September 10, 2015
Nearing the finish line. This is the last grouping of candidates, those who did not get nominated and did not deserve to. Some of the better of these would find an opening in future election cycles. The worst of these are notable face-plants. Previous sections included:
Part One: The Very Best
Part Two: The Winners
Part Three: The Best of the Worst and Worst of the Best
Part Four: Outliers
Part Five: Survived the Spring, Failed in the Fall
On to our last group:
Didn’t Win Nomination, Didn’t Deserve Nomination (1948-Present)
We start with candidates who absolutely failed, and work our way toward those who didn’t have enough skill to head off another candidate who ran a better race.
Gary Hart (1988) 8.0 points
Apocalypse. If Hillary gets indicted, she’ll score better than this. Not all front-runners win. Most make it pretty close. Only one wound up a complete non-factor by the time voting began.
Hart was a victim of two things. The impossibility of running as an insurgent twice and timing. The combination of these two factors killed his campaign.
While Reagan was an insurgent in 1976, he and his campaign team knew they couldn’t run that way in 1980. When Bush the Elder was running as an incumbent VP in 1988 he knew his underdog campaign of 1980 was not a model.
The scrappy John McCain of 2000 only got to play a similar role in 2008 after his front-running campaign pissed away his money and polling lead in 2007.
Only Hart actually planned to run from the outside with a huge polling lead. This did a few things, none of them helpful. He avoided seeking establishment endorsements.
At the time his logic was that he didn’t want to find himself beholden and unable to execute needed change. Sounds great, but when he got in to trouble, he didn’t have a bunch of important people invested in protecting him. As Hillary well knows, this is useful.
Hart avoided building the sort of campaign structure and raising the sort of funds a big favorite normally does. While both 1980 Reagan and 2008 McCain suffered from campaign bloat, Hart had even less support and protection than post-reboot McCain. Nobody was watching when Hart slipped away with Donna Rice. Few were ready to help him deal with the fallout.
While I’ve criticized other front-runners for being overly cautious and noted this is a common cause of candidates being less effective on their second or third run, Hart went too far the other way, practically daring reporters to catch him in the act.
Timing was very cruel to Gary Hart. If he was a candidate in a slightly earlier time, instead of reporters asking him if he cheated on his wife and then staking out his house, they would have looked the other way as they did for JFK and countless others.
Four years later, with the assistance of his wife, Bill Clinton was able to escape mistress-related issues. Some of the difference was Clinton’s preternatural escape ability, some was Hart’s refusal to have his wife act as a prop in front of the cameras.
Some was the idea that taking down front-runners two times in a row for something that should be up to their wives to worry about was too much.
That certainly wasn’t much consolation for Hart, who exited the 1988 race he had led since the day after the 1984 election several months before anyone got to vote in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Though Hart re-entered in late 1987 and ran a minimalist operation, he didn’t find the receptive audience McCain did two decades later. One stumbled and went back to his New Hampshire roots, the other was a total pariah.
If Hillary dropped out tomorrow, she would have lasted longer than Hart as a contender.
Ed Muskie (1972) 16.5
Absent the unique Hart experience, this was the worst-ever front-runner. Well more often than not, the favorite wins the nomination. Failing at that, like Hillary in 2008, it takes a while to knock out the favorite. Hart and Muskie are the only two clear front-runners to fail well before the finish line.
Interestingly, Muskie won both Iowa and New Hampshire, something that guaranteed nomination for anyone who repeated the feat afterwards. How exactly did he mess this up?
The traditional explanation is a combination of falling short of expectations and tears. Though Muskie defeated George McGovern, the percentage was lower than pundits figured. Today, he could claim he pulled off the difficult Iowa-New Hampshire combo, but at the time, nobody realized how difficult that was. Instead, momentum shifted to McGovern.
Worse still, press reports claimed Muskie cried. Not because of the results, but due to the influential Manchester Union-Leader and its irascible owner/editor going after his wife in print. Though Muskie claimed the liquid running down his face was in fact melting snowflakes, the damage was done.
