TRUMP IN 2024?
AFTER A NOMINEE FOR PRESIDENT LOSES, WHAT NEXT?
by James M. Thunder
Will former President Trump run in 2024? Donors and potential competitors await.
We do know that he has made some teasing, flirting statements. We also know that he has remained in the public eye, and the media’s eye. I cannot think of another nominee for president since Nixon who has lost in the general election but has stayed politically active.
Former President Trump held his first rally since leaving office on June 26 in Wellington, Ohio, endorsing Mike Carey who won his primary on August 2 in a field of 11. On September 7, he endorsed Harriet Hagman against Liz Cheney. He has also been publicly visible in other ways: in a visit to the Rio Grande border on June 30; holding a rally on July 3 in Sarasota, Florida; announcing a class action lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google with a press conference in New Jersey on July 7 and in an op-piece on July 8; speaking on July 11 at the CPAC conference in Dallas; and visiting the NYPD (New York Police Department) and NYFD (New York Fire Department) on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack. On September 25, he held a rally at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, Georgia, endorsing three candidates in the Georgia Republican primaries. This last was filled to capacity, over 8,000, three hours before it started. (And there have been other endorsements, all tracked here: Endorsements by Donald Trump – Ballotpedia.)
What other presidential candidates, other than Nixon, have lost in the general election but pursued renomination? Even more specifically, what other presidents have lost a general election and pursued renomination? And which of these presidents has won renomination? And subsequently, won the general election?
To answer these questions, I looked at every American presidential contest. In brief (and some names appear more than once) I found:
Among those who had served as president:
- Six presidents lost their serious bid for renomination: Martin Van Buren (1844), Franklin Pierce (1856), Andrew Johnson (1868), Chester Arthur (1884), and Woodrow Wilson (1920, to a third term), and Herbert Hoover (1936). Interestingly, three of these had succeeded to the presidency upon the death of the president.
- Ten presidents were renominated (two of them by a different party) but lost the general election: John Adams (1800), John Quincy Adams (1828), Millard Fillmore (1856, by a different party), Grover Cleveland (1888), William Howard Taft (1912), Theodore Roosevelt (pledged in 1904 not to seek a third term in 1908; he was renominated in 1912, by a different party), Herbert Hoover (1932), Gerald Ford (1976), Jimmy Carter (1980), and George H.W. Bush (1992).
My conclusion: Among those who had served as president, only Grover Cleveland can serve as precedent for any effort by former President Trump in 2024. Cleveland was renominated, lost re-election, but was renominated four years later and won.
What happened with the other presidents?
Twenty-seven did not seek renomination beyond their first or second term.
- Eight died in office: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt (in his 4th term), and John F. Kennedy.
- Eleven served two terms (or more) and did not seek, or were prohibited from seeking, renomination and re-election: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
- Eight did not seek, or did not seriously seek, re-election following their single terms: John Tyler, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Now let’s look at the nominees who had not served as president before they won nomination, and lost the general election. How many sought renomination, won it, and became president:
- Four sought renomination and failed to obtain it: Henry Clay (1848), Lewis Cass (1852), Samuel J. Tilden (1880), and Wendell Willkie (1944).
- Seven others sought and won renomination, but lost a second (and even a third) time in the general election: Aaron Burr (1800), Charles C. Pinckney (1804, 1808), DeWitt Clinton (1820), John Frémont (1864, by a different party), William Jennings Bryan (1900, 1908), Thomas E. Dewey (1944, 1948), and Adlai Stevenson II (1956).
- Three were renominated and won, two of them to two terms: Andrew Jackson (1828, 1832), William Henry Harrison (1840, died in office), and Richard M. Nixon (1968, 1972).
- The others are legion. They are those who, after losing the general election, never sought renomination. Their names and dates are given in the Appendix.
My conclusion: It is remarkable that it has been over 50 years since a nominee of any party, whether having served as president already or not, who lost the general election has sought renomination: Nixon in 1968. The current generation of Americans may see losing candidates like Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, the late John McCain, staying in the public eye, but have not seen any of them, except Nixon, pursuing renomination for president. Will former President Trump break this pattern?
Appendix: Brief Historical Review of What Losers Did After Their Loss
This material is organized in reverse chronological order, with name, year of loss, and a description of activity after the loss. In some elections, there was more than one loser. I do not list the unsuccessful attempts at getting nominated the first time.
