A Third Romney Run? History May be a Guide

January 13th, 2015


Three times was no charm for William Jennings Bryan. (www.americaslibrary.gov)

Three times was no charm for William Jennings Bryan. (www.americaslibrary.gov)

Political pundits are having a field day with Mitt Romney’s recent intimation that he may seek the White House for a third time.

While most are focusing on the dynamic between Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, others are suggesting that such a run is unprecedented and thus likely doomed to failure.

As I’ll describe in this blog, multiple presidential attempts are actually not uncommon in our history.  Are they always successful?

That’s a different story.

Early in the country’s history, many men ran for president multiple times.  Some names are more recognizable than others.  A few readers, for example, might know names like Aaron Burr, John Jay, and Henry Clay.  Others are a bit more obscure like Charles Pinckney and George Clinton.

Then there are those individuals who lost but returned to victory.  The first of these is John Quincy Adams (of the dynastic Adams family) who lost to James Monroe in 1820 but subsequently defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824.  It didn’t last long, though. Jackson came back to defeat Adams in 1828.

My own ancestors had a habit of both winning and losing.  William Henry Harrison lost to Martin Van Buren in 1836 but charged back to victory over Van Buren in 1840.  Such was Harrison’s excitement at finally winning I suppose that he gave a very long winded (8,445 word) Inaugural Address in inclement weather. Until recently, most historians attributed his lack of judgment (no hat or coat in freezing temperatures) for his death one month later.

His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, returned the family name to glory in 1888 by defeating sitting President Grover Cleveland but squandered that success by going down to defeat by Cleveland after just one term in 1892.

William Jennings Bryan was clearly a candidate who couldn’t take no for an answer.  He served as the Democrat presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908.  He lost to William McKinley twice and William Howard Taft once before finally retiring his presidential aspirations.

More recently, Thomas Dewey ran twice on the Republican ticket (1944 and 1948) and Adlai Stevenson II made two attempts for the White House as the Democrat nominee (1952 and 1956).  Each of these men lost.

Besides actual nominees, more recently many politicians have sought multiple times to receive their party’s nomination.  Many times, they succeeded.  The list includes Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John McCain, and of course, Mitt Romney.

Of all of the presidential candidates who both lost and won the presidency as their party’s nominee, the most interesting has to be Richard Nixon who lost in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, famously claimed retirement telling reporters in 1962 “[y]ou won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore,” only to return to victory in 1968 and 1972.  We all know, of course, how that one ended.

So while Mitt Romney may ultimately voluntarily step aside to allow someone else to take up the GOP mantle in 2016 or he may try and fail, a third run and second trip as the nominee is not unheard of nor guaranteed success or failure despite what’s currently being bantered about in the press today.


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