Neat story, and repeated often (well, at least frequently on the rare occasions people talk about the ’72 nominating contest), but there’s a bit more to this.
Muskie was considered the favorite because of his solid performance as Hubert Humphrey’s running mate in 1968. Though the ticket lost, many observers thought the Maine senator looked good in comparison to Spiro Agnew, the eventual VP (this was before Agnew became a total caricature).
After such a contentious nomination contest in 1968, Democrat insiders were hoping the relatively moderate Muskie could unite the party. Very logical, and polls taken in 1971 showing him running ahead of President Nixon reinforced the idea.
However, the new rules McGovern’s commission developed for 1972 required far more planning on the part of candidates. Though Muskie was instrumental in making Democrats competitive in Maine (prior to his senate win, Republicans had the state on lockdown for a century), building a state party and competing nationally are two different things.
Muskie didn’t have the ground team to compete long-range. This became important when he ran into a few structural obstacles. As we’ve seen, many front-runners stumble, but Muskie was trying to regain his footing during a minor earthquake.
First, he had to deal with George Wallace. After running and winning a few southern states as an Independent candidate in 1968, Wallace was back trying to win the Democratic nomination. Sounding less overtly racist than when he was originally running for governor in Alabama, Wallace had plenty of appeal with northern blue collar voters, in addition to his southern base.
This meant when Florida voted the next week, Muskie got clobbered (note–Florida was still part of the South back then). He recovered to win in Illinois the next week. That win, in a state several others did not contest, was his last.
While Wallace took from Muskie on the right, McGovern did on the left, winning in places like Massachusetts. With the winning candidate (unlike today) grabbing almost all the delegates, it did Muskie no good to finish second to McGovern in one place and second to Wallace in another.
If Humphrey had stayed out of the race Perhaps Muskie could have survived and won places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and pushed the contest to the convention, especially after Wallace was shot, paralyzed and forced to stop campaigning.
However, Humphrey did come out to play and he promptly took most of the weakened Muskie’s voters. Game over.
Ted Kennedy (1980) 17.5
After 35 years, its easy to dismiss this run as a quixotic attempt to unseat an incumbent. It was not. It was an inept attempt to unseat an incumbent.
The youngest Kennedy brother’s political career began in 1962, when he won election to fill JFK’s old senate seat from Massachusetts. His opponent famously remarked if his name was Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy nobody would think he was qualified (or something very close to that).
Nobody gave Ted much thought until two things happened in the late 60’s. First, older brother Robert was murdered. Second, Ted, likely heavily under the influence, drove off a rickety bridge with a young secretary who wasn’t his wife in the passenger seat, leaving her to drown and waiting until the next morning to tell the authorities.
This event would have sunk (very sorry for the word choice) ANY other politician. If you have three older brothers, two who were assassinated, the other who exploded on a dangerous air mission in World War II, you get a pass from your home state voters.
On the one hand, Ted’s career got a reprieve. On the other, he was temporarily unable to fulfill his family role as Next Man Up. Prior to Chappaquiddick, Richard Nixon was petrified he would need to face another Kennedy in 1972.
Even after the “incident,” Nixon still wanted to make sure he was ready if Ted was feeling lucky. The White House obsession with the youngest Senator Kennedy was revealed during the Watergate investigation.
With the presidency at least temporarily out of reach and a reputation to repair, Kennedy started becoming a serious legislator, beginning to turn away from the path which builds presidents and toward the path which leads to great eulogies for departed senators.
In 1976, having turned himself into a respected senator, Kennedy passed on joining the presidential scrum and watched from the sidelines as Jimmy Who got inaugurated.
Each successive Kennedy tilted further to the left. JFK was a relative centrist, someone who courted Southern Democrats and would have a very hard time getting nominated in 2016. Bobby started out as the Democratic Dewey, chasing after the Mob and taking a hard line with the Soviets before moving progressively leftward as Vietnam unraveled and his social conscience grew.
