With Donald Trump having announced a second presidential run, it is all but certain that President Joe Biden will seek reelection, making a rematch of the 2020 election is likely. Should Biden and Trump be the respective nominees, it will be the fifth time two candidates have faced off for a second time. So what can American history tell us about the possible result of such a runoff?
The first rematch occurred in 1828. In 1824 there were four major candidates, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson. When the votes were counted none of the four had a majority of electoral votes. The election would be determined by the House of the Representatives. Quincy Adams and Clay made a deal that swung Clay’s votes in the House to Quincy Adams. Jackson, who had received a plurality of popular votes, was incensed. He and his supporters charged Quincy Adams and Clay with making a “Corrupt Bargain.” Immediately after the deal, Jackson began planning another run and in 1828 he and Quincy Adams squared off. The 1828 election was one of the most bitter races ever waged, with Adams’ supporters charging Jackson with bigamy and Jackson’s backers accusing Adams of having procured prostitutes for the Russian Tsar when he was minster to Russia. Jackson ultimately won the race and went on to serve two terms.
The next rematch pitted Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland against each other in the 1892 race. In 1888 Cleveland won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college. But Harrison’s margins in several key states were so narrow that Cleveland was all but guaranteed to be the Democratic nominee in 1892. He won the second round, becoming the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.
Cleveland’s second term was a failure. A stock market crash in 1893 triggered an economic depression which voters blamed on Cleveland, so he did not seek another term. The Democrats turned in 1896 to the youngest candidate ever nominated by a major party — 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska. The Republicans picked William McKinley of Ohio. The campaign revolved around the question of the gold standard, allegedly the basis of L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While Jennings was the first candidate to barnstorm the country, McKinley stayed at home in Ohio and conducted a front porch campaign. McKinley won in a landslide. Four years later, McKinley and Bryan were again the nominees. Having presided over the Spanish-American War and an economic rebound, the result was never in doubt as McKinley cruised to a second term.
The 1956 election was the last time America saw a rematch. That year President Dwight D. Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Eisenhower had easily defeated Stevenson in 1952 and did so again in 1956, winning 41 of 48 states, 457 electoral votes, and taking 57 percent of the popular vote.
In those four contests twice the challenger won, while twice the incumbent president won. Each election had its own special circumstances, so there is really nothing that can be gleaned about those elections and a possible Biden-Trump redo (although they provide some fascinating historical tidbits). While history tends to repeat itself the past is not always the best guide for predicting the future. Perhaps the only thing we can say is a Trump-Biden election in 2024 will be as bitter as any election ever waged. But we knew that already.
Justin Coffey is a professor of history at Quincy University.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.