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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, Presidential Losers: Jimmy Carter and John Anderson

Jimmy Carter and John Anderson, 1980

John Anderson

Jimmy Carter
Usually a president will be strong in foreign policy and weak on economic policy, or else weak in fiscal policy and strong in international affairs.  Jimmy Carter was the rare president who proved equally effective in both.  In a tiny insignificant country called Iran, students had taken Americans hostage.  Carter's response was a failed rescue attempt dubbed Eagle Claw which accomplished little more than the deaths of eight servicemen.  At home, energy prices were spiraling, making filling up the car and heating the house into major expenses, but with the interest rate topping out around 18%, Americans could console themselves that they probably couldn't afford a home or car anyway.  Carter's response was a televised "fireside chat" in which he addressed the American people in a sweater.  The implied message seemed to be: If you want to stay warm, better get a sweater and build a fire.  Somehow this failed to reassure the voters.  Carter also put in solar panels, which President Reagan subsequently removed.1
The other candidate was a moderate Republican, John Anderson.  Like Carter, Anderson was a man of principle who was not afraid of championing unpopular causes.  As with Carter this spelled inevitable defeat.  Anderson was not afraid of bipartisanism, going so far as to tell an audience he supported Carter's grain embargo to the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, he was speaking in Iowa, where the only thing folks hated worse than the Ruskies was the chance not to sell their grain.  Anderson got a measely 6.6% of the popular vote.  Carter fared better, but not enough better, and Reagan won the biggest landslide by a nonincumbent candidate.

Result

Ronald Reagan: 489
Jimmy Carter: 49
John Anderson: 0

1. When Nixon was in the White House, he kept the air conditioner going so he could have a fire in the fireplace.  Now that was presidential!

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