Former President Donald Trump again ruined what could have been a great news cycle by distracting from the Twitter files and tossing the word “terminate” and “Constitution” into the same statement as he demanded a new presidential election.
Whatever he meant, the Constitution doesn’t allow for do-overs once Electoral College votes are certified, as much as Trump would like to re-run the 2020 race without the Twitter ban on the Hunter Biden story.
But what if the nation could have do-overs? There are a few presidential races where the country might have been well served if we could have made just a few tweaks and gained a different result.
Here they are, presented in no particular order of priority.
If Republicans could have just sucked it up and nominated Teddy Roosevelt, it would have spared the country the horror of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Talk about a president who would have really terminated the Constitution if truly given the chance. Wilson loathed the whole concept of separation of powers. He was fortunately constrained.
But the Republican Party fractured when Roosevelt lost his bid for the nomination and ran as a third party, Bull Moose candidate. He came in second place, defeating incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft.
This Republican rift left an opening for Wilson.
Both Roosevelt and Wilson were progressives. Taft was not confident of his chances for re-election, but felt he had to ensure that both major political parties were not taken over by progressives who thought the Constitution was worn out. Noble perhaps, but it’s likely Republicans could have maintained a conservative wing. That wing would have had at least some sway with Roosevelt.
Roosevelt’s strain of progressivism was not as harmful as the Wilsonian kind. It was based more on the belief that the Constitution of the Founders didn’t rise to the challenges of the early 20th century.
TR progressivism included reforms such as promoting recall elections and the direct election of senators. While both grew the government and regulated the economy, Wilson embraced the progressive view that government must be run by masterminds and experts. Thus, he was less democratic than Roosevelt.
Further, Teddy Roosevelt courageously had Booker T. Washington as a guest at the White House, prompting Democrats to cast it as a scandal. By contrast, Wilson resegregated the federal workforce and would have fit in well with the southern Democrats of later decades such as George Wallace and Orval Faubus.
As a wartime president, Wilson created a Ministry of Information that is scarier than what the current-day Department of Homeland Security was toying around with. Wilson’s Committee on Public Information was a monstrous propaganda bureaucracy that thankfully melted away.
Teddy Roosevelt would not have been perfect. But I have serious doubts he would have entertained the same authoritarian views as Wilson.
Every Wilson victory should be wiped from history to the benefit of the nation. In 1916, the election was astonishingly close between Wilson and his Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes.
This particular election was very much like the 2020 election. On election night, all the national trends indicated one candidate would win. By the next day, the results had flipped.
Several newspapers reported the morning after the election that Hughes had won after it appeared he carried California, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Wilson refused to concede the race. Hughes didn’t give a “quite frankly we did win this election” speech while the count was in his favor. But he reportedly went to bed believing he won the election.
During his slumber, the six aforementioned states began to fall into Wilson’s column. When a reporter called the next day to get Hughes’s reaction to the incoming results, a butler said, “the president is sleeping.” The reporter replied, “When he wakes up, tell him he isn’t the president anymore.”
With just 49.4 percent of the popular vote, Wilson carried 277 electoral votes and Hughes had 254 electoral votes.
You think I’m going to talk about George W. Bush versus Al Gore and the controversy about hanging chads in Florida, but I am not.
Rewind a bit further to the primary season, and John McCain was Bush’s strongest challenger for the Republican nomination. It seems strange today, but at the time, McCain was the anti-establishment candidate.
The vibe surrounding McCain was far different in 2000 than it would be in 2008, when he finally captured his party’s nomination. There was genuine excitement, and big crowds greeted the war hero.
McCain beat Bush in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, and he appeared to have a chance of an upset. But the Texas governor stopped the Arizona senator in the South Carolina primary, and McCain never recovered going into Super Tuesday. The Bush campaign, run by Karl Rove, used scorched-earth tactics to win.
Had South Carolina fallen his way, McCain would have probably won the nomination. If that happened, there would have been no Florida recount. McCain, with his cross-party appeal, almost certainly would have defeated Al Gore in November.
Now, it is rather silly to suggest McCain would have avoided the biggest pitfall of the Bush administration: the Iraq War. McCain had been pushing for regime change in Iraq for years. But he also would have won it faster. McCain advocated for the troop surge that finally turned things around in Iraq after the plodding pace of the Bush-Donald Rumsfeld strategy.
While he wasn’t the most conservative Republican, he had a strong fiscally responsible record for opposing earmarks. He likely wouldn’t have created vast new federal programs such as the Medicare prescription drug plan – the largest expansion since the Great Society – or the No Child Left Behind education plan, an education bill written by Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Just for curiosity, I would like to know if winning a presidential election would have given Horace Greeley the will to live at least a little longer.
Conversely, I would be curious to see what the Electoral College would do if a winner dies.
In this election, President Ulysses S. Grant defeated Greely in a landslide victory, despite a rift in the Republican Party.
I like Grant and I’m glad he was a two-term president. However, most of the public at the time – Grant included – probably knew nothing about what came to be known as the Whiskey Ring scandal. Republican operatives were skimming tax revenues from whiskey producers and using them to fund Republican Party campaigns, including Grant’s.
He almost certainly would have won regardless, just as Richard Nixon would have been re-elected 100 years later without the skullduggery of Watergate.
But what if knowledge of the scandal had changed the result?
I also like Horace Greeley. He was a great newspaperman of the 19th Century, an eccentric character, and a staunch opponent of slavery. Oddly enough, despite being a strong abolitionist voice, he ran for president demanding a pre-emptive end to Reconstruction.
A Horace Greeley presidency would have been almost as interesting and animated as a Trump presidency, if he had lived to see it.
He probably would not have been a good president. The end of Reconstruction after the 1876 election was horrible for the country. It would have been even worse if it ended after the 1872 election.
Greeley died shortly after the election, before the Electoral College even voted. The electors voted for various other candidates. Had the ticket won, presumably the Greeley electors would have elected his vice presidential running mate, Benjamin Gratz Brown, a Missouri governor.
No president did more to bring disaster to a country than James Buchanan.
That disaster wasn’t born of pure incompetence, like a Jimmy Carter. No, Buchanan was a former member of Congress and secretary of state. He was ambassador to Britain before his election to president.
Though he was from Pennsylvania, he had a heavy sympathy for the slave-owning South. Some of his trusted Cabinet officials even later joined the confederacy.
Buchanan, a Democrat, defeated the first Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. Former President Millard Filmore ran as a third-party candidate for the American Party, commonly called the Know Nothing Party.
The Whig Party had disintegrated over the slavery issue that year. So, the new Republican Party and the American Party each took up the anti-slavery cause.
Fremont, with the campaign slogan, “Free Men, Free Soil, Fremont,” would have been a perfectly fine president. Another Fillmore term might have been OK.
Perhaps their election would have prompted the southern states to rebel four years early, but it’s less likely. The Buchanan administration greatly emboldened the southern states, inflating their ego and encouraging them to form the Confederacy.
So, we come full circle.
I don’t know if the 2020 election would have turned out different if Twitter hadn’t suppressed the Hunter Biden story. Though one analysis shows it in fact made a decisive difference.
I don’t know if it would have turned out differently had it not been for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dumping $400 million into election administration that’s favorable to Democrats.
There’s no way to be sure that Trump wouldn’t have found more ways to self-sabotage his own re-election even if the COVID-19 pandemic never occurred, that not only created a public health and economic crisis. It also gave Democratic governors the chance to change elections laws.
No way to know if the outcome would be different. But wouldn’t you like to find out?
Fred Lucas, the author of The Myth of Voter Suppression, is the manager of the Investigative Reporting Project at The Daily Signal.