TTP Working Paper: 60 Days Out

60 days from now, on November 3, the American presidency will be decided. Or at least that’s when most Americans who vote go to the polls, do whatever ritual of choice and choosing in their heads, and cast their ballot. As of this writing, 60 days from now the time of decision begins.

Seems like a good time to bring back the yardstick! Yes, I’m referring to the research and analysis I’ve done on the 9 POTUSes—the 9 Presidents of the United States who a) won and completed a first term; b) won re-nomination as their party’s candidate for the presidency, but c) lost the re-election. 9 POTUSes since the first such US election in 1789.

9 out of 44 POTUSes.

60 days from now begins the final tally on whether we stay with POTUS 45 or have POTUS 46. If it’s the latter, then we mark a new line on the yardstick: 10 POTUSes. But that’s still the future. We’re always in the present and that means it’s 60 days out with 9 POTUSes on the yardstick.

I thought it would be revealing to look at where things stood 60 days out for each of our 9. What was true for them two months before election day? In asking and answering this question 9 times, it will give us one more point of measurement to use in placing our own year—yes, our friend, 2020—in an illuminating historical context. As I’ve said before, as is always true before in my ministry here at Historical Solutions LLC, I offer you this analysis not as a Dem or Repub, not as a pro-Maga or anti-Maga, not as a Fox guy or a MSNBC guy. I’m doing it as a consulting leadership historian whose Purpose in life is to help you see and know and use the past in a new way.

If you haven’t seen the results of my research and analysis on the 9 POTUSes, here you go.

Here we go…

60 Days Out…

…from election day, 1992—George H.W. Bush continues to lag substantially behind challenger Bill Clinton. A sharp-toned socially oriented speech by Patrick Buchanan, one of Bush’s Republican competitors at the National Convention a few weeks before, boosts Bush’s poll ratings slightly. However, the speech reverberates awkwardly for the more moderately-inclined Bush. Bush’s campaign strategists hope for the return of a third-party candidate, wealthy businessman Ross Perot, who they believe may be their last chance to dig into the public support for Clinton and help Bush’s popularity. A major hurricane strikes Florida, producing a campaign question as to whether the event will affect public opinion of incumbent President Bush.

60 days out…

…from election day 1980, and POTUS Jimmy Carter continues blasting his challenger Ronald Reagan as inexperienced, insubstantial, unpredictable, unintelligent, and unreliable. Economic stagnation and a national feeling of decline remain in view. The latter is still starkly typified by the ongoing crisis in Iran, with Iranian Islamic revolutionaries holding 52 American hostages. A key point at this moment is intense negotiations over a presidential debate. Carter is refusing to participate in a debate if the third-party candidate, John Andersen, is included on stage. As of today, Reagan and Andersen prepare for their own 2-person debate three weeks from now. Meanwhile, Carter has made an amazing come-back in poll ratings. The race is essentially even at this point.

60 days out…

…from election day 1932, and POTUS Herbert Hoover and the rest of the United States are mired in an economic depression unlike any seen previously. The miring goes further—Hoover himself is mired in a dark and dour mood that is evident at every campaign event, in every campaign speech. Only several days before, the dim prospects of his re-election were symbolized in the awful sight of US military units driving against protesters gathered in central Washington DC. These protesters had occupied public spaces in outrage against unkept promises made to them as veterans of the 1917-1918 American involvement in the World War. Hoover’s challenger Franklin Roosevelt seems in his campaign to be everything Hoover isn’t—active, upbeat, cheerful, and hopeful.

60 days out…

…from election day 1912, POTUS William Taft just cannot get noticed in the wild and intense 4-candidate campaign. Never a gifted public speaker or possessor of a public charisma, Taft is failing to attract attention while Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Eugene Debs draw extensive media coverage and widespread and emotional public support. Taft is struggling with offering new, specific actions to compete with his three opponents who are clear about their plans and intentions if elected. In private discussions with aides and advisors, Taft predicts he will lose re-election. Helen Taft, a political activist and wife to POTUS, is increasingly bitter about the state of the campaign.

