic Republicans.  With his true social conservative credentials, he managed a 2nd place finish in the Iowa caucus.  He withdrew before Super Tuesday.

Senator Bob Dole, who had previously lost as a vice-president in 1976 and lost the Republican nomination in 1980, decided to have another go at it.  Dole and Bush did not differ much in their views.  Bush drew criticism for his portrayal of Dole.  Dole was viewed as an angry person by responding to a question by saying Bush should stop lying about my record.  He was also viewed as a micromanager who could not handle a presidential campaign.  At this point, Dole would be comparable to Mitt Romney in 2008.

Vice-President George H.W. Bush was the early front-runner for the presidential nomination.  Bush was still considered to be the leader of the centrist part of the Republican party, but there was no real conservative to challenge him.  Bush finished in third place at the Iowa caucus.  During the New Hampshire primary, Bush ran a campaign ad portraying Dole as a taxraiser which helped contribute to Dole’s response.  But Bush’s organizational strength really helped as he was able to clinch the nomination once Super Tuesday began.  This is likely comparable to John McCain in 2008.

Conclusion: The only “true” Conservative was Robertson who finished 3rd or 4th.  But the two front-runners were both Republicans who appealed to the centrist wing of the party.


The 1996 Republican primary did not have any immediate front-runners.  The only one who was considered in that breath was Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Ambassador Alan Keyes entered the 1996 Republican presidential primary to center the debate around abortion and bring it to the forefront of the political debate.  Keyes did not fare well in the primaries and eventually withdrew.  He would be comparable to what Ben Carson is trying to do, now.

Governor Lamar Alexander ran for President in 1996.  He did not do anything memorable, apparently, and ducked out pretty quickly.  He later served as an adviser to the Dole/Kemp campaign.

Journalist Steve Forbes tried to run in 1996.  He supported a flat tax of 17% on earned income, while maintaining the first $33,000 would be exempt from the tax.  Beside that, he was a traditional Republican.  He supports free trade, school vouchers, downsizing the federal government, and the death penalty. He also opposed drug legalization, same sex marriage, gun control, and environmental regulation.  But his campaign was doomed by his inability to cultivate a winning campaign style.

Presidential advisor Pat Buchanan challenged George H.W. Bush in 1992 because he thought Bush was leading the country in a liberal direction.  Buchanan wanted to challenge the Washington establishment in 1996.  He ran to the right of Bob Dole.  He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  But there were questions about Buchanan’s comments about being a possible Holocaust denier and having a key campaign adviser go to a meeting with a white supremacist group.  Buchanan denied these allegations saying that the media was trying to smear him.  Buchanan is probably most comparable to Newt Gingrich in 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was the front-runner for the 1996 presidential nomination but did not have the support of many of the party’s higher-ups.  George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney were all approached to run in 1996 but declined to run.  Dole was criticized by the left and the right of his party, over the convention platform and his platform, too.  Dole was criticized for the inclusion of the Human Life Amendment.  He had promised a return to supply side economics, promising a 15% cut across the board to income tax.  He is comparable to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Conclusion: There was not a real strong primary challenge in 1996, Bob Dole rose to the top of the pile.  The more conservative members were not real strong challengers.


Again, in 200, there was not a real front-runner for the nomination but George W. Bush became the favorite among the Republican leadership.  John McCain was a darkhorse but he became quite the challenger to Bush.

Ambassador Alan Keyes: Keyes ran again in 2000, this time on a more Conservative platform than before.  He called for the elimination of all federal taxes except tariffs.  He also campaigned on a ban of homosexuals in the military.  He continued his call for bringing abortion policies to the forefront of the political debate.

Senator John McCain: McCain tried to fight against the political doublespeak and the special interest groups.  His campaign focused extensively on campaign finance reform.  McCain repeatedly held long town halls and frequent meetings with reporters to show his straight talk campaigning.  McCain was repeatedly accused by the Bush campaign as a Manchurain candidate.  The Bush campaign also accused supporters of McCain that they were not really Republicans but Democrats pretending to be Republicans.  McCain’s independent streak in the Senate finally caught up with him and the straight talk campaign was defeated under a slew of negative ads.

Governor George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate Conservative.”  He implied that he was a centrist Republican.  He ran on bringing honor and integrity back to the White House.  He also ran on cutting taxes, increased military spending, improving education, and aiding minorities.  Bush’s campaign was that of a generic Republican.  But he was able to effectively paint McCain as a RINO.  Bush won the South Carolina primary, the nomination, and the election on the backs of Christian Evangelical voters.

Conclusion: While Bush implied that he was more of a centrist Republican, he effectively showed himself to be the more Conservative option between himself and John McCain.


The early front-runner for the 2008 Republican nomination was Rudy Giuliani but he bowed out fairly early after failing to do well in Iowa.  Mike Huckabee won Iowa and seized the early momentum but John McCain finally won the nomination.

