American politics isn’t kind to presidential election losers. But comebacks and reruns do happen from time to time. Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824, but came back to win two terms in 1828 and 1832. William Jennings Bryan grabbed the Democratic nomination three times, losing to Republicans on each occasion. Thomas Dewey was the GOP nominee in 1944 and 1948, losing in November both times, while Adlai Stevenson ran twice against Dwight Eisenhower, losing in 1952 and 1956. Richard Nixon lost to JFK in 1960, but grabbed the Republican nomination again in 1968, going on to win two terms.
But being a losing candidate is one thing. Second chances for defeated incumbents are quite another. Gerald Ford thought about a bid in 1980 after losing to Jimmy Carter in 1976, but passed. And there was talk of a Gore-Bush rematch in 2004. The only example of a losing incumbent eventually returning to the Oval Office is Grover Cleveland who won in 1884, lost in 1888, but won again 1892.
Now imagine if Barack Obama should narrowly lose to Mitt Romney on Nov. 6, maybe even winning the popular vote though losing the electoral college. (Certainly the economic indicators — though certainly not the head-to-head-polls — right now suggest he should be a one termer.) Might Obama try to grab the nomination in 2016 and take another crack at Romney?
1. Obama, always trim and fit, would be only 55 on Election Day 2016.
2. Obama would likely still have a deep reservoir of support among key Democratic interest groups including (most importantly) African Americans, gays, young voters, and the educated elite.
3. Many Democrats might be inclined to give an historic president a second chance, reasoning he was dealt an impossibly bad economic hand by George W. Bush. “Bush got two terms, and Obama just one? Please.”
4. While there could potentially be some big name rivals in 2016, including Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, none seem as formidable as Ronald Reagan was to Ford in 1980.
5. The economy the next four years could be pretty rough thanks to high levels of U.S. debt and a possible eurozone implosion. The Obama years might be subject to some positive revisionist history by a friendly media. And as one gloomy economic analyst told me recently,”Whichever party wins the White House in 2012 won’t win again for 20 years.”
I can see that 2016 Obama-Warren ticket already …