A Trump 2024 Run Is a Terrible Idea—For Him and for the GOP | Opinion

While Donald Trump is still refusing to acknowledge his electoral defeat, he and his supporters appear to be talking up a 2024 comeback. Trump would not be the first former president to attempt a comeback, though history has been unkind to those attempting a return to the highest office in the land – only one has succeeded. And Republicans should be particularly on alert—frequently enough, the former presidents have ended up as third party spoilers.

The last time that a former president made a serious attempt at the White House was way back in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt lost the Republican nomination to sitting President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt ran as the Progressive Party candidate, easily crushing Taft in both the popular and Electoral College vote, but losing badly to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt hinted at an effort in 1916 and was set to run in 1920, but died beforehand.

Before Roosevelt, former presidents such as Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and Ulysses Grant all sought the presidency. Van Buren was stopped in his first attempt in 1844, which ended up throwing the nomination to the first dark horse candidate, James K. Polk. Van Buren then ran in 1848 under the Free Soil Party, which helped the Whigs capture the White House.

Fillmore, who succeeded to the job to the death of Zachary Taylor and did not run for election in 1852, was nominated by the shooting star American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings, in 1856. He came in third to the brand-new Republican Party

Grant did not run for a third term in 1876, but once again sought the presidency in 1880. However, a divided Republican Party refused to back him and instead chose another dark horse James Garfield.

The one big exception to this rule is Grover Cleveland. Cleveland, the only Democratic President in the 52 years from the Civil War to the onset of WWI. Cleveland won the presidency in 1884, barely beating James G. Blaine. He then barely lost in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison, though he won a plurality of the popular vote, before coming back to defeat Harrison in 1892. Like today, the Gilded Age saw bitterly divided parties and frequent changes in control of Congress. Arguably the most notable difference with Trump is that Cleveland managed to win the popular vote in all three elections.

While Herbert Hoover flirted with a 1936 run, and Gerald Ford was seriously discussed as running mate for Ronald Reagan in 1980, no former president has looked to regain the White House in over a century. At the same time, a previously common occurrence, the party nominating the same candidate in consecutive elections, has also gone the way of the dodo. Richard Nixon, who was the failed Republican nominee in 1960 before winning in 1968, was the last to pull this trick off. Before that, Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, Thomas Dewey in 1944 and 1948 and William Jennings Bryan, a three time loser, all managed to serve as repeated standard bearers. In the earlier years, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Charles Cotesworth Pickney and Thomas Jefferson all ran as effective party nominees multiple times. But no former nominees have even really tried since Hubert Humphrey in 1972 and George McGovern in 1984.

What has occurred in the years since is the growth of the modern primary and caucus system. The earlier nominees who got multiple bites of the apple managed to get the nomination because of their close connection with the political leaders. The conventions, which involved multiple factions and significant horse trading, could end up uniting around a well-known name, even if he came with the taint of failure. What they usually did not have to do, and what modern politicians do, is win the support of the voters, who may look askew at taking a chance with someone already stained as a loser.

At the same time, Republican presidential contenders are not going to throw away their shot and clear the field for Trump. Some, such as Senator Ben Sasse and Governor Larry Hogan, have already tried to distance themselves from the latest antics. Others have either defended Trump's claims or took a more silent acquiescence, such as Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley or former Governor Nikki Haley. But come the run-up to 2024, we can be sure that they will not let Trump's position get in the way of their own ambitions.

Despite his current effort to declare himself a winner with baseless fraud claims, Trump may not face such a forgiving Republican electorate in 2024. Right now, Trump is viewed as an unstoppable colossus of the Republican Party, and is frequently seen as someone who is not bound by any historical precedent. Perhaps that happens with him. But he may very well follow the pattern of past one-term presidents. The party faithful may blame the former president for their failure to win. For Republicans, continuing to push for Trump could lead to a new concern – the fact that previous former presidents choose the third party route when denied the nomination, leading to a split in the next election.

Trump's current flirtation with a third presidential run in 2024 may be a way of staying relevant or providing an out when his current effort to dispute this election fails. But for both Trump and the Republicans, there is reason to believe that a third try could be the road to ruin.

Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. He blogs at The Recall Elections Blog.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.