Congressman Ron Paul announced his candidacy in March of 2007.  Paul had a large following and a large group of supporters but ultimately he was unable to unseat any of his rivals in the primary elections.  Paul ran on a campaign of balancing the budget, bringing the troops home, non-interventionist foreign policy, an attempt to be a civil libertarian, and being pro-life.  Paul’s supporters claim to be libertarians but it comes from a different brand, overall, than traditional libertarians.  ANYWAY, Paul failed to endorse another Republican candidate in 2008.

Governor Mike Huckabee was the most Conservative candidates in the 2008 Republican primary.  He was a favorite among Christian evangelicals.  He has stood by his comments that we need to take this nation back to Christ.  He drew considerable support from the Christian evangelical activist groups.  Some media outlets looked through his past speeches and claimed that he was a right-wing Christian.  Huckabee won the Iowa caucus but ultimately bowed out of the election because of lack of funds and structural problems with his campaign.

Governor Mitt Romney’s first run as the presidential nomination was a failure.  Romney’s biggest liability was that he ran for Senate and was Governor of one of the most liberal states in the union.  Late in his gubernatorial tenure, he began to shift his social values to align more with the traditional conservatives’ views.  He was derided by social conservatives for lack of core values and opportunism.  He also faced suspicion from Christian evangelicals because of his religious faith.  Romney was charged as being a flip flopper and came off as phony.  Despite his obvious skills as a fundraiser, it was too much to overcome, with a serious challenger.

Senator John McCain attempted to run for President in 2008.  McCain had national name recognition.  But he faced some criticism for his support of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.  But he mainly got the nomination because of the troubles and inexperience of Huckabee and the phoniness of Romney. McCain’s straight talk and his appeal as an independent thinker showed support from many in the Republican electorate.

Conclusion: McCain was hardly more electable than Romney, but McCain proved to be more Conservative than Romney but less so than Huckabee.


The 2012 Republican primary basically pitted favorite Mitt Romney against the rest of the field.  The rest of the field was supposed to step up to become the anti-Romney candidate.

Speaker Newt Gingrich was one of the favorites for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in 2011.  Gingrich had some hiccups early on in the campaign having to fire most of his staff.  He appeared back on the upswing and fared well in the South and with evangelical Christians.  Gingrich was a favorite at one point but he struggled and began to lag behind Romney.  Gingrich, typically, fared well in the debates but his campaign was plagued by gaffes such as his ill-fated moon colony idea.  Gingrich lasted well into the primary despite the urging by fellow candidate Rick Santorum.  Gingrich announced he was the “last conservative standing.”  He eventually withdrew and threw his support behind Romney.

Ron Paul ran in 2012 like he had in 2008.  He ran a similar campaign to what he had in 2008.  He eventually ran out of money.  He refused to endorse any Republican candidate or speak at the Republican National Convention.

Rick Santorum decided to run for President to allow the Conservative voice to be heard and articulated.  Santorum initially lagged behind many of those who dropped out and the favorite, Mitt Romney.  But as more of the conservative candidates dropped out, Santorum became the only voice for the true conservatives.  Santorum was able to hold on as long he could before eventually suspending his campaign.

Mitt Romney’s second run for the Republican nomination was more successful than the first.  Always adept at fundraising, Romney was able to compete against lesser opponents.  While charges of his flip-flopping re-emerged in 2011, he was able to defend himself against them.  He focused primarily on the eventual match-up with Barack Obama, as opposed to criticizing his fellow Republicans.  Because of his fundraising ability, he was able to outspend his opponents to the point where he broke them.

Conclusion: I’ve been very critical of the 2012 Republican primary field but Romney was the strongest of the weak candidates.  Romney was easily the most electable candidate of the bunch, but not as a question of his moderate ability.  He was a talented fundraiser and able to effectively communicate his message.  It also helped that Romney seemed to look like a president.

1976: More moderate

1980: More conservative

1988: Senator Bob Dole vs. Vice President George H.W. Bush had Bush as more conservative than Dole.

1996: Weak candidates but Dole was moderate

2000: More conservative between Bush and McCain

2008: This one is tough. Huckabee was more conservative than McCain or Romney but was not as strong as a candidate as either of them.

2012: Weak candidates but Romney was moderate

Overall conclusion: The Republican nominations seem to vary over time but it does not seem that there is a tendency by the party to nominate the most moderate choice.  It seems that there is a bias to elect the most electable candidate with a particular bias toward those who have run for the nomination in the past.  When there are stronger candidates, the Republican party chooses the most Conservative stronger candidate.  But at times when there are weaker candidates, the moderate candidate is allowed to shine and win the nomination.

The Left Way of Nominating a President

I would like to make historical comparisons, if I can.  Some on the Left, make a generalized comment that the Democratic Party chooses the most conservative candidate for the Presidential nomination. I will start with the 1972 Presidential Primary and conclude with the 2008 Presidential primary.


