Hillary Clinton’s test: A third straight Democratic term – USA TODAY
If Hillary Clinton pursues the presidency, she’ll be trying buck a historical trend — one recently cited by former president Bill Clinton.
“It’s hard for any party to hang on to the White House for 12 years, and it’s a long road,” Bill Clinton said in an interview with Town & Country magazine. “A thousand things could happen.”
Clinton is reportedly ready to announce her candidacy as early as this weekend, according to NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. CNN cites a “source close to Clinton’s campaign in waiting” that the announcement could come Sunday via social media and a video.
Since 1948 — the year Harry Truman won a fifth straight election for the Democrats, following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four wins — a political party has won three straight elections only once.
It happened in 1988, the year the Republican nominee, Vice President George H.W. Bush, won the right to replace Ronald Reagan.
Otherwise, a string of candidates have found it impossible to do what Clinton may try to do — succeed a president from the political party that has held the White House for eight years.
Republican nominee Richard Nixon couldn’t do it in 1960, after President Dwight Eisenhower’s two terms. Democratic nominee (and Vice President) Hubert Humphrey couldn’t do it in 1968, after eight years of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
In 2000, Democratic Vice President Al Gore lost his bid to succeed Bill Clinton after two terms. In 2008, Republican John McCain lost a presidential election after eight years of George W. Bush.
The main reason: Eight years is a long time to build up a presidential record, one that to be defended by fellow party members.
The longer the presidency, “the more there is for opponents to criticize,” said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University. “The more there is for voters to be unhappy about.”
Voters seemed more willing to stick with incumbent parties back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Starting in 1896, three Republicans — William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft — won four straight presidential elections. Democrat Woodrow Wilson ended that string of GOP dominance by winning the election of 1912, a race that included both Taft and the by-then independent Roosevelt.
Americans went back with the Republicans after eight years of Wilson. The Roaring Twenties saw three more consecutive GOP wins: Warren Harding in 1920, Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and Herbert Hoover in 1928.
Then came the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt, ever the exception in presidential history. After winning elections in 1932 and 1936, Roosevelt broke the two-term presidential tradition and — with the approach of the Second World War approaching — won a third term in 1940.
Roosevelt won again in 1944, and, having ascended to the presidency after FDR’s death the next year, Harry Truman extended the Democrats’ winning streak to five in 1948.
Since then, with the exception of Reagan and the senior Bush, voters have tended go back and forth with the parties when it comes to picking presidents. (Another reason for that is the fact that the Constitution now forbids presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms.)
Not unlike Nixon and Eisenhower, Humphrey and Johnson, Gore and Bill Clinton, and McCain and Bush, Hillary Clinton will be linked with President Obama if she runs in 2016, for better or for worse.
Some Republican candidates are already arguing that a Clinton victory would mean a “third Obama term.”
Zelizer, author of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society, said the former secretary of State will have to deal with the Obama issue as a part of any campaign.
“She was literally a part of his administration,” Zelizer said.
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