One-Term Presidents

One-Term Presidents

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

David talks to Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle about the historical precedents for US presidents losing office after a singleterm. It doesn't happen very often, but it could be about to happen again! Can Trump use the powers of incumbency to prevent it? Can Biden use Trump's growing chaos to seal his fate? Plus we talk about the fall-out from the first presidential debate and we ask how the politics of the Supreme Court might intersect with a contested election result.

Talking Points:

One-term presidents are rare in American history.

Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush are the only presidents in the last 100 years who have lost reelection bids.When you take out third party challengers, you’re left with Hoover and Carter, two presidents who both failed to handle a significant national disaster.

The Hoover and Carter cases came at turning points in presidential cycles.

1932 and 1980 signify profound shifts in political order: from Republican to Democrat, and then from Democrat to Republican. There is not a clear dominant party right now. You would expect a one-term presidency to be more likely when there isn’t a dominant party.  

In the Carter case, incumbency was perhaps a disadvantage. 

He faced a difficult economic situation as well as the Iranian hostage crisis. Both Carter and Hoover got hit by an economic crisis for which the country was not prepared, for which there were no ideal or quick solutions.  

There’s never been a Supreme Court justice appointed and confirmed so quickly or so close to an election.

The Republican party thinks their future lies with controlling the courts.McConnell’s strategy might actually harm Trump in the elections; they are determined to do this even, potentially, at the cost of the presidency.If Barrett said she would recuse herself from ruling on the election, McConnell wouldn’t care, but Trump would. 

The debate may have been unedifying, but it clarified what was at stake.

Biden did not make a positive case for himself; his pitch was that he is not Trump.The overriding impression of the debate was chaos.Trump’s attempt to frame Biden as a creature of the left fell short. Trump made the presidency look cheap. The aversion factor matters: which of the candidates do most people find unacceptable? But Trump also dragged Biden into the chaos.What would happen if a Conservative court legitimated a Biden victory? 

Mentioned in this Episode: 

The US Presidential Debate

Further Learning:

‘Hating on Herbert Hoover,’ from The New YorkerWhat happened with Merrick Garland? Six takeaways from the presidential debate from The New York TimesWho won the debate? From 538Frederick Wilmot-Smith in the LRB on the US Supreme Court<a...
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