In 1970, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie gave the message of the Democratic Party to Congressional voters before the mid-term elections.  In January of 1971, South Dakota Senator George McGovern announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination, polling in 5th place among other Democratic hopefuls.  By August of 1971, Muskie was the heavy favorite to win, not only the Democratic nomination but to win the Presidential election.  In January 1972, McGovern was polling at 3% among Democratic voters.  In January 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination.  Former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey announced his near perennial decision to run for President in 1972.  In March of 1972, former Governor of North Carolina announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  The Congressional Delegate for Washington, D.C., Walter Fauntroy, announced his candidacy and won the D.C. primary.  After a series of campaign attacks, Muskie ended up losing momentum and withdrew from the nomination before the convention.  George Wallace survived an assassination attempt in May of 1972, but was paralyzed from the waist down.  This effectively ended his campaign and he withdrew during the convention.  Humphrey was well-organized for the 1972 primary season, eventually winning many primaries.  He ultimately withdrew after a delegation fiasco at the convention. Sanford withdrew during the convention after finishing in 5th.  McGovern won the nomination.


Edmund Muskie: Muskie was the vice-presidential nominee for Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election.  Muskie became the voice of the Democratic party by 1970.  He was also chosen to give remarks to the State of the Union address in 1972 and 1973.  Muskie was the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination.  But Richard Nixon and his “dirty tricks team” forged a letter alleging that Muskie insulted French Canadians and that his wife drank and swore.  Muskie made a big deal out of his defense for his wife.  He had melted snowflakes on his face that many people thought were tears.  He was accused of breaking down.  Even though Muskie won the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Muskie’s momentum was halted and he withdrew from the nomination.


Hubert Humphrey: Humphrey served as Vice-President from 1965-1969.  Humphrey was originally a skeptic of the Vietnam War.  But after President Lyndon Johnson gave him the cold shoulder for his criticism, Humphrey became a vocal supporter of the war.  Although Humphrey had major support from labor unions and other key Democratic allies, including civil rights activists, he was eventually troubled from his lack of support from college students and anti-war activists over his support for the Vietnam War.  Humphrey, who had the full faith and credit of the Democratic Party in 1968, tried to skip the primaries in 1972, ultimately failed, losing to George McGovern at the convention.

George Wallace: Wallace was the Governor of Alabama, who ran in 1970 for re-election as Governor, based on pretty racist advertisements including accusing blacks vowing to take Alabama.  Wallace did not support the Vietnam War.  Wallace’s 1968 election has been the platform for the Republican Party, since.  He argued against the federal government and busing laws.  Arguments, that more or less, carried over to today.  But in 1972, Wallace declared himself a Democrat and that he was a moderate on segregation.  Wallace was a great campaigner, but his assassination attempt ended his campaign.

Terry Sanford: Sanford, the former Governor of North Carolina, announced his candidacy to show that not all Southerners were in favor of segregation.  Sanford served as Governor of North Carolina, where he increased the state’s expenditures to public universities.  He oversaw the creation of North Carolina’s Community College System.  He raised taxes to help pay for the expenditure.  He also fought for desegregation in North Carolina.  He also was a vocal opponent of the death penalty.  Sanford did not fare well in the primaries.

George McGovern: McGovern, the Senator from South Dakota, was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War.  He had helped lead protests in 1968 after Humphrey won the nomination.  He announced his candidacy before anybody else, in January 1971.  McGovern was still polling below 5% by 1972.  McGovern ran with a grassroots level organization focusing on his anti-war policies.  McGovern won less primary votes than Hubert Humphrey but won, in part by a winner take all system in California.  McGovern’s campaign was focused on withdrawal of Vietnam, amnesty for draft dodgers,  and a 37% decrease in defense spending,  McGovern’s campaign at the end was attacked by the labor movement and Southern Democrats.

Conclusion: McGovern won over the party’s established candidates in Muskie and Humphrey.  By focusing on college students and appealing to the Left, McGovern won the nomination.  The favorites were both Muskie and Humphrey, they both lost.



There were no heavy favorites for the 1976 Democratic nomination, a record 23 people entered the race, but ultimately, it went to Jimmy Carter. In February of 1975, Henry Jackson, Senator from Washington, announced his candidacy.  He was considered the favorite when he ran for his candidacy.  Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy, as late as January of 1976, Carter was polling at 4% among Democratic voters.  After Carter announced his candidacy, Morris Udall, a Congressman from Arizona announced that he would be the liberal alternative to Carter.  Near the end of the campaign, Governor of California Jerry Brown announced that his campaign hoping to stall the conservative Carter’s campaign.


Henry Jackson: Jackson was considered a whore for defense spending.  He criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for not spending enough for defense spending.  He was considered the Senator from Boeing for his all talk about adding additional contracts to his state.  Jackson was one of the biggest supporters for the Civil Rights movement.  But because of his calls for defense spending and his support for the Vietnam War, Jackson’s campaign was initially attacked by the Left.  Jackson had raised his profile by speaking about the Middle East and U.S.-Soviet policy.  Jackson was also supported for his vocal support for Israel.  But because he never got off the ground for his support for Vietnam War and his lack of support from the labor movement, he ran out of money and ultimately dropped out of the campaign.