Ted was liberal from the start and promoted national health care as his signature issue. He was far less a Cold Warrior than his brothers, eventually meeting with Soviet leaders when President Reagan was not scheduling summits with pre-Gorbachev bosses.
In the fall of 1979, Kennedy was getting itchy/feeling the obligation to run. Nearly 50, now older than each of his brothers at the time of their deaths, a decade away from Chappaquiddick, it seemed like time.
President Carter was extremely unpopular with approval ratings on par with post-Katrina Bush 43. Last cycle, Ronald Reagan almost dethroned incumbent Gerald Ford and Carter was less popular now. Carter wasn’t popular on Capitol Hill and was significantly more conservative than Kennedy,
Ted would have access to plenty of funds, had super-high name recognition and nostalgia working for him. Challenging an incumbent was now normal practice, with serious efforts made in 1968 and 1976. It worked the first time and almost the second.
Thirty-six years ago today, you would have favored Ted to overthrow Carter and go in to fall 1980 ahead of Reagan in the polls. When he sat down with Roger Mudd in November 1979, Kennedy was leading Carter 2 to 1 in polls.
Then Mudd asked him why he wanted to be president. Reasonable question and one he still hasn’t answered. Strike one. This is his version of Muskie’s tears, the reason given for Kennedy’s failure. Didn’t help, but there was more.
Next, the Ayatollah did Jimmy a solid by grabbing 52 hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran. While the April failed rescue would sour the public, at the time, Carter got points for his calm handling of the crisis and picked up some rally around the flag momentum ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. By the time voters were fed up, Carter had a huge delegate lead. Strike two.
As mentioned above, by 1980, Kennedy was a senator first and presidential aspirant second. This meant instead of having a profile like JFK or Obama, he more resembled Hubert Humphrey or Bob Dole.
Having never faced a truly competitive election at home, he lacked a battle-tested team beyond old operatives he inherited from his brothers, many of whom were past their prime. Unlike JFK, Ted didn’t begin planning his campaign years ahead. Until mid-1979 it wasn’t even a thought. Given Carter only beat him by 14 points in the combined primary vote, it’s easy to see how a more focused and organized Kennedy could have won. Strike three.
Hubert Humphrey (1972) 18.0
When Humphrey competed in primaries, he lost. His only nomination was when he avoided them. He wasn’t a terrible candidate, but he was a shaky strategist. That proved his undoing in 1972.
In 1960, Humphrey was undone by a better prepared JFK (more on that later on). In 1968, he fortuitously avoided testing himself in primaries. In 1972, that wasn’t an option, but he wasn’t any more prepared than in 1960.
While you can argue no amount of prep would have beaten Kennedy, a different approach could have easily pushed him past McGovern. In fact, Humphrey actually got more votes than the eventual nominee, something that wouldn’t happen again until 2008.
Instead of beginning to lay groundwork well in advance, Humphrey waited, perhaps due to being unsure if he wanted to challenge friend and ex-running mate Muskie. Eventually he chose in, but valuable organizing time was lost. He also passed up several of the early contests, costing him momentum and delegates.
Though he made it close, he only won a voting plurality due to the demise of Wallace. Absent the would-be assassin’s bullets, the Alabama segregationist would have won more votes than any other Democrat.
Ultimately, Humphrey needed to go all out from the beginning, something he likely realized after it was too late.
Nelson Rockefeller (1964/1968) 18.5
In 1960, Rocky played his hand decently. As you’ll see further below, taking the nomination from Nixon was a hard task and deciding to keep his powder dry for ’64 made sense.
Something happened on his way to the 1964 nomination, namely Happy Murphy, a married woman Rockefeller left his wife for. This sort of thing wasn’t done in the early 60’s. If Rocky or Jack wanted to bed half the women on the Eastern Seaboard, no problem, just stay married.
