Ranking The Modern Presidents (& Trump)

Ranking The Modern Presidents (& Trump)

We here at the Washington Walrus feel passionately about US presidents in a way that can only be described as ‘slightly obsessive.’ And while the Oval Office has been hijacked by a demented Sasquatch, we still felt it was worthwhile taking a look back at better times. Unlike C-SPAN however, we will only be ranking the leaders of the post-war years. Besides a list of 45 being exhaustive and frankly tedious to most (have you even heard of Rutherford B. Hayes? oh… you have?), the position as we know it today really began to take shape in the wake of the New Deal and with the Cold War.

How did we decide? Well, we evaluated each president against the others on an extensive range of factors including: economics; foreign policy; domestic policy; leadership qualities; the tone they set for their times; the context in which they led; bi-partisanship; lasting legacy within these factors; chat show appearances; and more. Some of our choices may raise eyebrows but we didn’t choose frivolously, there was a very definite consensus reached. So, without further ado, to celebrate Presidents’ Day- the United States Presidents from worst to best as ranked by Andrew Carolan (AC) and Matthew O’Brien (MOB):

13. Donald J. Trump (2017-hopefully 2017)

It hardly seems right to rank a president of one month but then nothing he’s done has been fair. Even if the current president (shudder) was ranked on the hilarity of memes alone, he would still lose to Obama and Biden. Also, his policies are over-rated. Sad. AC & MOB

12. George W. Bush (2001-2009)

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How Bush spends his spare time

The affable younger Bush never ranks highly in these lists and… well, do we need to justify this one? The invasion of Iraq, notwithstanding, he had already turned a surplus into a defecit by the time of 9/11 and his slow, baffled response to Hurricane Katrina proved he was anything but fit for the job. America lost its stature of respect across the world where most people could not have imagined this man getting re-elected, much less, surviving another four years without impeachment. And yet, he hung on, leaving the US in the ‘mess’ Trump thinks Obama brought about. It’s easy to criticize Bush though, so for the sake of some balance, we should note that his Medicaid package has proved very popular and PEPFAR has made him nothing short of a hero to Africans, even if it was at the cost of the American taxpayer. AC

11. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)

The ghosts of John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur welcomed a new member to their exclusive club on August 9, 1974, the equally unexceptional, equally un-elected, Gerald Ford. It’s hard to postulate as to whether Ford would have ever considered running for president but there is no doubt that he inherited a poisoned chalice. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame came at the beginning of his presidency as he granted Richard Nixon a presidential pardon for the trials and tribulations of Watergate. This would set the tone for the next three years. Yet, many historians have credited Ford with strengthening the frayed fibers of the country through projecting a positive outlook for the American future. His foreign policy was marked by the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which aimed to strengthen the relations between Europe and the Soviet Union. Domestically, Ford struggled to work bilaterally with Democratic majorities in Congress, which tested his parliamentarian ability. Ford, unlike so many of his predecessors, was never destined for the White House. MOB

10. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)

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Carter, with his trademark dazzling smile

It pains me to put Jimmy Carter so far down the list. He’s my own personal favorite because I wrote my MA dissertation on him and he has the most moral fibre of any of these fellas (no shots fired during his time). He set a tone of restraint and fiscal conservatism for America, for energy conservation, and for the promotion of human rights internationally. While this may have seemed amicable on the surface; combined with his unfruitful relations with the Democratic base, it only served to corroborate the popular image of him as a weak leader. This, along with the Hostage Crisis, paved the way for a resurgence of the Right in 1980 and his eventual defeat. Carter’s batting average with Congress, on the otherhand, was not bad but many of his measures and examples for the country (including solar panels on the White House) were promptly abandoned in the following administration. Thankfully though, he has gone on to boast perhaps the finest post-presidency. AC

9. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

The iconography will never be dispelled but I’m sorry, the ‘what if he had survived…’ postulation is not enough to have him deemed a great president. Man landed on the moon by the close of that decade and yes, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved but Kennedy merely made an epic speech in the former’s case and with the latter, helped spark the fuse in the first place with the Bay of Pigs operation. I like him and the image of his presidency remains a great inspiration for many politicians today but I’m sorry, he’s over-rated. There’s no two ways about it. AC

9. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

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Nixon’s favourite subject in school was Geography

