Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

“Shadow” Parties and the Origins of Super PACs

Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision

Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, by CMBJ (Washington Post), February 2010

“Super PACs” are the enfants terrible of the campaign finance world today. These groups, sporting only slogans for names and raising unlimited contributions to support federal candidates, have been decried as a new and dangerous precedent in election campaigns.

In fact, fifteen years ago this week, the Senate authorized an investigation into fundraising activities in the 1996 elections, which brought similar problems to the fore.

SuperPACs are less creations of the 2010 Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions than they are new incarnations of old problems.

Looking Back on Voting Rights

Excerpt of President Johnson’s Speech on Voting Rights, March 15, 1965

In recent months, many state legislatures have tried to implement voter identification laws, in some cases requiring photo identification for people coming to vote. However, many of these efforts have been thwarted. Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

"A Dane County judge on Tuesday barred the enforcement of the state photo ID law at polling places during the general election on April 3, calling it an 'extremely broad and largely needless' impairment of the right to vote."

To supporters of these efforts, they are designed to prevent voter fraud. To some observers, however, these efforts harken back to the 1960s, when civil rights activists and everyday citizens protested voting restrictions, especially on African Americans.

Following Win in Kansas, Santorum Takes March 13 Southern Primaries

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum at a rally in New Hampshire.  Photo by Patrick Gensel.

In what is shaping up to be a two man race with no definitive end in sight, Rick Santorum won the GOP primaries in Mississippi and Alabama yesterday, while Mitt Romney claimed victories in the caucuses of Hawaii and American Samoa. Santorum won Alabama with 35% of the vote and Mississippi with 33%. Romney’s wins in the smaller contests of Hawaii and American Samoa were more definitive. He garnered 45% of the vote in Hawaii, and picked up all nine delegates in American Samoa.

Newt Gingrich barely edged out Romney to claim second place in the Deep South contests, giving his campaign a slight boost as the candidates hit the midway point in the presidential primary race.

Last weekend, Romney captured all 18 delegates at caucuses in two other U.S. possessions in the Pacific – Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Ron Paul took the U.S. Virgin Islands. The weekend’s main attraction, the Kansas Caucus, was won handily by Santorum (51%), who was trailed distantly by Romney (20%).

Like Father, Like Son?

George W. Romney campaign poster, 1968

George W. Romney campaign poster, 1968

Today we welcome a guest post from Nicole Hemmerpostdoctoral fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and former Miller Center National Fellow. A version of this piece originally appeared in the Spectator Australia magazine and on the UK Spectator's Coffee House blog.

After a career as a business executive, a handsome Mormon becomes the Republican governor of a Democratic state, then runs for President. He gets a reputation for flip-flopping and, as a moderate, has an uneasy relationship with the party's conservative base.

It's a pretty specific biography, yet it describes to a tee two men: Mitt Romney, one of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, and his father George, who sought the same prize in 1968.

U.S. Territories and the Republican Contest

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Photo by Jason P. Heym

On Saturday, three of the five U.S. territories held their caucuses for the Republican nomination. Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands each began their caucus process on March 10, and will be followed by American Samoa on March 13, and Puerto Rico on March 18. Each of these territories will award 9 delegates, except for Puerto Rico which will award 23. And given the length and contested nature of the Republican nomination thus far, these relatively obscure contests are not being taken for granted.

Friday Feature: President Carter Not Riding a Tiger

President carter on a toboggan in a snowy field.

President Carter riding a toboggan at Camp David, 1978.

As spring approaches, here's one last salute to winter: President Carter riding a toboggan. 

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

The Importance of The Swing Vote

Linda Killian, The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents

Journalist Linda Killian visited the Miller Center on February 20 to talk about her latest book, The Swing Vote.

In this clip she articulates the motivation of voters who identify as "independent" and points to Ron Paul's success as a "symptom of [voter] frustration." She notes that there are only about fifty competitive "swing" districts in the United States, and examines their potential effects on the national election. 

Watch the full forum here. 

Romney Ahead in Split Contests on Super Tuesday

The results of the Super Tuesday contests were a mixed bag, though former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney emerged the victor in seven of the eleven races. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won three contests, including North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, while former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich captured the vote in his home state of Georgia.

In the much anticipated Ohio primary, Romney appears to have narrowly defeated Santorum by just one percentage point.

