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The pivotal moments in incumbents' campaigns are policy moves that take months to plan before they're unveiled--and just as long to see their effects. Challengers offer talk about what they believe in, but the five classic moves outlined here show presidents making a credible commitment by paying a price.
Congress Overrides Truman's Veto of Taft-Hartley
Harry Truman's prospects for re-election in 1948 looked bleak. It didn’t help that unions viewed him as the "number one strike breaker" after he interceded in the railroad and mining strikes crippling the country. But when the Taft-Hartley Act came to his desk for his signature in 1947, Truman saw the opportunity to resurrect his candidacy. By vetoing Taft-Hartley--which outlawed secondary strikes, mass picketing and closed shops--Truman positioned himself as the last, best hope of the unions. The Republican-controlled Congress, which overrode the veto with support from nearly half of all Democrats, became an easy, visible enemy for Truman... and the unions. Without the financial support from unions in 1948, he would not have captured the normally Republican farm vote and countered Thomas E. Dewey's urban appeal.
Nixon Visits China
To this day, when Democratic strategists think about dramatic moves a president can make, they ask each other to finish the sentence "If only Nixon could visit China, only a Democrat could..." Nixon's surprising visit to China in February, 1972, was a key part of his re-election strategy. Senator George McGovern's pledge to end the Vietnam War and bring U.S. troops home immediately made Nixon look like an unadulterated hawk by contrast. The trip to China--a historic attempt to restore the relations with the Communist nation--made the rest of Nixon's foreign policy claims credible. It paved the way for Nixon to campaign on the goal of "Peace with Honor," centered on a commitment to a more principled end to the war.
Carter Fails to Rescue Iranian Hostages
Carter is an important reminder that an incumbent's bold moves can backfire badly. With the Iran Hostage Crisis entering its fifth month--and nothing but failed negotiations to show for his efforts--Carter decided to try to rescue the 55 Americans held in Tehran's American Embassy. The rescue attempt, dubbed "Operation Eagle Claw," was aborted when two defective helicopters forced the mission to turn back. Eight U.S. servicemen died, and Carter's administration suffered a very public failure. "If we had it to do all over again," Carter’s media advisor Gerald Rafshoon said after the election, "we would take the 30 million dollars we spent in the campaign and get three more helicopters for the Iran rescue mission."
George H. W. Bush Takes Lee Iacocca to Japan
Although Bush's January, 1992, state visit to Japan is now remembered for the vomit the jet-lagged president deposited in the prime minister's lap, the trip was already a debacle before that incident. Trying to prove that his foreign policy focus could pivot from security to jobs, Bush brought Big Three auto executives along to persuade Japan to import more American cars. The failing CEOs' salaries became the talk of the country; Lee Iacocca, Chrysler's CEO, was paid more than all the Japanese auto companies' CEOs together. The Wall Street Journal was so disgusted, they urged Bush to "Give Iacocca to Japan." And the day after the president's stomach problems, Johnny Carson joked, "If you had to look at Lee Iacocca while eating raw fish, you'd barf too."
Clinton Outmaneuvers Newt Gingrich
In December 1995, the Republican controlled house and senate sent Bill Clinton a budget that would let Medicare, in Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's words, "wither on the vine." With the same pen LBJ used to sign Medicare into law, Bill Clinton vetoed their budget, forcing a government shutdown. After their brinkmanship backfired, the freshman congressman, George Stephanopoulos wrote, developed a "kamikaze spirit" and "became Newt's Frankenstein monster--and my best friends."
Infuriated by losing the budget battle, Republicans then sent Clinton two welfare reform bills so stringent that he had no choice but to veto them. Though former Senator Bob Dole, now the Republican presidential candidate, begged Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott not to send him something he could sign, Senate Republicans were now worried about their reelection prospects. A compromise bill went through and Clinton signed it in August, 1996. By restoring Clinton's centrist credentials, the Republican senate had sunk the Dole campaign. Said Dole strategist Tony Fabrizio, "they aimed the torpedoes at the hull and then started throwing water at it."
--Samuel L. Popkin
Samuel Popkin is One of the great analysts of Presidential campaigns, and this book His understanding of what it takes for an individual to run for the presidency. Read morePublished 29 days ago by Marco
I wanted to love this book, and I agree with other reviews that the introduction and the "packaging" of this content are good. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Ed
Samuel L. Popkin is a well-known political scientist and analyst. This book is a product of his many years of thinking on the subject of presidential politics, especially the... Read morePublished on October 3, 2013 by Roger D. Launius
Samuel Popkin, with political as well as solid academic credentials, pulls off the difficult trick of explaining contemporary presidential politics -- not as the theoreticians or... Read morePublished on September 4, 2013 by Reviewer
My first degree was in Political Science and History. I spent 1 year at an American University studying American Politics and time at a German University studying voting patterns... Read morePublished on August 1, 2013 by C M Cotton
Popkin is a political scientist at UC-San Diego who has advised on many political campaigns in the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the 1972 attempt by George McGovern,... Read morePublished on March 26, 2013 by Edison McIntyre
This book by Samuel Popkin is nothing what I thought it would be. It's not a "How To" or "This is Why I Won!" narrative at all. Read morePublished on January 21, 2013 by Connie
pretty good but repetitive. a little trite. i found the title misleading. a profile of lots of losing candidates would have been better.the dewey analasis was poor.Published on November 29, 2012 by Steve
As Samuel Popkin notes early in his book "The Candidate," it is frequently the case that a presidential candidate considered likely to be the next president a year or two before... Read morePublished on November 6, 2012 by Eric Mayforth