Jimmy Carter: Carter was not well-known nationally.  But because of the opposition to the Watergate scandal, Carter was able to target people because of his outsider status.  Carter won election as Governor of Georgia, in part because of a nasty racially charged campaign.  While he was Governor, he announced that segregation was over.  Carter merged hundreds of state agencies, as well.  He ran as a moderate in the South to George Wallace’s ideology.  While in the North, he looked Conservative.  Carter grabbed the early momentum by winning Iowa and New Hampshire. His early successes led the Left to find a new candidate to support.

Morris Udall: By the time Udall decided to run, Carter defeated his early challengers with a string of victories.  Udall announced his candidacy as the liberal alternative to Carter.  Udall was known in Congress for his environmental policies, Native American welfare, and commitment to campaign finance reform.  Udall, apparently, made witty speeches, which delighted a lot of his supporters.  Udall did not really emerge as a a formidable foe to Carter.  He was attacked as a racist in the Michigan primary.  He ultimately lost and did not get over the campaign as he endorsed Edward Kennedy’s run in 1980 against Carter.


Jerry Brown: Brown announced his candidacy even later, hoping to challenge the moderate Carter.  Brown was the Governor of California, at the time.  He was a fiscal conservative, championed environmental issues, and opposed the death penalty.  Brown was unable to stop Carter’s momentum, despite ultimate primary wins in Louisiana, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.

Conclusion: There was no clear establishment favorite after Edward Kennedy declined to run.  Jackson was the first favorite, but ultimately dropped out.  Carter was considered a conservative, at the time, but never really earned the support of the Party.  The Carter primary victory was vastly different than any since.



At the beginning of the campaign, vice-president and former Senator from Minnesota, Walter Mondale was the early favorite for the 1984 Democratic nomination.  Despite a primary win in New Hampshire by a moderate Senator from Colorado named Gary Hart, Mondale maintained his front-runner status.  Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson was regarded as a fringe candidate and finished in 3rd place, eventually winning 21% of the popular vote from the Democratic primary.  Former astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn also announced his candidacy, he was in 2nd place behind Mondale in early polling, but Glenn ultimately failed as a candidate.


John Glenn: Glenn was an astronaut and became a Senator in 1974.  Glenn was considered a choice for Carter’s vice-president nominee but his speech did not impress the Democratic Party.  In November of 1983, Glenn was polling a close second, trailing only Mondale.  Glenn decided to run for President as if he was voting for Senate.  He declined to cater to the interest groups, trying to appeal to everyday voters.  Glenn went deep in debt for his presidential campaign and failed to live up to his early billing.

Jesse Jackson: Jackson was more or less considered a fringe candidate.  He managed to win three to five primaries.  He won more votes in Virginia than any other candidate, but Mondale won more delegates.  Jackson’s campaign was doomed by his anti-Semitic remarks referring to New York City as Hymietown.  He also refused to disassociate himself from Louis Farrakhan.  He also was a supporter of the Palestine state.  Jackson was also critical of Mondale, saying that the last relevant politician from Minneapolis was Hubert Humphrey.


Gary Hart: Hart, Senator from Colorado, started out behind many contenders as someone who was not well known within the Democratic Party.  He began his campaign in New Hampshire earlier than most.  By late 1983, Hart was ahead of the middling contenders and polled in the middle of the pack.  Although, he lost the Iowa caucus, he came back and won the New Hampshire primary.  Hart was a moderate Democrat, who people thought represented the future of the party.  Because he was more independent, his ideas were different than many of the contenders in the Democratic primary.  Mondale jumped on this by claiming that Hart’s ideas were not substantial enough.  Ultimately, Hart lost to Mondale in the Democratic convention.

Walter Mondale: Mondale, by virtue of being Vice-President from 1977-1981 and running in 1980, was the clear front-runner in the 1984 election.  Mondale was a typical liberal Democratic presidential candidate who eventually campaigned against Ronald Reagan by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, a nuclear freeze, and against Reagan’s economic policies.  His liberal attitudes helped him clinch the Democratic nomination but ultimately failed him in the general election.

Conclusion: Mondale was the most liberal candidate in the field.  He was also the front-runner throughout the entire election.  Some credit his lopsided defeat in the general election as the reason to shift to more moderate candidates from the Democratic party.



