TTP: A 9 POTUS Checklist for the 2020 Presidential Election, Part I

I’d like to offer you a free gift before the 2020 presidential election hits you in full force. No, not steak knives or diet food or some type of weird enhancement. I’m referring to a tool of sorts. You’re going to need it because the media coverage between now and November will be unlike anything you’ve experienced before. You’ll be reaching for ear plugs, sleep masks, and anything else that will silence the din and soften the glare.

Let’s call it the “9 POTUS Checklist.”

I researched American presidential elections and presidencies from 1789 down to today with three criteria in mind. The sitting President had to win and complete a full first term. After the first term, the President pursued and won the existing political party’s nomination as the candidate for a second term. The renominated President lost in the election for a second term.

Take the three criteria and you get 9 POTUSes out of 44 Presidents since 1789. In case you’re curious, here they are, starting with most recent and tracking backwards—George HW Bush (losing in the 1992 election), Jimmy Carter (1980), Herbert Hoover (1932), William Taft (1912), Benjamin Harrison (1892), Grover Cleveland (1888), Martin Van Buren (1840), John Quincy Adams (1828), and John Adams (1800).

9 POTUSes. They share vital points in common as a group, or very nearly so. The points comprise a checklist. As we move toward Election Day 2020, look at the checklist to see how POTUS 45 measures against each item.

First, the killing point is a lack of unity in the president’s political party. The entire group of 9 POTUSes suffered from deep divisions and separations within their party. The form of disunity varied—it might be a formal rival, it might be public expression of dissent by an influential figure, it might be a split Cabinet, it might be a competitive environment in the primaries or at the nominating convention, and so on. Internal disunity defeated each of the 9. That’s why I decided to call it the killing point. None survived as returning candidacies.

Second, all 9 POTUSes were haunted by what I saw as a Ghost Effect. The Ghost Effect is an issue, trend, competitor, personal flaw or failing, or dynamic that is left over from the previous presidential election. Whatever shape emerges, it didn’t disappear during the four-year presidential term. It persisted, endured, lingered, evolved, or perhaps most accurately of all, haunted and hounded the POTUS to the point of defeat in the re-election moment. Four years before, in winning the first term, POTUS overcame the Ghost. Four years later, the Ghost gets revenge on all 9.

Third, a crisis exists that defies every attempt by the POTUS to resolve it. The crisis takes on one of two appearances: it is long and pervasive, flattening like a steamroller; or it is short and acute, slicing like a knife. Examples include severe economic decline, a foreign calamity, a late-stage event, or a deeply personal loss.

Fourth, a loss of energy and momentum comes to characterize the campaign to seek re-election. This deceleration is not attributable to the POTUS individually or exclusively. The stagnation tends to act as a nagging sensation in the campaign generally, especially over time. It can abide in POTUS as a person, but not always. Regardless, as the election draws near, the quantity of energy seems to be steadily declining, the void in energy growing. Quite likely, the gradual pervasiveness of no- or low-energy is a result of both the crisis and Ghost Effect mentioned above.

Fifth, the POTUS has a particular quality of leadership that produces a consistently damaging result. Whether a habit, trait, or characteristic, the destructive quality is not new in POTUS’s life or leadership. The negative result appears in private away from public view. Occasionally, however, public displays are visible. This damaging leadership quality will interact with other items on the checklist. By itself, it will not defeat the POTUS but in combination with other factors, it hinders the pursuit of a re-election victory.

Sixth and finally, an Attractor Factor rises up. The Attractor Factor is a feature in the POTUS’s opposing candidate. There is something in the opposing candidate—a personal quality, a promised action, or an assumed advantage—that the POTUS cannot overcome through the memory and record of the first presidential term. The Attractor Factor doesn’t need to be massive or overwhelming. It simply needs to be enough. The Attractor Factor doesn’t need to exist for an extended time. It simply needs to be timely.

I want to be as sure as I can that you understand the “9 POTUS Checklist.” I’m not advocating or persuading as to President Trump=Great or President Trump=Awful. Maybe we have our 10th POTUS in 2020 or maybe we don’t. You can go elsewhere for such content. I’m just furnishing a history-based tool to track POTUS 45 against my findings from the shared experience of the previous nine American presidents who won a first-term and re-nomination but lost re-election. And don’t forget it’s free (in the form of this blog post!).

This post is part of a six-part series developed from my research on the 9 POTUSes. Part II will appear soon. Please share with anyone who you think would be interested. Also, I’ve presented these findings in a seminar format for my clients. If you’d like to discuss arranging a similar event, reach out to me at 317-407-3687.

Thanks for reading and all the best, Dan