So, Happy and Rocky left their spouses in 1962 and married each other in 1963. Despite the semi-furor, Rockefeller pressed on and did some pre-campaigning that fall. However, he did not fully commit to building a campaign organization the way Barry Goldwater did.
Knowing establishment opposition required him to accumulate as many pre-convention delegates as possible, Goldwater contested each open primary and tried to influence each state caucus. Rockefeller picked his spots.
Voters were not yet particularly committed to either, with Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge beating both candidates in New Hampshire. Given Lodge was not currently in the county or mounting an organized effort, this was a definite lack of confidence in Rockefeller and Goldwater.
Furthermore, Lodge was not a proven winner, having lost his Massachusetts senate seat to JFK in 1952 before occupying the VP slot on Nixon’s losing presidential effort in 1960. His main qualifications were not being Goldwater or divorced.
Belatedly, Rocky realized he needed to start winning and bested Goldwater and what was left of the Lodge effort in Oregon, a state that regularly supported liberal Republicans in those days. If he could beat Goldwater in California, Rockefeller could deny him a first ballot convention win and give himself a legit chance.
After multiple weeks of campaigning, Rocky pulled ahead in the polls. On the weekend before the vote, he returned home to attend the birth of his first child by his new wife. Bad timing. He lost California and the nomination by 3 points.
While it’s easy to blame the loss on childbirth and mores of the time, had Rockefeller contested a couple more primaries, he could have prevented Goldwater from securing the needed delegates. This wasn’t just bad luck, it was also bad planning.
On to 1968. Once again Nelson Rockefeller looked in the mirror. Once again he saw a president. Once again he dithered. In 1964 he was out worked and out strategized by Goldwater. In 1968 it was Nixon. While Nixon contested all open primaries without a Favorite Son, Rockefeller passed on many.
With liberals not wanting a repeat of Goldwater and conservatives wanting to stay away from the liberal Rocky, Nixon got to play Goldilocks. The only chance Rockefeller had was to brand Nixon a proven loser by beating him head-to-head and daring party moderates to support Ronald Reagan, still early in his first term as California governor.
The odds were against him, but he played his cards poorly too. Ultimately, Rocky would go 0 for 3 from 1960 to 1968. It would have taken a very good candidate to have won the nomination in 1960 or 1968 or have won the general election in 1964. Rockefeller was never that very good candidate. Blame goes to the guy he saw in the mirror.
Henry “Scoop” Jackson (1976) 18.5
Big Shot Senator does not equal good presidential candidate. One of the more respected members of congress, Scoop became short-hand for a type of Democrat who was very hawkish on foreign policy but more than up for New Deal-style social programs at home.
The 1976 Democratic field, one of the largest in American history, did not have a clear favorite before the voting started, but Jackson was probably the closest thing.
Like many successful senators, Scoop had neither the campaign team, nor the lead time and attention to strategic detail that more successful presidential candidates tend to have.
As such, Jackson became the first of the potential front-runners (Rudy Giuliani says hi) to decide to skip Iowa and New Hampshire and join the race on more favorable territory.
This wasn’t unreasonable, after all, Muskie won both early states in 1972 and had nothing to show for it. However, Jimmy Carter had other ideas and by the time Scoop was ready to participate, the next president already had too much momentum.
Given the tenor of the time, an outsider like Carter was at an advantage anyway, so giving him the opening proved lethal to Jackson.
Estes Kefauver (1956) 18.5
In 1952 (as you’ll see below), Kefauver was the upstart insurgent underdog who left himself in good position for 1956.
Unfortunately, Adlai Stevenson wanted the nomination again and realized he’d have to fight more aggressively this time. Taking advantage of Kefauver’s unpopularity among his colleagues, Stevenson collected many more endorsements, putting extra pressure on Kefauver to win primaries.
After getting off to a good start and beating Stevenson in New Hampshire, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Adlai doubled down, taking advantage of his financial edge to win in Oregon, Florida and California among others. After the California loss, Kefauver was out.