For Richard Nixon, it was nearly a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” He had served as Eisenhower’s VP for eight years, and lost out to JFK in the Presidential election of 1960. Yet, he emerged as perhaps one of the most misunderstood presidents in U.S. history. There is no doubt that if you remove Watergate from the equation, Nixon would rank higher. Tricky Dicky assumed control of a country that was deeply bifurcated. Nixon’s domestic record is chequered, yet while he is credited with the progressive initiatives of ‘New Federalism,’ such as Affirmative Action, he is criticized for his economic policy in which inflation drastically increased during his time in office. Unequivocally, his greatest achievement lay in his foreign diplomacy as he opened a previously moribund diplomatic channel with China, and simultaneously eased tensions with the Soviet Union through Détente. Nixon also had to deal with the national dilemma of Vietnam, exercising a policy of Vietnamization. While this was an admirable move, the Christmas bombing campaign in 1972 would set a morose tone for the remainder of his presidency. MOB

7. Harry Truman (1945-1953)

When Truman took over from FDR, he had only been vice-president for three months and had no prior knowledge of the Manhattan Project. He had big shoes to fill and daunting decisions to make; perhaps the toughest of any US president. He’s often ranked highly in these lists for that reason as well as setting the tone for US morale and policy in the Cold War, with the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, and Domino Theory. From an outside perspective, these measures can be interpreted as a signs of an increasing American aggression however. The Atomic Bomb and Korean War too, while necessary to many, are hotly contended by others as sinful acts. In my opinion, the former may never have been needed to defeat Japan (they were on the verge of surrender) but Truman saw no need for further American loss (and a sneaky chance to show Russia what’s what). For that reason, he is a patriot but his values of leadership elsewhere are (let’s say) controversialAC

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Dwight Eisenhower can be cast in the old American romanticism of a military hero turned Commander in Chief. A denizen of European battlefields, Eisenhower was a progressive Republican that continued the legacies of both the New Deal and the Fair Deal, which placated Congress. His domestic policy advanced the Social Security Program and increased the minimum wage while creating the Interstate Highway System. He brought an end to the Korean War and strengthened the mandate of NATO. Ike fostered a staunch anti-communist policy both at home and overseas with various counter-communist CIA operations. Through the ‘Red Scare’ anti-communist sentiment reached fever pitch, aided by the unchecked actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy who was only silenced when he targeted a sacred U.S. institution, the Army. Eisenhower also loses face for the apathetic national implementation of Brown Vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which found that segregated schools were unconstitutional. MOB

5. William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)

CLINTON LEAVES A MCDONALD'S RESTAURANT AFTER PASSING THE TORCH TO GORE
‘I’m lovin’ it… no, not her’

Clinton’s sexual forays remain much of what he is remembered for, unfortunately. The context in which his impeachment arose, however,sheds light on the environment of Washington at the time. Much like Obama, his was a presidency mired by what Hillary referred to as a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ Unlike Obama however, he managed to eventually hammer out a relationship with New Gingrich and the Republican-run Congress, leading to a productive if unintersting string of bills tackling issues like crime. In terms of foreign policy, he is remembered for early blunders in Somalia and failing to act more decisively in Bosnia and Rwanda, but he even found his footing there, leading a substantive effort in the late ’90s in Kosovo. Plus, the country was left with its first surplus since Truman and the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was a time of steady progress which brought America into the Globalized Information Age. AC

4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

“You know there’s a ten-year delay in the Soviet Union on the delivery of an automobile…,” so went the intro to one of Ronald Reagan’s Soviet jokes. Known as the ‘Great Communicator,’ Reagan’s rhetoric resonated with the average American. Inheriting a rotten economy, Reagan went about his policy of supply-side fiscal reform, appeasing many while neglecting minorities. The detriment of ‘Reagenomics’ later manifest in swollen national debt that was bequeathed to H.W. Bush. Foreign policy under Reagan rapidly evolved to establish America as the only dominant global force. Military spending was increased in tandem with the Reagan Doctrine. The faux-pas of the Iran Contras damaged the reputation of the president and exposed the ugly, insidious actions of political back-channeling. However, through escalated efforts to tackle the de-escalation of tensions, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the ground-breaking INF Treaty, eliminating short and intermediate range missiles. A man who, even by his own admissions, was not the brightest, shone like a beacon for many Americans who believed that he had instilled a sense of pride and reignited the flames of patriotism. Just as with JFK, image was important to the successes of Reagan. His unique eloquence restored a nations confidence in an office that had lost all credibility. MOB

3. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)

