Getting the best of you.
Getting the best of you.

A brief history of outsider Presidential candidates

To be clear, “outsiders” in this case doesn’t mean third party candidates, although I’ll mention a couple of those. It means candidates from outside the dominant, mainstream factions of the political machines. It’s also not comprehensive. I’m not going to make a list of Whigs. It’s the ones that changed the game or that represent a change in the game.

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Popped in this pic so my silly George portrait isn’t the one that shows on BT.

George Clinton, 1788/1789 & 1792

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The first rebel appears before the first parties. Washington was essentially confirmed in the first two elections, but Jefferson and his camp were already an opposition and ran Clinton as an aspect of their efforts to limit federalism. It’s fascinating and maddening to see how clearly their split still echoes in our time.


Andrew Jackson, 1824

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Jackson’s election in 1828 had a lot to do with his ability to persuade the voters that he was a man of the people who’d been jobbed by corrupt political insiders in 1824. He was the first successful occurrence of a familiar theme in American society: The evil, self-interested, purely political creature who sells himself as a simple, homespun man of deep morals who’ll clean up those dirty career politicians and set ‘Murrica right again.

No coincidence then that he’s also why we can’t anoint W as the worst full-term President in US history.


Martin Van Buren, 1848

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Van Buren was no outsider- he was a former Jacksonian Democratic President, after all- but he ran in 1848 as a Free Soil candidate. While his primary motivation was bitterness at the political situation of the day, what he symbolized was the beginning of the real fight against slavery. By 1852 there were parties dedicated to ending slavery, preserving slavery, preventing the spread of slavery, and outright southern secession. The political scene had moved all the way from a single-party system to fragmentation. That fragmentation would continue for the rest of the 19th Century, with numerous single-issue parties winning congressional seats and even Presidential electors.

You think I’m going to put Lincoln next, but I’m not. While the Republicans were obviously game-changers, they were not political outsiders. Especially in 1860. By that time they’d assimilated the Whigs and every group dedicated to abolition. And their- his- political savvy was a major part of what finally brought slavery to an end. Lincoln was no political outsider. He was a giant. He was an 800lb political gorilla.


Victoria Woodhull, 1872

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The first woman candidate. Ran on an absolute shoestring and garnered a negligible percentage of the popular vote, but serves as a symbol of the growing suffrage movement. Frederick Douglass was her official running mate, although he didn’t actually run.


Eugene V. Debs, 1912

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I picked 1912 because it was his highest vote total. Debs ran five times, once from a prison cell he’d been sent to for suggesting that men resist the draft for WWI. He was a socialist, and it’s easy to look for comparisons to Bernie Sanders. Debs was a sign of what was to come. Shame he didn’t live to see the Presidency of FDR.



Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means....

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul....

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning. -Eugene Debs at his sentencing to 10 years in prison for advocating peaceful resistance to a stupid war

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Ronald Wilson Reagan

Oh, you know what he looked like.

Ever notice that each of his names has six letters? Probably a coincidence. Probably.

We all know the story. Thanks for bringing the religious right to the center of politics, Ronnie. You make me wish I believed in hell.

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Trump

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And here we thought Reagan was the last time anyone would be able to make open racism a campaign strategy.

Successful or not, outsider candidates reveal things about the mood of the nation. They tap into emotion.

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Even if Trump doesn’t get elected, what he says about this country frankly sucks. Nothing but word salad for a platform, no political experience, absolutely no reason for anyone anywhere to think he could possibly be a decent President. But he hates the right people and is loud about it. Yay.

We haven’t come anywhere near as far as we should have.


Bernie Sanders

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On the other hand, we have Bernie. A self-described socialist. Can he get elected? Hell no.

But can his current 22.6% support from Democratic voters push the party to the left? Maybe. And if it doesn’t, that’s the party’s mistake.

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The one constant about outsider candidates is that they prove massive dissatisfaction with the status quo. Right now we have serious outsiders getting real support on both sides of the aisle.

This election ends with Clinton or Bush in the White House. But we’re on the edge of something. If Hillary loses, I think we’ll see the beginning of real realignment in the Democratic Party.

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Maybe I’m too optimistic, I don’t know.

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