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July 07, 2003

Wartime Presidents Do Poorly Afterward

Going to war is not some magic bullet for reelection. I've had this argument with many friends, but this article pulls the basic history together:

Not a single U.S. president who has led the country into a major war has gone on to serve another full term in the White House. Not James Madison after the War of 1812. Not Woodrow Wilson after World War I.

Not Lyndon Johnson after Vietnam. And not George H.W. Bush, who won a popular war but was unable to win over everyday Americans a second time.

Some like Lincoln and FDR were reelected during wartime and just died in office, but many others were dumped by the voters or were pressured not to run, and opponent parties took over the White House:
After winning the Mexican War in 1848, James K. Polk, a Southern Democrat, saw the White House go to the Whig party, which promptly quashed his plans for expanding the slave states westward. Wilson's hopes for an American role in the League of Nations were defeated and he was replaced by a Republican. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson were followed by Republicans after the Korea and Vietnam conflicts respectively, and both saw their liberal domestic agendas derailed. Even George H.W. Bush's call for a New World Order of cooperation among nations seems to have crumbled, with his son waging war without U.N. support.
So Dubya has two centuries of history against him if he still expects to be President in 2008.

Posted by Nathan at July 7, 2003 12:46 PM