By 1992, the elder Bush’s image was one of a jaded veteran fazed by the economic troubles of the MTV generation. Perceptions change however. Historians now, have come to recognize the importance of a steady hand like his in a time of great international upheaval. When the Berlin Wall fell, he acted cautiously, mindful of the consequences this left for Gorbachev. When the more militant hearts called for an invasion of Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait, he thoughtfully withdrew, claiming the mission had been accomplished. When a recession encroached, he put the country ahead of his own political credit, abandoning his pledge to not raise taxes while working with Democrats. And while it may be hard to envisage such a policy with a Republican today, he actually passed a Clean Air Act. In a word- underrated. AC

2. Barrack Obama (2009-2017)

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A giddy Barack Obama, clearly on the phone with Joe Biden

A popular sentiment that emerged in the aftermath of Obama’s historic election in November 2008, was that America had transitioned to post-racial era. This, of course, has not been the case. Elected on a wave of optimism and hope, Obama would face vicious partisanship with a Republican controlled Capitol. Obama initially took the pragmatic approach, but later was forced to use executive powers as he tried to implement his agenda. A historic stimulus package was signed within his first two months of his presidency, much to the chagrin of his friends in the emerging Tea Party. There can be no doubting that his Magnum Opus, the Affordable Health Care Act, is now deeply in jeopardy, and with it, a large portion of his presidential legacy. Obama has been criticized as being weak on foreign policy issues; Benghazi, Russia, Syria, and yet he excelled in restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, and reaching agreements with China to substantially reduce carbon emissions. We at the Walrus are admirers of Obama, not quite in the same category as the doughy-eyed former VP, Joe Biden, though. Through his presidency, he exemplified integrity speaking to Americans as if they were adults rather than children – perhaps an error, retrospectively. MOB

1. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)

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Cut the crap; LBJ was a notorious straight talker

There was almost immediate consensus in establishing LBJ as the number one on this list– particularly when we decided that FDR wouldn’t feature because it just simply wouldn’t be fair. In recent years, there has been a rekindling of LBJ’s presidency in television series, and films, namely relating to his landmark racial domestic policies. First the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the commensurate Voting Rights Act in 1965. While some historians are critical of Johnson’s motives, I believe that he was a moral man (at least in regards to civil rights), who had seen the perniciousness of segregation first hand as a school teacher in Texas. Johnson was a spectacular bully, who, unlike Ford when he inherited the White House in freak circumstances, could assert his dominance over just about anybody. The legacy of his domestic agenda was the herculean vision of the Great Society. This encompassed many socially progressive streams such as the War on Poverty, and a plethora of Welfare programs. Johnson’s vision was to provide Americans in need with a hand up, not a handout. The Vietnam War dominated Johnson’s foreign policy and rapidly escalated through his presidency. It remains the major black mark on his presidential record, and discouraged him from seeking re-election in 1968.  MOB

 

 

 

A Contested Republican National Convention in 2016?

A Contested Republican National Convention in 2016?

It is often said that history repeats itself, and like so many platitudes, this is true most of the time. Yet, while fundamental historical tenets and axioms that govern the discipline rarely change, the context and players certainly do. Let’s apply this to the present situation that is currently facing the Republican Party in the United States and the distinct possibility of a contested Republican National Convention this summer.

The last contested convention took place in August of 1976 and pitted B-star Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan against the establishment curry favourer and incumbent, Gerald Ford. This was the first contested convention since the brokered Democratic National Convention of 1952 in which there were 6 hopefuls vying for the nominations. The 1976 card however had just two Republican runners.

As the convention got under way at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, Ford had amassed a greater number of primary delegates than Reagan, coupled with a plurality in popular vote. This was not enough however to get him to the magic number of pledged delegates needed to secure the nomination. As the convention kicked off in the Show-Me State, Ford and Reagan went on the charm offensive.

The President was able to use his executive prerogative to lure straggling delegates to his side by offering luxuries such as: exclusive flights aboard Air Force One, gourmet dinners in the White House (that were accompanied by wanton firework displays), or executive “favours,” the cornerstone of political leverage, longevity, and legacy.

Among the many bulwarks that Reagan’s managers tried to construct in an attempt to stymie Ford’s lead, was the pursuit of Rule 16-C, which stipulated that convention rules would be changed to require any presidential candidate to name his vice-presidential choice prior to mass ballot. This backfired though when Reagan shocked the nation with liberal Senator, Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.