As mentioned in multiple places, you only get to play underdog once. In 1956, Kefauver was neither new, nor the establishment choice. That left him no opening. Had he spent most of the 1953-55 period building support and raising money for his next run, he could have defeated Stevenson, but there were no grass-roots, no big-name supporters, no big-time funding.
Mitt Romney (2008) 19.5
In some ways, this is almost impressive. By most standards, Romney was an awkward candidate in 2008, losing to a flawed John McCain and limited Mike Huckabee. That’s true.
Consider this: in 1994, Romney ran against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts and lost. It was Ted’s closest election, but Romney actually ran to his left on some social issues and spent a ton of money. In the Contract With America year, the GOP thought he actually had a shot.
Fourteen years later, Romney was temporarily the GOP presidential front-runner, outflanking many candidates on the right. Someone who ran to the left in Massachusetts, almost plausibly ran to the right in Iowa, barely losing to Huckabee and his band of evangelical supporters.
In between, Romney salvaged the Salt Lake City Olympics (I was there–they did a great job), and served one term as a moderate governor back in Massachusetts, passing health care legislation we now recognize as a test version of Obamacare.
Realizing he couldn’t win re-election and remain viable for 2008 at the same time (especially since he wasn’t guaranteed to win), Romney opted not to run, instead beginning early preparations for his presidential run.
This absolutely paid off and was a solid strategy. With Rudy Giuliani filling the moderate lane and having plenty of 2007 momentum and McCain having the more independent side and foreign policy expert locked down, the only room was on the right.
Romney raised plenty of money and had a funding advantage on every other candidate, using those dollars to advertise heavily in early states and build a solid lead in Iowa before Huckabee came out of nowhere.
The only problem was Romney just couldn’t sell it. As Donald Trump is showing, that wasn’t an impossible mission, just a very difficult one.
Robert A. Taft (1948/1952) 20.0
Sometimes life isn’t fair. Taft very much wanted the presidency and was in the conversation in 1940 and on the very short list in 1948 and 1952. He never got nominated.
His father had little interest in being president, something more an ambition of Bob’s mother. Instead, William Howard Taft became Teddy Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, before eventually getting his dream job–Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1940 the obstacle was Taft’s opposition to aid for Britain and reluctance to help anyone threatened by Germany or Japan. This was not an unusual stance at the time, as the country was very divided before Pearl Harbor. However, the party opted for the more internationalist/interventionist dark horse Wendell Willkie instead.
After sitting out 1944 to concentrate on his own re-election, Taft made a full push in 1948 and was done in the same way many other prominent senators are. As part of the leadership and driving force behind Taft-Hartley, legislation that allowed for an open shop (ending forced unionization), he was both too conservative for the eastern establishment and too willing to compromise for some conservatives.
Being very involved, he was also unable to spend great amounts of time working on pulling together support in various states. While Tom Dewey and Harold Stassen were out contesting primaries, Taft avoided those outside his home state of Ohio.
With Dewey the favorite from the beginning, Taft wasn’t willing or able to do enough to get past him.
For 1952, Taft was ready, making a particular effort in southern and border states as a counterweight to the easterners who traditionally opposed him. Combined with his solid base in the Midwest, Taft had a solid plan to finally win the nomination.
After his 1948 loss, Dewey was finally not an option at the GOP convention. But Dewey had another trick up his sleeve. Dwight David Eisenhower was the one candidate who could have taken the nomination from Taft.
When Dewey and Friends got Ike to enter, Taft was thwarted. It wasn’t as easy as that description makes it sound. Taft had a large number of delegates locked up, and Eisenhower’s team had to win procedural fights on the makeup of several state delegations.
After fighting for over a decade to become the GOP candidate, Taft finally yielded, meeting with Eisenhower after the convention to reach agreement on a program for the fall campaign.