After the fairly strong showing in the 1984 presidential primaries, Gary Hart was considered the front-runner for the 1988 nomination.  But in 1987, news broke that Hart had an extra-marital affair.  Hart suspended his campaign and it became a free-for-all for the nomination.  Representative Dick Gephardt initially seized some of the momentum in Iowa by highlighting what he thought was unfair trade practices by Japan and South Korea.  Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis portrayed Gephardt as a flip-flopper in commercials.  Gephardt finished second to Dukakis in New Hampshire but his flop-flopping advertisements doomed Gephardt by Super Tuesday.  In early 1988, Jesse Jackson gained momentum by winning in Michigan.  But that was short-lived, as Dukakis won the Colorado primary and Wisconsin primary in back to back days. Senator Al Gore ran, as well, trying to capture the momentum on Super Tuesday as being the only Southern candidate, when 12 states would hold their primaries.  But he failed to account for Jackson, as Jackson and Gore split the Southern votes.  Dukakis did not focus on the Southern states and was able to win the majority of the primaries.



Dick Gephardt: Rep. Gephardt ran for President from his position representing Missouri, the 3rd District.  Gephardt, initially was dependent on labor and union spending as he decided to run.  He, initially, was critical of the decision in Roe v. Wade but later decided that he no longer supports restrictions on abortion rights.  He, also, initially voted in favor of Reagan’s tax cuts before being against them. He supported universal health coverage, fair trade, and progressive taxation.  He was able to capitalize on this spending by running advertisements that included highlighting unfair trade from Japan and Korea.  But after Jesse Jackson’s strong showing in Michigan, many unions and those in the labor movement switched support to Jesse Jackson, Gephardt ran out of money and steam.  Despite his strong showing early, he was out by Super Tuesday.

Al Gore: Gore, initially was a long-shot for the nomination.  But because of his youthfulness and his centrist policies, Gore seemed to be a match made in television heaven.  Gore was a Southern Democrat who opposed federal funding for abortion, supported prayer in school, and voted against banning interstate sales of handguns.  Gore was compared, somewhat favorably, to John F. Kennedy.  But Gore did not foresee Jackson splitting the Southern vote with him on Super Tuesday.  Gore was also criticized for some of the supporting words given by New York City Mayor Ed Koch in defense of Israel.  Many of these views cast others in  negative light and Gore was perceived as being too negative, he soon dropped out of the race.

Jesse Jackson: Initially considered a long shot due to his race and his kind of strange showing in the 1984 Presidential nomination process, Jackson showed to be a formidable foe by giving a rousing speech to the United AutoWorkers in Detroit.  Jackson picked up a lot of support in the union heavy Michigan.  After, he won the state, Jackson was considered the front-runner.  Jackson was considered to be a very liberal candidate supporting a variety of views that were not even on the Democratic party platform.  He was a supporter of single payer health care, going away from mandatory minimum sentences, reviving many of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies for farmers, providing free community college for all, among others.  Jackson was doomed, in part, because of the criminal activity of his half-brother.  Jackson, also, did not have the support from white voters.

Michael Dukakis: The Governor of Massachusetts at the time, Dukakis merely outspent the rest of his opponents to eventually win the nomination.  It really wasn’t that impressive of a victory.  This seems similar to Mitt Romney in 2012.  Dukakis ate up his competitors by outspending them and appealing to white voters.  By not focusing on the South, Dukakis was able to win other stats while Gore split the South with Jackson.


Conclusion: This election was very strange.  Dukakis was able to pick apart his opponents by using their weaknesses against them.  By focusing on flip-flopping with Gephardt, appealing to white voters to defeat Jackson, and to show that Gore was not liberal enough, Dukakis was able to secure the nomination.  This one had three lead changes for the nomination and the heavy favorite before the election did not even end up running.



As the Iowa caucus came about Iowa Senator Tom Harkin won handily but less than one month later, Harkin was out of the race.  Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who was painting himself as a New Democrat, was a relative unknown.  A woman came forward claiming an affair with Clinton, but he re-branded himself as the comeback kid.  He finished in second place behind Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas in New Hampshire.  California Governor Jerry Brown won in Maine delaying the momentum of Tsongas.  Clinton began to take the momentum away from Tsongas and Brown, finishing in 2nd place in Arizona before beginning to win states of his own.  Tsongas hoped to push Brown out of the race by Illinois but Brown managed to stick around coming in 3rd place.  A week later, Brown won Connecticut sealing the fate for Tsongas.  Clinton won the vast majority of states after Connecticut.  Brown lost New York after being ahead for awhile.  That was the end for Brown.  Clinton was able to secure the nomination.


Tom Harkin: The Iowa Senator was considered the early favorite for the Democratic nomination.  He had strong support with the labor movement and began his run as a populist.  But he was not well suited for a national campaign.  Poor showings at other primaries doomed Harkin.  He threw his support behind Bill Clinton, early on, and later campaigned for him.

Paul Tsongas: Tsongas ignored the Iowa caucus and decided to focus on the New Hampshire primary.  He began the campaign focusing on his independence and fiscal conservatism.  He decided against campaigning on a tax cut like many other candidates. He was viewed as a social liberal and an economic moderate.  While in Congress, he focused on environmental conservation  and pro-business economic policies.  He was critical of the Democratic party for focusing on wealth redistribution when he thought they should be focusing on the federal deficit.  Tsongas, after his New Hampshire primary win, picked up several other primaries but was unable to match Clinton for fundraising.  His biggest chance was to force Jerry Brown from the race, which he was unable to do.  He was briefly considered the front-runner but Bill Clinton’s popularity and narrative as the comeback kid, placed him as the favorite for the majority of the race.


