Friday, June 10, 2016

When Was The Last Time A Popular Incumbent Actively Supported His Successor?

President Obama endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday, proclaiming: "I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.”  And he promised to take an active role in seeking her election: “I’m with her, I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.”

With his approval ratings high and going higher, Obama's participation in unifying and energizing the Democratic base for Clinton could be pivotal.  As Heather Digby Parton points out, Obama is a key member of a deep bench of influential and politically talented Democratic surrogates that includes Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and (eventually) Bernie Sanders who will enthusiastically hit the trail for Clinton.

Obama's role is unique in modern presidential politics.  Indeed, there hasn't been a sitting president who was not otherwise diminished by scandal or dementia or both who actively campaigned for his successor since ....

It wasn't Bush II, whose universally-acknowledged ineptness kept him out of McCain's Straight Talk Express. 
It wasn't Clinton I, whose popularity was high but whose scandalous behavior had Gore running scared.
It wasn't Reagan, whose popularity was also high, but whose effectiveness was diminished by his waning cognitive skills and the Iran-Contra scandal.
It wasn't LBJ, whose popularity was so low that he decided not to seek a second full term for himself.
It wasn't Eisenhower, who when asked to list one of Nixon's policy ideas he had adopted, responded, "If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember."
It wasn't Truman, who was very unpopular at the end of his second term and only became a folk hero years later.

The answer is:  Calvin Coolidge, who decided not to seek a third term and supported his commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover to succeed him.  Although even Cal did not do so enthusiastically, saying of Hoover, "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad."

It is, thus, virtually unprecedented for a presidential candidate to have the active support of a popular U.S. president, not to mention being married to another still-popular former U.S. president.  As for Trump, perhaps he can call upon the world leaders who have already endorsed him -- Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  I like our team better.


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