What do Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, and Pat Buchanan have in common? All four challenged a sitting President for their Party’s nomination and lost: Roosevelt in 1912, Reagan in 1976, Kennedy in 1980, and Buchanan in 1992
If you’re a sane Republican (!), this is bad news. You might like to see a sane candidate take out the crazy, incompetent buffoon your Party inflicted on the republic in 2016. William Weld (ever heard of him?) is already running. We forgive you if you missed it. His campaign site doesn’t even make number one on Google for “William Weld President.” Apparently he doesn’t understand SEO. Poor guy.
But four other Republicans are thinking about running against Trump: Joe Walsh (who would not be much of an improvement), Jeff Flake (the flake, who made some brave speeches denouncing Trump as a Senator, but still mostly voted with him), Mark Sanford (back from Argentina, apparently), and John Kasich (remember him? He ran in 2016). Oh, boy.
Using Teddy Roosevelt as the standard is really unfair. In 1912, when he ran as an independent after losing the Republican primary to Taft, he had already served two terms as President (this was before the Amendment limiting the president to two terms, so he was still eligible) and, even today, over 100 years later, could still be a serious contender for the Most Energetic President Award. Nothing is impossible, but if Teddy could not scrape his Party’s nomination off of a slug like Taft, winning a Party’s nomination for president from a sitting president is as close to impossible as you’re going to get.
We can call this the TR Rule.
Either Reagan or Kennedy is more reasonable. You choose. Reagan was a Republican, of course, running against the badly challenged, for his own reasons, Gerald Ford, who became president when Nixon resigned, then made everyone mad by giving Nixon a pardon. Reagan had served as governor of California, so he was more qualified than Trump, although they have in common that they first became famous as entertainers and were highly ideological presidents in knowing very little about policy. Both advocated tax cuts that created huge budget deficits.
Kennedy was a sitting Senator when he challenged Carter, the Democrat who beat Ford in 1976. Carter now wins the award for Most Admirable Former President hands down, but he was not a hugely successful or popular president at the time. As Reagan wanted to make the Republican Party more “conservative,” whatever that means, so Kennedy wanted to make the Democratic Party more liberal. Teddy, of course, had the advantage of being the brother of the late, much lamented John and Robert Kennedy, so he had a built in following of Kennedy worshipers, but even that was not enough.
Buchanan was, is, a raving lunatic. His notorious speech at the 1992 Republican convention, declaring a “culture war,” is the stuff of legend. It prompted famous columnist Molly Ivins to assert that “it sounded better in the original German.” Buchanan is sort of an irrelevant outlier here, since he had worked for both Nixon and Reagan before running for president, but had never held public office. Having no direct experience and being virulently opposed to immigration, he has the most in common with Trump, although he is far more articulate and more considered in his rigid, “conservative” ideology, which is really an ideology in his case, being ideas he really believes, apparently, as opposed to a politically convenient veneer, as for Trump, who doesn’t believe anything except that he should immediately have whatever he wants right now, in the manner of a two year old.
If you’re (still) a Republican, your reality contact is suspect inherently, but pick your poison and plump for him. With three thoroughly innocuous candidates, one corrupt candidate, and one who is almost as crazy as Trump, you’ll have to figure out for yourself which one you favor, but that’s pretty much always true with a (relatively) large field of candidates. One could say the same about choosing among the raft of Democratic candidates, although no Democrat can compete with Trump/Walsh for crazy points, even Williamson, and no Democrat can currently count an extra marital affair as the reason for their last foray in the national spotlight, like Sanford. Such an impressive lot, for Republicans, anyway.
If you’re not a Republican, there is very good news: every incumbent president who has faced a challenge from within his Party for the nomination, Taft, Ford, Carter, and the elder Bush lost the election.