Jerry Brown: The former Governor of California was considered to be the most left candidate and the candidate who was the most right.  He campaigned by only accepting individual donations.  He also campaigned on populist ideals, calling for Congressional term limits.  But at different points, he campaigned for a flat tax, the abolition of the Department of Education, opposition to NAFTA, and support for living-wage laws.  Brown’s campaign was interesting, not spending for commercials but hosting talk and radio shows.  What allowed him to be a serious contender to Clinton was a narrow victory in Connecticut.  What doomed him was his in the New York primary, he told many Democratic leaders in New York City that he was considering Jesse Jackson as his Vice-President.  Because of his anti-Semitic remarks earlier, Jackson was still a hated figure in New York City.  Brown was unable to win New York.  Ultimately, Brown came in 2nd place overall.

Bill Clinton: Clinton gave a very long speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that was poorly delivered.  He should have played the saxophone.  But Clinton was an unknown in Iowa for the nomination, finishing a distant third.  While campaigning in New Hampshire, accusations of an extramarital affair was surfacing.  Clinton went on 60 Minutes with Hillary Rodham Clinton fighting the charge.  Clinton was able to convince enough voters to give him some love.  He finished within single digits of Tsongas in New Hampshire.  This was considered a major victory for Clinton’s campaign because he was not expected to do this well.  Clinton secured most of the South on Super Tuesday but he had failed to win a state outside of the South.  Because of Jerry Brown’s mistake in New York, Clinton was able to win New York which gave him credence that he wasn’t a regional candidate.  Clinton later became the nominee.

Conclusion: The original favorite bowed out early.  Clinton became the favorite by New Hampshire but there were still many questions about his ability to win outside of the South fairly late.  While Brown was never considered a favorite, he gave Clinton a challenge.  As for who was most Conservative and most Liberal?  Clinton was thought to be the leader of the New Democratic Party where it was going to win the middle of America.  Brown was considered the most Conservative and most Liberal candidate.  Tsongas is certainly not a Liberal.  Harkin was the closest to a Liberal in the campaign.  But, yikes. There was not a true Liberal in the Mondale mold.



Vice-President Al Gore was considered the favorite to run for the presidential nomination, as early as 1997.  Meanwhile, New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley formed an exploratory campaign to run for President in 1998.  Bradley was the only candidate to challenge Gore.  He trailed Gore in every poll and every primary.


Bill Bradley: Bradley campaigned as the liberal alternative to Vice-President Al Gore.  He campaigned on universal health care, gun control, and campaign finance reform.  Bradley also advocated for expanding the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, expand Head Start, and expand welfare.  He stated that the best tax system would be low rates and no loopholes.  Bradley did not lead in any poll and he lost every primary.

Al Gore: After basically 12 years in the national spotlight, either running for President or being Vice-President, Gore was the Democratic Party’s favorite to win the nomination.  Gore ran to the middle throughout the campaign and distanced himself from Bill Clinton.  Gore was offensive with Bradley during their debates, but thanks to access to the party’s credit card, Gore was able to win the nomination, easily.

Conclusion: If you’re arguing for Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, Al Gore is basically your comparison.  Gore was much more conservative than Bradley and was considered the favorite three years before election.  If this is the nomination process in 2016, I fear for the 2016 Democratic nomination.  As we’ve seen for a number of primaries the favorite failed to secure the nomination, but in 2000, this was remarkably changed.




In May of 2002, Vermont Governor Howard Dean announced he would form an exploratory committee to run for President.  Massachusetts Senator John Kerry announced in December of 2002 that he, too, would form a committee.  North Carolina John Edwards also announced his intention to form a committee.  In April of 2004, fundraising totals for the first quarter of 2003 were announced showing Edwards in the lead, followed by Kerry.  Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman were ahead of Howard Dean but they were still over $4 million behind Kerry and Edwards.  Dean showed the first advertisement of the campaign.  A liberal website, MoveOn held a nonbinding Democratic primary for financial support and the website’s endorsement.  Dean came in first, followed by Dennis Kucinich, and Kerry.  By July of 2003, the second quarter fundraising numbers were in and Dean was now able to raise more money than anyone else.  Kerry came in second.  Edwards tied with Lieberman, in third place.  In fall of 2003, Dean was considered the favorite, performing strongly in polls.  Although he was a pragmatic centrist as Governor, in the mold of Bill Clinton, he denounced George W. Bush’s policies, in addition to, Democrats who did not oppose them, enough.  Dean was referred to as a Rockefeller Republican, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  Despite being a heavy favorite, Dean focused on negative advertisements in Iowa.  After the results of Iowa were counted, Kerry finished in 1st, Edwards in 2nd, and Dean in 3rd.  Dean downplayed the result but Kerry was able to win New Hampshire, as well.  Edwards regained momentum by focusing on positive ads.  Kerry was able to maintain his lead throughout the process and secured the nomination.



