Mitt Romney is considering running again in 2016. Herewith a little history lesson.
Three men have lost their first election as their party’s presidential nominee, then gone on to get their party’s nomination again:*# Democrats William Jennings Bryan (1896, 1900, and 1908), and Adlai Stevenson II (1952, 1956), and Republican Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948). Each lost their second (and for Bryan, third) bid as well as their first.
Even more than each losing their subsequent elections, each lost share of the popular vote in their succeeding elections.
- Bryan fell from 46.7% to 45.5% and then to 43%, declines of 1.2 and 2.5 percentage points.
- Stevenson’s vote share declined from 44.4% to 42%, a decline of 2.2 percentage points.
- Dewey was the most successful of the losers, dropping only 0.2 percentage points, from 45.3% to 45.1%. His second loss (1948), came despite the presence of third party candidates Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, who took 2.4% and 2.3% of the vote, respectively. Both Thurmond and Wallace were Democrats (it was 16 years before Thurmond switched to the GOP), although running on third party tickets, and the Democrats’ vote share declined 3.8 percentage points. Nevertheless, Dewey could do no better than essentially hold even.**
Overall, the average decline between losing presidential bids was 1.5 percentage points. If that pattern were to hold in 2016, Romney would get only about 45% of the vote.
Of course history only holds as long as history holds. Just because something has never happened before doesn’t mean it can happen this time. But patterns tend to be broken only when important characteristics of the problem change. Romney is not an important characteristic. A massive economic slump might be, but the economy’s on the upswing, and nobody but the Church of Mises is predicting a major decline in early to mid 2016.
A very bad Democratic nominee would be another important characteristic, where very bad means someone so repulsive to the general public as to be unelectable when facing nearly anyone the GOP might throw at them. As much as I dislike HRC, I can’t see her as that person. Elizabeth Warren? Maybe more so than Clinton, but I don’t see her as essentially unelectable. Jim Webb? No. Luis Gutierrez? No. Joe Manchin? No. Joe Biden….let me get back to you.
For both of these scenarios, note, the change allows Romney to rebound to a win not by any of his own doing, but by creating a situation where almost anyone with an R after his/her name would do so.
What other important characteristic could there be that could enable Romney to buck the historical trend? And how likely is that characteristic to change in his favor?
[Image credit: George Washington University]
*Grover Cleveland is not among these. He won his first bid, but lost his second, then won his third. Unlike these others, he was a proven winner, despite his loss. Additionally, he actually won a plurality of the vote in his re-election bid, losing due to the electoral college anomaly. But even he lost vote share in both of his successive elections, dropping from 48.9% to 48.6% to 46%.
#Addendum: Obviously, as Mike Schilling points out below, I forgot Nixon, who lost in 1960, before regaining the nomination and winning in 1968 (then again in 1972). I cannot explain this bizarre oversight, and will not attempt to hide my embarrassing lapse by rewriting to include him.
**Addendum: This section was edited, as I originally had the discussion of third party candidates in 1948 mixed up in the discussion of Stevenson. I have made the correction for clarity.