The 2020 election has many similarities to the first election I voted in — 1976. And it might give us a hint of what’s coming next.
In both cases, the economy had suffered significant disruption due to external events. This year, of course, it was the coronavirus pandemic. In the mid-’70s, the disruption came from the first Arab oil embargo which dramatically increased energy prices (the price of gas at the pump went almost overnight from 20-something cents a gallon to over a dollar).
Both elections followed huge midterm victories for the Democrats. They gained 49 seats in 1974 and 41 in 2018. Both also came following the election of controversial Republican presidents who became a lightning rod for media criticism — Richard Nixon and Donald Trump.
There were differences, of course. Most notably, President Nixon resigned from office in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal. The Republican nominee was President Gerald Ford, the only man ever to serve as president without campaigning nationally (Ford was appointed Vice President by Nixon following the resignation in disgrace of the elected Vice President Spiro Agnew).
But, in both 1976 and 2020, the fundamentals suggested Democrats should have enjoyed a very good election season. In both cases, the Democratic nominee enjoyed a double-digit lead during the summer but hung on to claim a much narrower victory. Jimmy Carter won the popular vote in 1976 by three points. Joe Biden did a point or two better than that in 2020. Importantly, in both 1976 and 2020, Democrats didn’t do so well in House and Senate races.
President-elect Biden himself has similarities to both candidates in 1976. Like President Ford, he won the nomination because he was a fairly bland establishment candidate. Ford was nominated and confirmed as vice president because he offended hardly anybody. With establishment support, he held off an insurgent challenger named Ronald Reagan to win the GOP nomination.
As in 1976, the Democratic majority in Congress majority today is further to the left politically than both the Democratic president-elect and the nation at large. In Carter’s case, the ideological divide eventually led to a primary challenge from left-leaning Sen. Edward Kennedy. President-elect Biden is widely expected to serve just a single term, so he is unlikely to face that particular difficulty. But the progressive and woke wing of his party will likely give him as many headaches as the Republicans in Congress.
Seeing President-elect Biden as a 21st century mash-up of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter suggests his time in office will likely be a time of transition. The Ford and Carter administrations paved the way for Ronald Reagan to become the most influential president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.
Ford and Carter marked the end of an outgoing political era. Biden is likely to do the same.
Following the Biden transition, there will be an opening for a 21st-century Reagan to emerge and redefine the parameters of American politics. To be clear, this won’t be a new candidate repeating Reagan’s talking points. Reagan himself wouldn’t do that because 21st century America is different from the America of 1980. Instead, America will be looking for someone who can address the issues of the 21st century in a manner that gives voice to the hopes and aspirations of the American people.
At this point, it’s absolutely impossible to know who that leader will be, what issues they will deal with or even which party they will come from. But, as I will address next week, America’s next influential president will likely be someone who stands in firm opposition to the excesses of the woke progressive movement. It will be someone who places more faith in the American people than in America’s government.
Most importantly, it will be a candidate whose vision resonates with the American people and shows how our nation can move one step closer to living up to its founding ideals.
Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”