Howard Dean: Dean has become a favorite of liberals on the internet who think that Dean represented the only liberal response in 2004.  They forget the criticism of Ralph Nader and others that called him a Rockefeller Republican.  Dean opposed the Iraq War and the Bush tax cuts and drew on the internet for grassroots activism and campaign funding.  This was in the mold of Jerry Brown asking for individual donations for his presidential campaign.  Dean was a longshot candidate to begin with, but because of his early announcement, as we’ve seen, he was able to gain early support.

John Edwards: Edwards was a one-term Senator from North Carolina.  He was the second or third place finisher in almost every primary.  Looking at the fundraising numbers, Edwards was the favorite to win the nomination.  By virtue of staying in the race longer than others, he was able to secure a number of delegates.  He also focused on positive advertisements.  He refused to attack John Kerry.

John Kerry: Despite not being the party favorite or party activists’ favorite, Kerry won nearly every primary or caucus.  You know he’s pretty much the favorite, when they say that the Iowa caucus revitalized his sagging campaign.  It’s the first caucus.  Whatever.

Conclusion: Edwards was initially the favorite if you look at fundraising.  Due to the internet and progressives, more or less seeing the same blogs and websites, Dean was the favorite.  But when it came to voting, there was no doubt, Kerry was the favorite, throughout.  Dean was considered by some to be the most liberal and that’s certainly the popular narrative now.  But that could simply be political posturing.  Edwards was often the one who was characterized as being the populist.  But we know how narratives can be invented years after the fact.




This was the first presidential election I remember paying close attention to. I watched the Democratic Presidential debates and also one of my friends and I volunteered for John Edwards’s campaign.  With respect to the other candidates, the choices were between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton emerged as the early two favorites in terms of fundraising.  Clinton was the favorite, according to an assortment of polls. In September 2007, she was leading the first six states that would hold primaries and caucuses. After multiple third place finishes, Edwards dropped out of the race.  Barack Obama won the early momentum by winning Iowa after Hillary Clinton declined to show up.  Obama campaigned largely on hope and change.  The Iowa caucus announced his presence to those who had been ignoring politics.  After the Iowa caucus, Obama began to look a little bit better in polls, showing him leading in New Hampshire.  Clinton narrowly won New Hampshire.  She stumbled after New Hampshire, implicitly making a racial remark about Obama.  Bill Clinton later compared Barack Obama’s primary victories to Jesse Jackson’s victories in 1988.  Obama surged on Super Tuesday after a one on one debate with Hillary Clinton.  The idea among Democratic voters and progressives was that Obama would be more liberal than Clinton.

Overall conclusion:

The favorite for the Democratic primary won in 1984 and 2000.

The most “moderate” candidate won in 1976 and 2000.

There is not strong historical evidence for the claim that the Democratic party would nominate the most moderate candidate.  Nor is there strong evidence for the favorite before the primary season to win the Democratic nomination.

Why I Missed Donald Trump’s Rise

When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy, I remarked that he would pass and fall out of the race relatively quickly.  The basis of my argument was that Trump’s net favorability numbers were too low to be able to sustain a primary campaign, his place in the polls was largely due to name recognition, and that the base of his supporters was too low in the primary to be able to win multiple primaries.  I ultimately concluded that the most likely outcome for his campaign was Herman Cain.  Obviously, that was wrong.  Instead of just saying that was then, this is now, I want to look at why I was wrong and if it would provide any meaningful learning opportunities for me going forward.

Net favorability argument

This was the standard argument that was brought forward against Trump.  Looking at Trump’s favorability numbers, he looked like a general election candidate going up against the electorate as a whole compared to a primary with just members of his party.  Most contenders for the presidential nomination had favorability numbers of (+20-+30) while Trump’s numbers ranged from a low negative to a low positive (-5 – +10).  This included the early states as well as the national polls.  There had not been a major party candidate who was able to survive with these numbers in the modern primary system (1972).  Because there was a lack of historical precedent, it was easy to dismiss Trump’s ability to overcome this and be able to win any primaries, much less be the favorite for the nomination.

The argument has turned out to be wrong for a couple of reasons.  The argument assumed that the field would be winnowed relatively shortly as the voting began.  This would lower the ceiling on any candidate with this low of favorability numbers.  This did not happen as quickly as originally thought.  While Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee dropped out after Iowa, this did not make much of a difference.  Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson sticking around for longer than they should have also helped Donald Trump win with a lower percentage of the vote than previous candidates.  Although, not by much.  With Super PACs and megadonors essentially being able to financially support a candidate as far as they could go, we could have assumed that the field would not winnow as quickly as we originally thought.