- Hillary Clinton (incumbent Vice President), 2016: sore loser for four years, complained of Russian interference although she had instigated it; never serious about running again
- Mitt Romney, 2012: elected to the Senate from Utah in 2018
- John McCain, 2008: remained a Senator and re-elected in 2010 and 2016; he remained highly visible after 2008 but did not seek renomination
- John Kerry, 2004: remained Senator, re-elected in 2008 and became Secretary of State in 2013
- Al Gore (incumbent Vice President), 2000: declined in 2002 to run in 2004; declined to run in 2008 despite popular 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth
- Bob Dole, 1996: resigned from Senate in June before the November presidential election
- Ross Perot (Reform Party), 1996: unremarkable
- George H.W. Bush (incumbent President), 1992: unremarkable
- Ross Perot (independent), 1992: stayed in public eye with opposition to NAFTA
- Michael Dukakis, 1988: remained Gvernor of Massachusetts until January 1991
- Walter Mondale, 1984: private legal practice, ambassador to Japan, became candidate for Senate from Minnesota in 2002 about 11 days before the election and lost
- Jimmy Carter (incumbent President), 1980: highly visible apolitically without expecting renomination
- John B. Anderson (independent), 1980: did not return to Congress
- Gerald Ford (incumbent President), 1976: seriously considered by Reagan in 1980 as vice presidential running mate
- George McGovern, 1972: remained Senator from South Dakota, won re-election in 1974, lost re-election in 1980
- Hubert Humphrey (incumbent Vice President), 1968: won Senate seat from Minnesota in 1970
- Barry Goldwater, 1964: remained Senator from Arizona; re-elected in 1968, 1974, and 1980
- Richard Nixon (incumbent Vice President), 1960: lost California governor race in 1962, supported many winning candidates in 1966; won presidency in 1968 and 1972
- Adlai Stevenson II, 1956: resumed legal practice; wanted renomination but would not campaign for it until the night before the balloting; Kennedy’s Ambassador to the UN
- Adlai Stevenson II, 1952: made world tour in 1953; supported candidates in 1954; renominated in 1956
- Thomas E. Dewey, 1948: helped secure 1952 nomination of Eisenhower over Taft; in 1956 Eisenhower suggested Dewey for nomination as president
- Thomas E. Dewey, 1944: renominated 1948; served as New York Governor from January 1943 to December 1954
- Thomas E. Dewey, 1940: remained District Attorney until the end of 1941, dropped out of race for nomination in 1944, only to be renominated
- Wendell Willkie, 1940: ran in the GOP primaries in 1944; did not get renomination
- Alf Landon, 1936, finished his term as Kansas Governor in January 1937
- Herbert Hoover (incumbent President), 1932: campaigned unsuccessfully for Republican candidates in the 1934 election and failed to win renomination in 1936; appointed by Truman to assess needs of Europe after WWII and to the “Hoover Commission” on governmental reorganization; in 1949, he declined appointment as N.Y. Senator
- Al Smith, 1928: built the Empire State Building
- John W. Davis, 1924: lost in landslide to Coolidge; returned to private legal practice and a notable career before the U.S. Supreme Court; founding President of the Council on Foreign Relations, formed in 1921; Chairman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundationfrom 1922 to 1939
- James M. Cox, 1920: founded what is now the media empire of Cox Enterprises
- Charles Evans Hughes, 1916: practiced law; declined to run in 1920; Harding named him Secretary of State in 1920; Hoover nominated him Chief Justice in 1930
- William Howard Taft, 1912: became a professor at Yale Law School; Harding named him Chief Justice in 1921
- Theodore Roosevelt (third party candidate), 1912: he had chosen in 1908 not to run for a third term as president
- William Jennings Bryan, 1908: helped clinch nomination for Wilson in 1912; Wilson named him Secretary of State in 1913; became a religious figure in 1920s, including prosecutor in the Scopes trial
- Alton Parker, 1904: practiced law; president of the American Bar Association; managed Dix’s 1910 successful campaign for New York Governor
- William Jennings Bryan, 1900: published The Commoner, a widely-read paper; blocked at 1904 convention from renomination; world tour in 1905
- William Jennings Bryan, 1896: led his party after his loss; elected as colonel of 2,000-man regiment from Nebraska for Spanish-American War
- Benjamin Harrison, 1892: declined to run again in 1896; practiced law; served on Board of Purdue University
- Grover Cleveland (incumbent President), 1888: won election for a second, nonconsecutive term in 1892 in a rematch of 1888; for 1896 election he declined the nomination of the Gold Democrats’ third party attempt
- James Blaine, 1884: promoted candidates in 1886 elections in a speaking tour; declined to seek nomination in 1888; named by Harrison as Secretary of State in 1889 (the second time he had held this position); received many votes for renomination in 1892
- Winfield Hancock, 1880: continued his military command of the “Division of the Atlantic” through 1886