Schweiker was rated 89 percent by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, and 47 percent by the American Conservative Union, making him an unattractive choice. The risk taken by Reagan’s staff was injurious to his ambition and the vote on Rule 16-C wasn’t passed. President Ford managed to garner the necessary momentum to rubber-stamp his name on the ballot securing 1187 votes to Reagan’s 1070.

Interestingly, Reagan was viewed as an outsider to the Republican establishment, and was disparaged by many within the party elite – akin to Trump, though lacking the profound animus that Trump garners. Reagan left an indelible mark on the 1976 convention with his humble, extemporaneous closing stump speech that was a clarion call for unity within the party in preparation for the general election. It was at this moment when the charged Republican congregation witnessed the content of the former Californian Governor’s character – there was no equivocation, he would return.

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The Republican National Convention showcasing it’s pageantry in 2012

Many commentators have, in recent weeks, teased out the potential for a contested Republican convention this summer. In fact, it has become a highly popularised suggestion as a method of stopping the rogue Trump machine that seems to be getting more vitriolic and abhorrent by the day.

The last two weeks have been telling with Trump’s loyal troops marching on, propagating his language of hate and raw xenophobia. It is the results over the next few weeks which will contribute towards a degree of certitude on whether the convention will be a formality, or a tilt-a-whirl of political jockeying. This process can be obfuscating and frustrating to unravel and navigate. The confusion that perforates the aura of the process is muddied further by the semantics of the RNC Rulebook. Indeed, some of the rules referenced through the document are contradictory.

To parse the current situation: Trump has 741 delegates, Cruz has 461, and Kasich trails with 145. If Trump can sustain the momentum throughout the duration of the primaries, he may very well hit the desired 1237 delegate count. Traditionally, if this were the case, Trump would secure the Republican presidential nomination following the first count at this year’s RNC much to the party’s chagrin. Though, it is still unclear whether he can do this. The 2016 election cycle has been unprecedented for many reasons, and it seems set to continue in a carnival style of discourse.

While Donald Trump says that he is confident of securing the nomination after the first count, he has suggested that if this doesn’t happen and a contested convention takes place, there will be rioting in Cleveland – an ominous, but predictable portend from the demagogue. It appears that the establishment wing of the Republican Party, through a series of machinations, are doing all they can to downplay the electability of the billionaire bigot.

Curly Haugland, a member of the RNC Rules Committee, stated this past week in an interview with CNBC that the power is in the hands of the delegates, not the voters. He added, “The political parties choose their nominees, not the general public, contrary to popular belief.” Is this a clumsy warning shot of animosity across Trump’s golden bow? It looks that way. This bumbling anti-democratic statement is corroborated by the RNC rulebook, which whimsically states that:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the following be and hereby are adopted as The Rules of the Republican Party, composed of the rules for the election and government of the Republican National Committee until the next national convention…”

As these rules were adopted before the 2016 election cycle, technically like-minded Republican’s could possibly interpret the phrase, “until the next convention,” to suit their agenda by altering the rules to block Trump’s path to the nomination.

Looking at this from the other candidates’ perspectives, Ted Cruz remains confident that he will showcase a strong performance in the remaining primaries reiterating on Monday to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that his was the only campaign to have bested Trump on a number of occasions. Meanwhile, John Kasich remains steadfast in the face of adversity. He reinforced this stance on CNN’s State of Union exclaiming that he is confident in his electability and that he expects the delegates to act seriously and select the right man for the job when the time comes.

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Reince Priebus could be facing a very divided RNC this coming summer

Chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, commented that the Republicans are “preparing for the possibility” of a convention in Cleveland. Meanwhile Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has downplayed the possibility of a 2016 run for the White House if a contested convention is called. That being said, he has not openly denied this media speculated, Twitter trending, notion. Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner endorsed the current speaker for GOP nominee this past week, though he added further that his comments were off the cuff – good save!

One thing is for sure, the phantasmagoria that is this 2016 Republican primary race is set to get even more nebulous as the convention approaches. It has become apparent that the protectorate of the GOP kernel has realised that Ted Cruz, a man who is not entirely representative of their values, is the lesser of two evils when stacked against Trump. Frankly, the marshaling of ‘establishment’ politicians, Mitt Romney, and now Jeb Bush, may have come too late.

Just like Ford in 1976, the importance of a united front is desiderata in order to mount a successful campaign against either Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the autumn. Should Trump be denied the glory in Cleveland, expect rapture. The Republican loyalists have only themselves to blame.

Matthew O’Brien