01.25.2024 0

33.6 percent in New Hampshire wanted someone besides Biden, but they should be careful what they wish for. The dark horse never rides.

By Robert Romano

President Joe Biden won the New Hampshire Democratic Party primary on Jan. 23 via a write-in campaign with 65.4 percent of the vote over U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) with 20.1 percent and Marianne Williamson with 4.1 percent. 6.5 percent wrote somebody in.

Biden’s win came after initially seeking to skip the contest in favor of front-loading the South Carolina primary and suppressing the results of the Iowa caucus until the March 5 Super Tuesday primaries. The seeming intent was to mute any potential weakness by Biden in these early contests, but the bid might have only exposed and exacerbated that weakness.

All told, 33.6 percent of voters in New Hampshire wanted somebody besides Biden, a substantial number for certain. At 65.4 percent, Biden’s was the third worst showing in the New Hampshire primary for a sitting president in the past 50 years behind Jimmy Carter’s 47 percent in 1980 and George H.W. Bush’s 53 percent in 1992. Going back a bit further, Lyndon Johnson garnered just 50 percent in 1968 and Harry Truman actually lost there in 1952 with 44 percent. There’s blood in the water, and so the calls to replace Biden will surely continue to rise.

But they should be careful what they wish for.

For starters, we need only consult Presidents Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey for the likely outcome of presidents who abdicated their party’s nominations in 1952 and 1968, respectively, with an untested candidate who might have been spectacularly popular, but actually might have been even weaker than just running with the sitting presidents at the time, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, respectively, who dropped out after poor showings in New Hampshire.

Add to the mix about two-thirds of Democrats would like to replace Biden when polled by CNN in Sept. 2023 prior to the primary contests, one-third would not.

There is also the Robert Kennedy vote to contend with, who is averaging about 15 percent in national polls before the nominees are even selected for the major parties.

Elections and building majorities are addition, not subtraction. In fact, as weak as Biden’s showing in New Hampshire was, going against the primaries’ selection has never been a good bet.

In 1912, Republicans lost the election after Theodore Roosevelt led then-President William Howard Taft in the GOP primaries that year but nominated Taft anyway, but Democrats chose Woodrow Wilson, who won the primaries, and Wilson won the three-way race.

In 1916, Republicans lost again after nominating Charles Evan Hughes against incumbent then-President Woodrow Wilson even though Albert Cummings did better in the primaries.

In 1924, Democrats lost after nominating John Davis against then-Vice President Calvin Coolidge (who easily won the Republican primaries) even though William Gibbs McAdoo did better in the primaries.

In 1932, Republicans were annihilated by Franklin Roosevelt, who easily won his party’s primaries, after Republicans nominated then-President Herbert Hoover even though the economy was in shambles from the Great Depression and Joseph France did better in the primaries.

In 1936, Republicans lost again to Roosevelt after nominating Alf Landon even though William Borah did better in the primaries.

In 1940, Republicans lost yet again to Roosevelt after nominating Wendell Wilkie even though Thomas Dewey did better in the primaries.

In 1944, Republicans lost again still to Roosevelt after nominating Thomas Dewey even though Earl Warren did better in the popular vote in the primaries, although that was owed to being a favored son in California. Still Dewey, who won more contests than the others, came in third place in the popular vote behind both Warren and John Bricker, the favored son of Ohio. You can place an asterisk here as Dewey won more contests in the primary but not more votes.

In 1948, Republicans lost yet again, this time to then-Vice President Harry Truman, who easily won his party’s primaries, after Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey again even though Harold Strassen did better in the primaries.

In 1968, Democrats lost to Richard Nixon, who easily won his primaries (although Ronald Reagan technically got more votes by a hair with his favored son bid in California), after Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey even though Eugene McCarthy did better in the primaries.

In 1972, Democrats lost again to Nixon after nominating George McGovern who although he won the most contests, Hubert Humphrey got more votes by a nose. Another asterisk.

1920 with Warren Harding’s win and 1952 with Dwight Eisenhower’s win, both Republicans, came in years when neither party chose the primaries’ leader, and went with national convention selections. Harding beat out Hiram Johnson who led the GOP primaries in 1920, and Eisenhower defeated Robert Taft who led the primaries at the convention in 1952. And Democrats nominated James Cox in 1920 even though A. Mitchell Palmer did better in the primaries, and Adlai Stevenson in 1952 even though Estes Kefauver clearly led the primaries.

So, what remains is a solid record of defeat of what happens when the most popular candidate in the primaries is not selected by their party. As weak as Biden is, the President might still be Democrats’ best shot.

A stealth candidate, whether Vice President Kamala Harris, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) or even Michelle Obama, might do even worse than Biden against former President Donald Trump, especially if Trump wins the GOP primaries.

History says no to replacing the primaries’ leader, which might be akin to scientifically accurate samples of voter preference and intent, even if the early primaries were not national affairs at the time as they are today. Replacing the frontrunner appears to be wishful thinking and always has been — at least so far.

Meaning, Biden might remain Democrats’ best shot at winning just as Trump remains the GOP’s best shot by the numbers. If Biden were replaced, especially if he were leading the primaries, strong Biden supporters might stay home or vote for Robert Kennedy. Similarly, if Trump were replaced, a lot of his supporters might vote for Kennedy or just stay home.

In fact, Democrats’ best hope of replacing Biden might be if Republicans replaced Trump, too, since the only time convention nominees recently became president was when they were paired against another convention nominee. Given the bids to simultaneously replace Biden and remove Trump from the ballot, it’s almost as if such an outcome was attempting to be engineered but leaving aside the back-room manipulations, just look at the numbers.

In 100 percent of cases in modern history, that is, all seven, eight, nine or ten examples depending on whether one wishes to include 1944, 1968 and 1972, where the primaries’ leader goes up against a convention nominee, the primaries’ leader always won and the convention nominee always lost. But given the history, one can sense political party apparatchiks might try anyway, the odds be damned.

The next time such a candidate wins against a clear primary winner will be the first time. The dark horse never rides.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

Updated to include Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson’s poor showings in New Hampshire in 1952 and 1968, respectively. 

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