- Samuel J. Tilden, 1876: served as New York Governor from early 1875 through late 1876; the presumptive nominee for 1880 but failed
- Horace Greeley, 1872: his wife died a few weeks before the election; he won six states in the election but he himself died before the Electoral College balloted
- Horatio Seymour, 1868: turned down election in 1874 to the Senate from New York; declined nominations for New York Governor in 1876 and 1879 and for president in 1880
- George McClellan, 1864: resided in Europe for three years; interest in nominating him for president in 1868 ended when his nemesis Grant won the GOP nomination; chief engineer of the New York City Department of Docks in 1870; president of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in 1872; then another three-year stay in Europe; nominated without his solicitation for New Jersey Governor, and won, in 1877
- John C. Breckenridge, 1860: elected Senator from Kentucky and took office March 1861; joined Confederacy in November 1861; last Confederate Secretary of War; returned to Kentucky refusing to return to politics
- Stephen A. Douglas, 1860: died June 1861
- John Frémont, 1856; returned to California; served as a Union General during Civil War; in 1864 was the nominee of Radical Democracy Party; presidentially appointed as Arizona territorial governor 1878-1881
- Millard Fillmore, 1856: private life. Fillmore does not fit easily into the categories at the top of this essay. He was never re-nominated because he was never nominated in the first place. He had not been nominated for president in 1848. As Vice President, he became president in 1850 upon the death of Zachary Taylor. He waffled in his interest in the nomination in 1852; he and Daniel Webster lost on the 53rd ballot to Scott (who lost to Pierce). Fillmore was nominated (not re-nominated) in 1856 by a different party, the American Party, and lost in the general election
- Winfield Scott, 1852: continued as general, retiring in October 1861
- Lewis Cass, 1848: elected Senator from Michigan in 1848; failed to obtain 1852 presidential renomination; became Secretary of State in 1857
- Henry Clay, 1844: returned to private legal practice; in November 1847, Clay re-emerged on the political scene with a speech that was harshly critical of the Mexican–American War and President Polk; lost on fourth ballot for nomination in 1848; Senator from Kentucky 1849-1852 death; he was key to the Compromise of 1850
- Martin Van Buren (incumbent), 1840: lost renomination in 1844 on the ninth ballot; angered when Polk offered him ambassadorship to the UK or Secretary of War rather than Secretary of State or the Treasury; published the 1848 anti-slavery “Barnburner Manifesto” leading to his nomination by the Free Soil Party in 1848, winning enough votes in 1848 to swing New York from Cass to Zachary Taylor
- William Henry Harrison, 1836: won presidency in 1840 election (died a month after inauguration)
- Henry Clay, 1832: continued as Senator from Kentucky through 1842; formed the Whig Party; partly due to the death of a daughter, chose not to run in 1836; started rift with Daniel Webster
- John Quincy Adams, 1828 (a rematch of the 1824 contest); elected to the House in 1830-1848 death
- Henry Clay, 1824: Clay’s support, in the 1824 election by the House, for John Quincy Adams won the presidency for Adams; became Adam’s Secretary of State 1825-1829
- Andrew Jackson, 1824: Jackson won plurality of Electoral College in the 1824 election; Jackson supporters accused Adams and Clay of a “corrupt bargain,” selling the Secretary of State position in return for presidential votes in the House; resigned his Senate seat and returned to Tennessee; the Tennessee legislature nominated him for president very early in the election cycle, namely, October 1825; he won the 1828 election
- DeWitt Clinton, 1820: continued as Governor of New York to 1822; re-elected in 1824; built Erie Canal
- DeWitt Clinton, 1812: continued as Lieutenant Governor of New York through 1813; and as Mayor of New York City through 1815
- Rufus King, 1816: remained as Senator from New York; later (second tenure as) minister to Great Britain
- Charles C. Pinckney, 1808: supervised his plantations and practiced law
- Charles C. Pinckney, 1804: expected to lose to Jefferson and did, in a landslide; supervised his plantations and practiced law
- John Adams (incumbent), 1800: returned to farming and writing
- Aaron Burr, 1800: received second-most electors and therefore, pre-12th Amendment, became Vice President; subsequently killed Hamilton in a duel; tried for treason
- Thomas Jefferson, 1796: received second-most electors and therefore, prior to 12th Amendment, became Vice President
- Thomas Pinckney, 1796: served in the House 1797-1801; supervised his plantations; military service during War of 1812
- Aaron Burr, 1796: New York State Assembly; Tammany Hall
- John Adams, 1792: received second-most electors and therefore, prior to 12th Amendment, became Vice President
- George Clinton, 1792: continued as Governor of New York (1777-1795, and again 1801-1804); elected Vice President in 1804
- John Adams, 1789: received second-most electors and therefore, prior to 12th Amendment, became Vice President
James Thunder is an attorney in D.C., our nation’s capital.