By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Throughout American history we’ve seen some pretty interesting and unusual presidential elections. The new nation had just barely gotten out of the gate when the election of 1800 ended in an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr and had to be decided by the House of Representatives.
The election of 1824 also ended without a clear winner. With four candidates, no one was able to garner the required number of electoral votes and this one too was sent to the House to decide. Although John Quincy Adams had run second to Andrew Jackson, he won the election after cutting a deal with fourth-place finisher Henry Clay to make him Secretary of State.
None was more momentous than that of 1860. Just the mere election of Republican Abraham Lincoln was enough to cause seven states to secede from the union even before he took office.
In the election of 1876 Democrat Samuel Tilden received more popular votes than Republican Rutherford Hayes but neither had the electoral votes necessary to claim the presidency. Voting problems in — you guessed it — Florida put the election in the hands of the House. Hayes picked up those Florida votes and won the presidency after making a back-room deal to remove federal troops from the South.
And, of course, there was the “hanging chad” election of 2000, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush.
But this year’s election is shaping up in the image of the imbroglios of 1912 and 1968.
Alienated by what he saw as incumbent President Taft’s rejection of his progressive agenda, former President Theodore Roosevelt sought the Republican nomination in 1912. Despite the fact that Roosevelt was the popular favorite of Republican voters, Taft garnered the nomination at the convention. Upset by his party’s snub, Roosevelt ran on a third-party ticket. With the Republican voters split between the two, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election handily despite receiving just 42 percent of the vote.
In 1968 the nation was torn apart by the Vietnam War. Challenged by anti-war candidates Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, President Johnson declined to run for re-election. When Johnson bowed out, Vice President Hubert Humphrey threw his hat into the ring. Humphrey’s pro-war stance brought thousands of protesters to Chicago, the site of the Democratic National Convention. Despite the fact that Humphrey had not even competed in any of the primaries, he was selected by the party establishment to run against Republican Richard Nixon. Riots broke out in the streets and the mayhem spurred the movement to our modern primary process.
Because of the free-for-all going on in the Republican nomination process, this year’s election could take its place in the record books and we could see something akin to 1912. Several factors are combining to make this nomination process feel like a ride on Six Flags’ Raging Rivers.
With less than a month to go to the Iowa caucuses, there are still 12 Republican candidates. Because they each have Super PACs and sugar daddies behind them, they have the ability to stick around and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. Nearly half the states are holding their primaries or caucuses during a five-week period between Feb. 1 and March 8, and they are all assigning their convention delegates on a proportional basis. That means if Donald Trump gets 30 percent of the vote, he gets 30 percent of the delegates. If Ted Cruz gets 25 percent of the vote, he gets 25 percent of the delegates and so on. Slicing and dicing delegates like this means that it is quite likely that no one will walk into the national convention in July with the number required to take the nomination.
That’s when it will get really interesting. Trump has not only been holding on firmly to first place but growing his lead. As of this writing, Ted Cruz has come out of the pack to grab second place. Neither is liked by the Republican establishment and both are seen as likely losers to the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
There could be some old-fashioned horse trading going on in the smoke-filled rooms of Cleveland where the power brokers maneuver to nominate an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. If that happens, does Trump pull a Teddy Roosevelt and bolt?
To paraphrase Bette Davis in the movie, “All About Eve”: Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 659-1977.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS