As the president’s poll numbers decline, his political advisors are surely studying the most successful come-from-behind victory in the annals of American elections, at least in contests for the country’s top job. Back in 1948, no one expected the-then incumbent to defeat Republican Thomas Dewey. But, then Harry Truman gave ’em hell and FDR’s third vice president won a presidential term in his own right.
When elected to the vice presidency in 1944, the Missourian was little more than an afterthought, with all the attention focused on the then-three term incumbent.
Defining the bandwagon effect and showing how, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama’s political team used it to help their man win the White House, Jay Cost speculates that this team might “Run the Truman 1948 playbook” in order to help the incumbent win a second term in office:
Harry Truman is today remembered as a straight shooter who told it like it was. That’s true in many respects, but he was also one of the most partisan presidents in the postwar era, and his 1948 campaign was one of the most demagogic. Check out, for instance, Truman’s 1948 nomination acceptance address. The reason Truman ran that campaign was because he was pinched from multiple sides – from the left and the right in his own party, from the Republicans, and from the economy, which ground to a virtual halt by election day. In response, Truman ran hard against the Republicans, arguing that they were set to destroy the New Deal. Expect Obama to run a similar ‘Give ‘em hell!’ strategy, making particular use of Paul Ryan’s budget to demagogue the Republican position. There’s really no reason to pick somebody like Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the DNC, other than to drive home the ‘GOP wants to murder granny’ argument.
Cost is skeptical at how effective this strategy will be in the current political environment: Dewey, in 1948, “pulled his punches” [Read more…]