Davy Crockett (center), lifting his famous rifle Betsy, tries to beat off the Mexican troop outside the Alamo on March 6th, 1836. He was one of the 187 men who held the fortified San Antonia mission for 11 days against Santa Anna’s army of 3,000, but finally he and all the other defenders were dead. The painting is by the 19th-century Texan, Robert Onderdunk, War With Mexico (The American Heritage New Illustrated History of the United States, Volume 7) Hardcover – January 1, 1963) [David Kramer’s collection] From The 180th Anniversary of the Alamo and Trump’s Wall with Dr. Josue Ramirez
Trump has not even conceded but pundits are already looking forward to 2024, especially if Trumps runs for the Republican nomination. Playing the tantalizing and frustrating game of political prognostication in which elections are framed in terms of their predecessors, I nominate 1844 as the precursor to 2024.
As a defeated president running for an elongated re-election, Trump would like to be Grover Cleveland. As the sitting president Cleveland lost a close race to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, but regained the presidency in 1892.
By comparison, Trump does not want to be Herbert Hoover, a one term president. Hoover lost decidedly to Roosevelt in 1932 but continued to be vocal in his objections to the New Deal, and sought the presidency again in 1940.
In 1940, although Hoover fared poorly in the primaries, he pursued the Republican nomination all the way to the Convention, but on the first ballot only received 17 first place votes. At the Convention, Hoover offered a sparkling tribute to the Republican nominee, Wendell Willkie.
I selected 1844 as the precursor to 2024 because in the elections of 1840 and 1844, the annexation of the Republic of Texas was a critical issue. Likewise, concerns over southern border security dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign — “Build the Wall” — continuing as theme throughout Trump’s presidency. Like 2024 if Trump runs, 1844 featured a defeated, one term president who tried to re-win the presidency.¹
In 1836, the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico. That same year, then-Vice President Democrat Martin Van Buren was elected president. Southern pro-slavery Democrats wanted Van Buren to push for Mexican annexation, but Van Buren resisted. Van Buren’s anti-annexation stance contributed to his defeat in 1840 by William Henry Harrison.
During the Harrison/Tyler administration, Van Buren remained popular in his party, and he chose to run again in 1844. Again, Van Buren’s rejection of Texas annexation damaged him with Southern pro-slavery Democrats. Van Buren actually was the favorite entering the Democratic Convention, but lacked the necessary two thirds of the vote. Ultimately, James Polk was the nominee, later defeating the Whig Henry Clay.
Texas was annexed by the United States on December 29, 1845 and admitted to the Union as the 28th state on that day. Texas annexation was a trigger for the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). In the election of 1848, Van Buren ran unsuccessfully as the third-party Free Soil candidate.
In my scenario, already having declared his candidacy for 2024, at a strategically chosen point in the Biden presidency, Trump begins an aggressive attack on the administration’s Mexican border policy and the “open border radical left Democrats.” Trump’s attacks energize his still loyal base.
At some point, with the approval of his base, Trumps floats a conspiracy theory that Biden — with the help of George Soros — is colluding with the Mexican government to overwhelm border security and flood the United States with illegal immigrants. Trump says the only solution is to remove Biden and to annex some of Mexico’s border territory to punish its government and further shore up the Wall. Trump’s rallying cry is: “Impeach and Invade.”
As the primaries begin, what’s left of the Republican establishment grows skittish. Just as Van Buren’s resistance to annexing Texas proved to be an electoral loser, the Republican party fears invading Mexico will also be an electoral failure. Trump just doesn’t have the numbers to win.
In a brilliant and successful sales pitch, Republican leaders convince Trump to hand over the reins to a younger man, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Although Cruz tones down Trump’s annexation rhetoric, he promises Trump he will strongly carry the mantle of anti-immigration, and offers Trump a position in a Cruz administration.
As Polk won in 1844 — returning the presidency to the Democrats — so too Cruz wins (over Kamala Harris) in 2024, returning the presidency to the Republicans. In 2026, the second Mexican-American War commences.²
¹ Other former presidents also sought presidential re-election. In 1856, former president Milliard Fillmore was the Know Nothing Party candidate, winning Maryland. In 1880, former President Ulysses S. Grant unsuccessfully campaigned to be the Republican Party candidate. In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt was the Progressive Party nominee, winning 88 electoral votes. My focus, however, is on defeated presidents who sought another term four or eight years later: Hoover, Cleveland and Van Buren.
²Reader and contributor John Roche comments:
Well, that’s a dire prediction, David, but a very interesting historical analogy. I personally don’t believe Trump will be alive in two years, or else will be so physically and mentally degraded he won’t be fit to campaign. And there’s a 50-50 chance he’ll be serving his next term in Sing Sing.
As for Cruz, he’s much detested even by fellow Republicans. I don’t see him getting much traction beyond Texas and Florida. Now a Beto vs. Cruz re-match, for the Presidency, could get interesting!