War Candidates Usually Lose

Ken AshfordHistoryLeave a Comment

Hey, he's right.

It's been 48 years since a war hero candidate won when running against a candidate who has never seen combat.  Whoever had the most combat/war experience, always lost. 

Well, except in 1988, but still:

John McCain entered the 2008 presidential campaign with a strong advantage shared by John Kerry in 2004, Bob Dole in 1996, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. All four were war heroes whose opponents bore no record of military service. (Dubya's spotty attendance in the Air National Guard doesn't count.) Yet Kerry, Dole, and Bush père lost, and McCain will almost certainly lose, too. If you broaden the McCain category from "war hero" to "wartime veteran," then add Al Gore (2000) to the roster of vets defeated by nonvets in presidential elections.

Presidents Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan were all World War II veterans, but their service records were unexceptional. Yet they beat out George McGovern, a bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions; Barry Goldwater, who flew missions to war zones in Asia and Africa and, as a reservist, later rose to the rank of major general; and Jimmy Carter, a pioneering submariner in the nuclear Navy. Carter's seven years in the Navy trumps Ronald Reagan's three years in the Army making wartime propaganda films in Culver City, Calif. But Gerald Ford's near-drowning and heroic rescue work in a typhoon during his wartime Navy service in the South Pacific trumps Carter's peacetime service. Yet Carter beat Ford in 1976.

Why is that?  I think Matt Yglesius make sense:

I think the important larger point to recall is that the evidence suggests that candidate attributes in general don’t matter very much in presidential elections. The hard part is winning your party’s nomination, where amidst a field of ideologically similar members of the same party these kind of things can help you stand out. What’s a bit curious is that the idea that personal courage in battle was a big asset every took hold. The traditional military-to-presidency route involved being a general. But that’s not just a biographical fact, it’s like being a Senator or a Governor — a high-level public sector job that qualifies you for an even higher-level job.

In other words, the soldier-to-president route only seems to work if you are ranked general, as opposed to being Audie Murphy.  Which is why Colin could win, if he ever chose to run.