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In 2024, Americans Will Be Voting Like It’s 1892

Both candidates have a record, and we know which president saw success and which one has only produced one crisis after another.

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As the world’s oldest continually functioning constitutional republic, few things are unprecedented in American politics. Even the pending rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, while a first within recent memory, has happened several times in our country’s long history.

There have been six presidential election rematches in American history, going all the way back to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s showdown in 1800. In four of those rematches, the loser of the first tilt won.

But one election in particular stands out as a model for Trump vs. Biden round two: the 1892 election between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. To this day, it is the only rematch election between two men who had both served a term as president.

Eight years before, in 1884, Grover Cleveland became an unlikely presidential election winner. While Cleveland was a Democrat, he resembled President Trump in many ways. In those days, the Republican Party was the party of America’s establishment, while Democrats were the insurgent outsiders, still recovering from the aftermath of the Civil War. Like Trump, Cleveland was a surprise national political figure. In the fall of 1881, Cleveland was simply a prominent lawyer in Buffalo, New York. But after whirlwind stints as mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York, just three years later, Cleveland was president-elect.

Just like Trump, Cleveland survived an election-year sex scandal, in his case an out-of-wedlock child rather than the Access Hollywood tape (times were simpler then). Just like Trump, he rocked to the top because voters were frustrated with corruption in both major parties. Just like Trump, his foreign policy emphasized noninterventionism, while his domestic policy emphasized a limited federal government and lower taxes (yes, Democrats were the low-tax party at one time).

And just like Trump, Cleveland lost a nail-biter election in 1888, to Republican Benjamin Harrison, after the urban Tammany Hall political machine used its weight against Cleveland in New York City, costing him the state’s election-deciding electoral votes.

Even as Cleveland moved out of the White House the following spring, his wife supposedly told a staffer to take good care of all the building’s furniture, “for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back four years from now.”

It was a bold boast, but it came true. Just like Trump, there was little doubt that Cleveland would be his party’s champion again four years later. He romped to a win on the first ballot at the 1892 nominating convention. Just like Biden, meanwhile, President Harrison was dealing with surging prices and a divided party. Like in 2024, inflation was one of the key issues in 1892, as Harrison supported an inflationary monetary policy that depleted the nation’s gold reserves, while Cleveland was the candidate of low inflation, the gold standard, and monetary discipline (it was a very different Democratic Party then).

The 1892 election, just like this year’s, had a formidable populist third-party candidate, James Weaver of the literal Populist Party, who managed to win 9 percent of the popular vote and the electoral votes of five states. And just like this year with Cornel West, there was another significant third-party candidate in John Bidwell of the Prohibition Party (yes, a single-issue “ban alcohol” party).

Thanks to all these forces, Grover Cleveland’s third election was much stronger than either of his first two. In 1884, Cleveland had won 20 states with 219 electoral votes. Eight years later, he won 23 states worth more than 277.

I believe all the pieces are in place for Donald Trump to repeat Cleveland’s feat. The determination is there, and the feeble incumbent is there. But the most important fact is this one: In a rematch like this one, voters don’t have to speculate about whether the challenger might do better as president. Instead, they can just make a direct comparison. So how does that look?

A poll conducted earlier this month by The New York Times and Siena College lays it all out: 42 percent of respondents believe Trump’s presidency was mostly good for America, compared to a gruesome 25 percent for Biden. On the other side of the coin, while just 33 percent think Trump’s presidency was mostly a bad time, for Biden the figure is an ugly 46 percent.

In another Wall Street Journal poll from March 17-24, just 38 percent of voters approve of Joe Biden’s performance as president, but 51 percent approve of Donald Trump’s performance during his term. This is 2024 in a nutshell — just like it was in 1892.

Americans have had three years and change to evaluate Joe Biden in the White House, and their thoughts are clear: Donald Trump did it better.

Republicans must make that the central question every voter is asking themselves come November: Who was better? Who was better on the border? Whose economic policies led to prosperity and a blue-collar boom, and whose led to inflation and oligarchy? Whose foreign policy created peace, and whose created chaos? Whose actions enraged the incompetent elites Americans loathe, and whose won their steadfast support?

Because in 2024, unlike any other election in our lifetimes, there is no speculation. Both candidates have a record, and we know which president saw success and which one has only produced one failure, flop, and crisis after another.

So let’s make Joe Biden 2024’s Benjamin Harrison.


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