2016: Like 1964 or 1980?
On the first Wednesday of November, we will say President Elect Clinton or President Elect Trump. I hope that it's Mr. Trump for the sake of the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's admit he has to finish strong for that to happen.
Elections are always very different, but sometimes they remind you of the ones that came before. Twenty-sixteen is starting to look a lot like 1964 and 1980.
Let's recall 1964:
In 1964, President Johnson was not necessarily popular but he was riding the tragedy of President Kennedy's death and the country was peaceful and relatively prosperous. However, President Johnson did not sit on his lead and blew Senator Goldwater with a very effective campaign of scaring voters:
President Lyndon B. Johnson had come to office less than a year earlier following the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and Johnson had successfully associated himself with Kennedy's popularity. Johnson also successfully painted his opponent, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, as a right-wing legislator who wanted to abolish the social welfare programs created in the 1930s (such as Social Security). LBJ advocated more such programs, and after 1965, instituted three: Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty.
With these factors working for him, Johnson easily won the Presidency, carrying 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. As of 2009, Johnson's 22.6 percentage point-margin of victory in the popular vote is the fifth-largest such margin in Presidential election history (after the margins of the 1920 election, 1924 election, 1936 election, and 1972 election). Johnson won 61.1% of the national popular vote, which remains the highest popular-vote percentage won by a U.S.presidential candidate since 1820.
The election is also remembered due to Goldwater's status as a pioneer in the modern conservative movement.
Take note of the last point about pioneering the modern conservative movement. The GOP won seven of the next ten presidential elections after this humiliating defeat.
In 1980, President Carter was highly unpopular. He fought off a serious challenge from Senator Kennedy.
I remember that election cycle quite well, and I can't recall meeting anyone who was crazy about re-electing President Carter. Even Democrats were not privately sold on re-election.
At the same time, Governor Reagan couldn't break through, and everything came down to the last week of the election and a very famous debate:
Reagan, aided by the Iran hostage crisis and a worsening economy at home, won the election in a landslide. Carter, after defeating Ted Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, attacked Reagan as a dangerous right-wing radical. For his part, Reagan, the former Governor of California, repeatedly ridiculed Carter, and won a decisive victory; in the simultaneous Congressional elections, Republicans won control of the United States Senate for the first time in 28 years. This election marked the beginning of what is popularly called the "Reagan Revolution."
As I said, I was there in 1980, making phone calls from a Reagan phone bank. I recall the Friday night before the election, and it was a dead heat. However, something happened that weekend, and the dead heat turned into a 10-point victory for Mr Reagan. At the last minute, millions decided that four more years of Carter was not good for the country!
So what about 2016?
The Clinton campaign has indeed tried to paint Trump as reckless and unfit for the presidency, or exactly what President Johnson did in 1964. They have not run an ad with a nuclear bomb going off behind a cute little girl yet, but the election is not over.
To be fair, Trump continues to give the other side lots to talk about, such as the latest controversy over immigration. In the interest of full disclosure, I always thought massive deportation was unworkable even if it sounded good to many primary voters.
Once again, Trump is often talking about everything but Mrs. Clinton or the Obama record.
Like Mr. Reagan in 1980, Mr. Trump has the economy and a horrible foreign policy going for him. And Clinton is not very popular at all. He has debates ahead where he can destroy her record and other weaknesses.
What will it be? I can't say today, although I continue to believe that the fundamentals are with Trump.