60 days out…

…from election day 1892, POTUS Benjamin Harrison has not made any progress in rejuvenating enthusiasm for his re-election among the national leaders of his political party. They are participating in his campaign but are not doing so with passion or zeal; they’ve had a cool relationship with the reform-minded Harrison for the past four years. In addition, public anxiety lingers over urban/labor violence in Chicago which required harsh action by police and private detectives to quell. Most importantly, though, Harrison’s wife, Caroline—she is his closest friend and confidante—is seriously ill with a respiratory disease doctors haven’t yet diagnosed. POTUS, her husband, is frantic with worry and is deciding whether or not she can travel from a recent visit to their home in Indianapolis back to the White House. Harrison’s focus is split between a lackluster campaign and a horrible family situation. Challenger and one-time POTUS Grover Cleveland considers how he should respond to Harrison’s dwindling energies.

60 days out…

…from election day 1888, POTUS Grover Cleveland is inactive in campaigning. He is writing a brief letter of formal acceptance as his party’s nominee for re-election but is doing little else. He has decided to rely on his vice-president to do most of the public campaigning against competitor Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland is having no success raising money for his campaign from wealthy donors. Cleveland’s wavering efforts were in stunning contrast to his competitor, Benjamin Harrison—whose grandfather was POTUS as well—who raises large amounts of money and from the front porch of his home delivers rousing speeches. Meanwhile, unknown to Harrison, one of his supporters in California is planning an “October surprise” to derail Cleveland’s campaign.

60 days out…

…from election day 1840, POTUS Martin Van Buren does his best to match the amazing energy and momentum of his opponent, William Henry Harrison. Harrison is the opposition party’s version of Van Buren’s predecessor, Andrew Jackson. Van Buren is not at all like Jackson but he is a master at organizing and strategy. The biggest problem facing Van Buren at this moment is that he’s coping with a second economic downturn in his presidency. Many of his supporters among workers, farmers, small business owners, and recent Irish immigrants are hit hard by this second economic decline. Van Buren’s hope is that his active campaigning will result in victory despite economic problems.

60 days out…

…from election day 1828, POTUS John Quincy Adams has finally realized that people respond to him when he acts like them, like a person they can know and enjoy. And so, Adams finds a new motivation for campaigning harder than he’s ever done before. The problem is that he doesn’t know what to do; he doesn’t know the events he should hold in order to develop a closer relationship with the public. He’s relying on other people to do it for him. Deep down, Adams knows that his effort is failing. The issue isn’t issues—it’s personal popularity and a kind of cultish following. Adams’s opponent, Andrew Jackson, is very popular and seemingly everywhere in newspapers and events. There doesn’t appear to be any way for Adams to change that and, like his father John Adams, his destiny looms as a one-term president.

60 days out…

…from election day 1800, POTUS John Adams still holds the hope that he can win re-election. He is not popular, to be sure, and he’s not as skilled in political manuevering as are his chief opponents, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Nonetheless, Adams believes that a successful conclusion to tense negotiations to avoid war between the US and France can be the final boost in public support he needs to win. Word of the outcome of negotiations has not yet arrived from Europe. Also unknown to Adams—and totally unexpected by him—is that a key member of his political party, Alexander Hamilton, is formulating his thoughts around writing a fierce and vicious booklet that will denounce Adams as a president and American. Hamilton’s probable plan is to release the scathing booklet for public purchase just a few weeks before the election, the first version of what will later be known as an “October surprise.” Adams knows nothing of it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve taken these 9 stories of 60 days out and given each POTUS a rating of 1 to 5. The point to be rated is: “At 60 days out, could POTUS still produce a victory at the polls and win re-election?” My scale was 1=no, not all and 5=yes, absolutely. I rated Bush at 3.5; Carter at 4.5; Hoover at 1; Taft at 1; Harrison at 2.5; Cleveland at 2.5; Van Buren at 3; JQ Adams at 2.5; and Adams at 4.

Using these figures, the median rating is 2.5 and the mean is 2.4. (Hat tip to our 11-year old daughter Ava for her median/mean calculations.)

The median and mean and the stories from which they’re drawn surprised me. They show that for most of the 9 POTUSes there was at least a chance, and often a good chance, that they could still reverse the trends and win re-election with 60 days to go in the campaign.

For them, defeat was late, defeat was the result of an action or event they didn’t expect, and defeat was a crushing finality that fit into a broader pattern of their four-year term.

So here we are. 60 days out.


  1. Wendy Loker says

    Broader pattern with 45 would be wishful thinking and outright deception.
    Just suggested vaccine could be ready Nov 1st. Doesn’t happen, virus grows more widespread, deaths multiply.
    Population gets tired of empty promises. Defeated and claims election was illegal.

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