Sadly, soon after becoming Senate Majority Leader at the beginning of the 1953 term, Taft was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and quickly succumbed. Even if he had defeated Ike and then Adlai Stevenson, Taft would not have lived out his term.
Nelson Rockefeller (1960) 21.0
If he’d improved from here, we would talk about the Rockefeller administration, but he didn’t. Today, the term Rockefeller Republican is either an epithet or a nostalgic memory, depending on the individual using it, but at the time it was an ongoing threat to the ambitions of Richard Nixon.
In 1958, Rockefeller, grandson of John D., defeated Averell Harriman to become Governor of New York. For the first half of the 20th Century, ex or current NY governors were on the presidential ballot more years than not. Winning the office made Rockefeller an automatic contender.
Beyond that, Rocky got off to a very active start in 1959, getting legislation passed left and right (mostly left). While the eastern establishment wasn’t unfriendly to Nixon, and Dewey supported him often, he was not part of it the way Rockefeller was.
Post-Taft, pre-Goldwater, Nixon was more worried about his left flank than his right. Rockefeller was the only plausible alternative to a Nixon nomination. While Humphrey competed in primaries against Kennedy and lost, Rockefeller stayed on the sidelines.
This left Nixon with 11 unopposed victories, but plenty of delegates still to secure. Given the choice between trying to stop a relatively popular sitting VP at the convention, or trying to extract a pound of flesh to stay on the sidelines, Rocky opted for Door #2.
In the controversial “Compact of Fifth Avenue,” Nixon made a number of concessions on the party platform and other items, including a push for increased defense spending (something Ike was opposed to).
When Nixon lost, this left Rockefeller the early favorite for 1964, something he would find a way to squander.
Hubert Humphrey (1960) 21.0
JFK was very difficult competition, but Humphrey didn’t help himself much. Like many candidates after him, the senator made the mistake of thinking his more impressive record in DC would actually matter in a presidential contest.
Throughout history, many prominent politicians have failed to reach the ultimate prize in part because the ground kept shifting under them. Humphrey is one.
Though the modern primary system didn’t exist yet in 1960 (as we saw above, Humphrey was a casualty of the new system in 1972), JFK was one of the very first candidates to spend several years preparing for a run.
In an era where candidates didn’t always enter any primary and were considered long-term planners if they started trying to lock down delegates a few months before the convention, Kennedy was flying around the country supporting Democrats during the 1958 midterm and never stopped.
Though he was a major figure in the party before JFK and actually picked up a few presidential delegates as early as 1952, Humphrey was nowhere near as prepared. He also didn’t have the financial resources of Joe Kennedy’s son.
Humphrey did not have the money, team, focus, or foresight to recognize what he was up against in Wisconsin and West Virginia. When Kennedy beat him in a state adjacent to Humphrey’s native Minnesota and won again in heavily Protestant West Virginia, Humphrey was eliminated from serious consideration.
The better senator lost to the better presidential candidate.
Bob Dole (1988) 23.5
Dole was actually a better candidate this round, when he lost the nomination, than when he got the actual nod in 1996. He ran as the prehistoric John Kasich, adding a bit of midwestern sensibility and concern about those who hadn’t benefited from the Reagan recovery.
Representing Kansas during a time where the Farm Belt trailed the rest of the country in economic performance had something to do with this choice. His Depression Era upbringing and recovery from serious World War II wounds impacted him too. Needing to find a way to differentiate himself from Reagan’s #2 was a contributor too.
It worked very well in Iowa, a state which gave Reagan a much smaller margin in 1984 than most. When Pat Robertson became the first candidate to lock down the 25% or so of Iowa caucus voters who now tend to coalesce around a single Evangelical-friendly candidate, the incumbent VP finished third, putting Dole in position to deal a mortal blow in New Hampshire.
Bush scrambled and rallied, and hit Dole with the “Senator Straddle” ad in the weekend before the primary. With no response ad ready to go up with, and limited available commercial time even if it existed, Dole was unable to respond in time and lost narrowly.