The stronger argument as to why the net favorability wasn’t enough to sink Donald Trump is the one that has been taken up by Harry Enten and his colleagues at Five Thirty Eight.  The argument is that his supporters may be relatively few in number but they support him no matter what.  This plays off of the idea of the field not winnowing.  As the field continued to be large, Trump supporters while small in absolute numbers almost all would end up supporting him.  The vast majority of voters who held a favorable opinion of Trump wound up voting for him.  This is at odds with what usually happens in primaries but not totally unpredictable.    In general elections, almost all of the people who have favorable views of one candidate will end up voting for him or her.

The base of supporters

I did underestimate the level of support for Donald Trump.  I assumed based on the polling information at the time, which showed Donald Trump was mainly picking up supporters from the TEA Party.  I estimated that the TEA Party supporters are about 15-20% of the Republican primary electorate nationally.  I had difficulty believing that Trump would be able to build a successful coalition out of the TEA Party because most other factions of the Republican base had at least one candidate who they could support.  In looking at the South Carolina exit polls and the New Hampshire exit polls, we can begin to see how Trump was able to build a coalition to succeed.

Despite his comments on women in the past and Megyn Kelly’s need to bring it up for debates, Trump does not have that large of a gender gap for support.  While he does slightly better with males than females, an image of him reaching out to just males is incorrect.  Although, once you get to income, he is able to separate himself.  In New Hampshire, he was able to get 40% of the vote of those making less than $50k/year.  The next highest was Ted Cruz at 13%.  In South Carolina, it wasn’t much different as he was able to get 33% of the vote for those making less than $50k compared to Cruz at 27%.  In South Carolina, at $50k-$99k, he was at 34% of the vote compared to Cruz at 26% of the vote.  Finally, for those voters making more than $100K per year, Trump was tied for Rubio with the lead at 28% of the vote and his vote share significantly decreased to 32% of the vote in New Hampshire with those making more than $100k per year.

In both South Carolina and New Hampshire, Trump significantly overperformed with voters who were not college graduates.  As education levels increased, Trump’s support decreased.  This should not be surprising as we also see the same thing with regards to income level.  Trump’s messages about the economy, about immigration, about just about everything appeals to those with less education and who are making less.  Immigration and trade deals are more likely to affect workers who make less or who are in less specialized fields.

Unfortunately, the next set of data does not help us determine the coalition that Trump has built.  In New Hampshire, Trump’s best marks were with non-born again or non-evangelical Christians, as he was able to garner 38% of their vote.  In South Carolina, however, he did much better with evangelical Christians/born-again Christians.  He got 34% of the vote of them compared to 29% of the votes of non-born-again Christians.

For the issue that mattered most, it should come as no surprise that Trump did the best with those who thought that immigration was the issue that matters most.  Although this only represented 10-15% of the total voters voting in either primary, Trump was able to receive over 50% of their votes.  Trump’s next best category was the economy, in which, Trump received over a third of the votes.  For terrorism, he was able to get about 30% of the votes.   His weakest category for South Carolina was government spending as he only received 25% of the vote.

In case someone accused me of not writing enough on exit polls, we can look at how Republicans in these states think about immigration.  44% of South Carolina voters think that illegal immigrants should be deported.  47% of those voted for Donald Trump.  In New Hampshire, 41% of the voters think that they should be deported and 51% of those voters went for Trump.  Perhaps more importantly, 65% of New Hampshire voters think that there should be a temporary ban on Muslims entering America.  45% of these voters voted for Trump.  74% of South Carolina voters think that there should be a ban on Muslims entering America.  41% of these supporters selected Donald Trump.

Basically, Trump’s coalition among Republicans is made up of those who are not well-educated, not making that much money, and is generally skeptical about immigration specifically illegal immigration and immigration by Muslims.  How much of the primary electorate is that?  Probably about 30-40% if South Carolina and New Hampshire is representative, at all.

What we learned

I don’t think Trump is necessarily relevant for learning material going forward.  Trump’s name recognition and his bullying are almost once in a lifetime talents (if you want to call them that).  Combined with a sentiment from primary voters that the next nominee should be outside of politics is providing Trump with a perfect storm to be able to win the nomination.  Finally, the San Bernardino shootings and the call for no refugees immigrating to the United States continued to help Donald Trump.  If there is one thing Trump likes to exude and one thing he values most, it is strength.

Trump had a fair share of luck to help him get here, including a large field to run against, but most of what he has been able to accomplish has been because of a fairly brilliant campaign.  He knows when to push back and when to bully.  He’s managed to have enough self-control to not lash out every time he gets attacked so as not to appear irrational.  His one mistake was skipping the Iowa debate but even then, he showed that he was willing to stick to his guns and follow through.

It’s been foolish to bet against Trump since he declared and I keep doing it proving myself to be an insane fool.  A brokered convention seems itself so unlikely that it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Trump is not the nominee at this point.

Edit: Ted Cruz has become the only candidate who could force more than one ballot at the Republican National Convention.  Nate Silver correctly noted that Donald Trump is unlikely to be the nominee if It is after one ballot.  This post was written prior to Super Tuesday.