Warning: the following may contain words that might be taken out context. Please read with intelligence.
Mugwumps, not to be confused with Mugwort, Muggles, or Morlocks were a group of Republican political reformers in the 1880s who backed Democrat Grover Cleveland in his election for his first term as president. The Mugwumps had been formed earlier as an anti-corruption group in opposition to the more moderate wing of the Republican Party known as Half-Breed Republicans. (You see I warned you. No racial identity sensitivity back in those days.)
The Half-Breed Republicans were led by Cleveland’s opponent in the presidential election, James G. Blaine. The derisive term was coined by the Stalwarts, yet another Republican faction, who accused the Half-Breeds of being only half-Republican. Sound familiar to any RINOs out there? Allow me a moment to chase a rabbit.
Democrats practice identity politics by encouraging other Democrats to self-identify themselves into groups based on race, gender, class, disability, or any unusual attribute that could possibly have been the basis of past discrimination thus ensuring that past discriminations will never be forgotten and that future individual accomplishment will always be subordinate to the status of the group. Sort of like labor unions for the disenchanted. Yet I have never heard a Democrat accuse another Democrat of not being Democratic enough.
Republicans practice identity politics based on esoteric policy-based gnat straining. They form pressure groups based upon slight differences in tax, immigration, education, healthcare, or other wonkish policies. Republicans then use these the slight differences to attack each other to the point of self-destruction. Maybe it is residual DNA handed down from the Radical Republican days of the Civil War. I don’t know but these are rabbits for another day. Now back to Grover Cleveland.
The unusual part of this story is not that Republicans still call each other names or that they let their internal feuding cost them the 1884 presidential election. The unusual part rests with Grover Cleveland. He is the only president in American history to have lost the presidency after his first term in office and then, after four years of being out of office, mount a comeback and win a second term.
What has prevented other former presidents from making a comeback? Each election has its own unique qualities and circumstances that factor into the decision to whether a former president would mount a comeback but one fact remains certain in politics: the taint of losing lingers a lifetime. The psychological impact must be devastating because winning defines America. As George S. Patton said “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.” Now let’s turn Patton’s phrase into a mantra.
Consider John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first vice-president of the United States, the second president of the United States wedged between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the founding fathers. He lost his campaign for a second term. He did not later make a comeback because he knew that . . . Americans will not tolerate a loser.
Consider John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams and sixth president of the United States. He lost his bid for a second term to Andrew Jackson and did not try again because he knew that . . . Americans will not tolerate a loser.
From 1788 to 1836, the Adams father-son tag team were the only two presidents who lost their bid for a second term. Then from 1836 to 1860, we had a streak of one hit wonders, none of whom sought a second term except for that great American presidential icon Martin Van Buren. He lost his re-election bid to William Henry Harrison. Van Buren did not run again even though Harrison died in office a mere 31 days after his inauguration because he knew that . . . Americans will not tolerate a loser.
From 1860 to 1912 we had a rash of Republican presidents starting with Abraham Lincoln and ending with William Howard Taft. He lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson after Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running as a third-party candidate. I can hear the nasally echo of a future Ross Perot in that loss. Rather than seek a second term later, Taft went on to be the chief justice of the Supreme Court because he knew that . . . Americans will not tolerate a loser.
The only exception to the Republican presidential rash that covered America after the Civil War was Grover Cleveland who, with the help of the Mugwumps (finally), became the only Democrat president to be elected from 1860 to 1912.
Cleveland was defeated after his first term by Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison and the great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, a contemporary of John Adams who also signed the Declaration of Independence. Cleveland then came back after four years and defeated Harrison who despite being a scion from America’s political aristocracy did not run again because even Harrison knew that . . . America will not tolerate a loser, except apparently for Cleveland.
From 1912 to 2020, more one hit wonders such as William Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush followed in the steps of their 19th century presidential forebearers. They either chose not to run for a second term or if they did and lost, they did not later ask for seconds.
Which brings us to the election of 2024 and Donald Trump. Does he still have the charisma (carnival attraction, celebrity worship, whatever), to bring in enough votes to win a second term after losing in 2020? Does he really have a chance to be our 21st century version of Grover Cleveland? Do we even want another Grover Cleveland?
Trump will need an army of Democrat crossover Mugwumps (Mugtrumps or Mugtwumps?) to win a second term assuming that he can retain the votes of independent voters from 2016. To garner that kind of support, Trump will need to channel his internal Grover to convince us, contrary to our instincts and our history that . . . America will tolerate another loser.