That was all she wrote. Dole did not have the campaign architecture or budget to match Bush and after a couple more wins in the plains states, he dropped the rest, getting shut out on Super Tuesday.
After running his 1980 campaign on a shoestring, Dole hired a few professionals for this round, but as is often the case when a long-time politician ads new players with no loyalty to him, much of the money was spent in DC on overhead.
Long-time Dole loyalists clashed with the interlopers and the senator ultimately wound up ignoring his new hired hands. By his final attempt in 1996, Dole would finally get the structure part down, but his message was stronger in ’88.
Estes Kefauver (1952) 24.0
Before Gene McCarthy, there was Estes Kefauver, the original Democratic reform candidate. Prior to 1952, primaries were a more important feature of the Republican nominating process. While several GOP candidates gained prominence this way, the only prior Democratic primary series of any importance was in 1912.
Kefauver broke with the tradition of waiting for the convention to strike. As a freshman senator, neither part of the northern wing of the party which provided all nominees from the end of the Civil War until LBJ, nor the traditional Southern Democrat chosen as VP to balance the ticket, primaries were the way to make a mark.
When incumbent President Truman wound up on the New Hampshire Primary ballot, it gave Kefauver the chance to play Giant Killer. Though there’s some contention over Truman’s ultimate intentions about running, Kefauver won fair and square.
After winning New Hampshire, Kefauver went on to win 11 more contests, entering the convention in Chicago with the most pledged delegates. However, home-state Governor Adlai Stevenson won over the crowd with his keynote address and became the nominee.
Though Kefauver neither won, nor positioned himself as a clear front runner for 1956, he still performed as well as possible given the circumstances. By running soon after he reached national attention for his series of hearings into Mafia activity, Kefauver took advantage of a window of opportunity. As an unpopular with his peers freshman, he just wasn’t getting a nomination in the pre-1972 era.
Hillary Clinton (2008) 24.5
You might not have expected this, but Hillary was the best front-runner not to get nominated. It’s not particularly close. None of the others who scored over 20 but failed to get nominated were favored at the start of the cycle.
Watching the 2016 version, seeing her avoid interviews, avoid taking a position on key issues, and avoid giving straight answers on her home server can lead one to think she lost due to poor campaign skills, lack of message and general inauthenticity. Those things will wind up in the description for this round if she doesn’t survive, but are more a reaction to 2008 than the version that existed then.
Remember, 2008 Hillary actually won more primary votes than Barack Obama. She rallied to win New Hampshire after seemingly becoming a post-Iowa momentum casualty. Many observers thought she was a better debater than Obama.
Two things went wrong. One, and most obviously, she ran into a great candidate with a spectacular campaign. Virtually all front-runners stumble at some point during the nomination process. Most get upset in either Iowa or New Hampshire and face a must-win soon after.
Hillary’s experience was very similar to what Reagan survived in 1980, Bush 41 got past in 1988 and Bush 43 overcame in 2000. An Obama-quality candidate would not have allowed them to get their footing either.
That brings us to the second problem. Strategy. Hillary got her tone right in plenty of time to recover and win. However, she ran out of available delegates. While her team was planning an early Super Tuesday knockout, Obama was locking up delegates in smaller caucus states.
With Democratic Party rules making it hard to win a large majority of delegates in a state contest, Obama won bigger margins in places like Idaho than Clinton did in Texas. That’s how Hillary won more votes but fewer delegates.
By the end of the campaign, she sounded a lot like Joe Biden, scoring well with old school blue collar Democrats. Quite the irony if she somehow loses to Biden this time.
So where does Hillary 2016 ultimately fit in? We’ll analyze that in full along with scenarios for Sanders and Biden (and a couple mystery candidates) in Part Seven.
The series concludes with Part Eight, where the 2016 Republicans are put through the paces to see who each candidate with a chance at nomination compares to from the past.