I’ve made the case that Trump is staking out the position of peace candidate. But can that strategy win? After all, I compared him to Reagan who certainly wasn’t viewed as the peace candidate in 1980 when he won his first term. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the non-interventionist Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, and he didn’t stand a chance.
So can Peace win? I figured why not look over the last few elections to see if being the bigger warmonger was a liability or an asset:
2012: Obama had been quite reckless in foreign affairs during his first term. He escalated the Afghanistan quagmire and launched a foolish campaign against Libya based on lies. However, he was able to make the case that he ended the Iraq War (despite the fact that it never really ended and he had tried to extend it anyway). When you factor in that Mitt Romney’s campaign was centered around the preemptive surrender of foreign policy to Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s clear Obama was the relative Peace Candidate. Conclusion: Peace Wins
2008: McCain is the most crazed warmonger to ever win a major party nomination in the postwar era, and that’s really saying something. Obama managed to win the Democratic nomination by being the one candidate who could actually claim to have been against the Iraq War. Conclusion: Peace Wins
2004: Bush had just launched two expensive wars that showed no signs of ending. Kerry was an idiot who would’t take a firm position on anything, but he was still the relative Peace Candidate. Conclusion: War Wins
2000: War and Peace weren’t really the defining issues in this campaign, but Bush lied and said he wanted to return to a “humble” foreign policy. Gore represented a continuation of the Clinton regime that had been in a state of low-level perpetual war for most of the previous eight years. So even though this was basically a tie, Conclusion: Peace Wins
1996: Americans weren’t focused on foreign policy in 1996. Clinton was probably still seen as the peace candidate compared to Bob Dole. Clinton’s interventionism and been under the radar in his first term compared to his second, and Dole was still seen as an old school Cold Warrior. Hard to say it was the decisive factor, but the perception that Clinton was a 60’s era peacenik didn’t hurt him at all. Conclusion: Peace Wins
1992: Bush had just wrapped up the Gulf War when the ’92 campaign got underway. The war was very popular, but Americans were more concerned with NAFTA and other domestic issues. The ex-hippy, draft dodger Clinton was able to beat the war hero Bush despite the (false) victory against Saddam Hussein. Conclusion: Peace Wins
You could make the argument that the Bush/Reagan/Nixon victories in 72, 80, 84, 88 were all somewhat anti-peace, but that truly was a different era. Basically from 1920 until the Cold War ended, the Republicans were seen as “realists” on the international stage while the Democrats were the ones prone to foreign adventurism. So while McGovern was clearly the peace candidate in 1972, Nixon was reaping the benefit of having ended the Democrats’ unpopular Vietnam War.
As you can see it gets a little murky if you go back into the Cold War era, but Carter was definitely the peace candidate in 1976. Nixon, believe it or not, was the peace candidate in 1968 after Hubert Humphrey stole the Democrat primary. Johnson was incorrectly viewed as the peace candidate in 1964. Kennedy was actually a bit of a warmonger in 1960. Eisenhower was the peace candidate in 1952 and was reelected on that reputation in 1956.
There’s normally a bi-partisan consensus on perpetual war, but if you look at what was the perception in presidential elections since 1952, I would say Peace has the edge. The warmongers usually only win when foreign policy is relegated to the sidelines in favor of some new welfare entitlement or an economic crisis. When given a clear choice between war and peace, peace usually wins.
I think the Donald is onto something. At least he’s making this election much more interesting than 2012.