Click "Read More" for full Super Tuesday results.

Super Tuesday: Will Romney Make It or Break It?

Super Tuesday map, 2012

States holding March 6 Super Tuesday contests

Today's guest post is from Lara M. Brown, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and the author of "Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants."

Today, the contest either reopens or begins closing. With 422 pledged delegates at stake, Super Tuesday’s ten contests are an opportunity for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Should he amass, as Nate Silver forecasts, a majority of the day’s available delegates and come out on top in Ohio, he would again be headed towards winning the Republican nomination. Should he underperform in these races, talk of a brokered convention would again abound.

“Can’t Afford to Lose Tennessee”

President Johnson Talks with Frank Ahlgren

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With the Tennessee Republican primary set to take place tomorrow as part of Super Tuesday, Republican candidates have stepped up their efforts to woo voters in the state. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported that:

 

“The three leading Republican candidates ramped up their efforts in Tennessee last week with TV and radio ads, phone banks, direct mail, a swarm of surrogate campaigners -- Gov. Bill Haslam leading the way for Romney -- plus some personal campaigning.”

 

And in their Super Tuesday Preview, Politico pointed to Tennessee's importance:

 

"A Romney win in Tennessee would be second only to Ohio in symbolic importance. He was down 4 percentage points to Santorum in an ARG poll released over the weekend, but closing. Victory in Tennessee would demonstrate that the former Massachusetts governor can win in a culturally Southern state."

 

Listen to this telephone conversation (embedded above) from 1964 as President Lyndon Johnson declares that he “can’t afford to lose Tennessee.”

 

No Presidential Primary for Washington

Washington Republican Presidential Caucuses

The Washington caucus results by county were: Mitt Romney (orange), Ron Paul (yellow), and Rick Santorum (green).

On March 3, 2012, the Washington State Republican Party Caucus was held at precincts across the state with registered voters (although not necessarily Republicans—you do not have to be a registered Republican to participate in the caucus although you do sign a pledge that you consider yourself a Republican). Like most caucuses, this one involved participants gathering together to pick delegates pledged to a candidate to go on to the county convention (and then the state convention). The Republican Party also held a presidential straw poll which was won by Mitt Romney, but those results do not affect the caucus delegates in any way.

Friday Feature: President Ford Not Riding a Tiger

President Ford on a snowmobile, with his dog Liberty nearby.

President Ford at Camp David, 1975. His dog, Liberty, plays nearby.

President Gerald Ford is seen here riding a snowmobile at Camp David in 1975. 

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight a whimsical item from presidential history.

Romney’s Winning Hand?

Portrait of Governor Romney

Portrait of Governor Romney, painted by Richard Whitney, reused under the GFDL license.

Today's guest post is from Saladin M. Ambar, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and fomer Miller Center National fellow.

Now that we have some distance from Mitt Romney’s less than spectacular victory in Michigan Tuesday night, perhaps it is worth considering just what Romney has that the rest of the Republican field can’t seem to acquire or destroy. Romney’s got money, organization, and the support of the professionals in the Party, to be sure. But he also has something that has been the only elixir to taking down a sitting president since Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888. He has a governor’s resume.

A Brokered Convention?

President Ford’s Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention, 1976 (Excerpt)

Over the last few weeks, there has been lots of media chatter about the possibility of a brokered convention for the Republican Party. Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics wrote about how a brokered convention could be dangerous for the Republicans, while The Week looked back on the 1976 Republican convention as the last time the party flirted with a brokered convention. And Nate Silver pointed to the 1976 Republican nomination contest as the primary battle most resembling today’s.

A brokered convention would happen if no candidate won a majority of delegates during the first round of voting at the convention. After the first ballot if no candidate had a majority, the delegates would be released to vote for another choice, and the backroom dealing could begin.

The last time the Republicans had a true brokered convention was in 1948, but in 1976 the Republican Party had a strong primary fight between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan of California. Ford and Reagan engaged in a bitter and close fight for the nomination in 1976, trading victories in a series of state Republican primaries. Ford entered the Republican National Convention in Kansas City with a slight lead in delegates over Reagan.

As the incumbent, President Ford had courted wavering Republican delegates in key states by inviting them to the White House, by offering to speak in their states, and by rewarding delegates with patronage positions. Ford won the nomination on the first ballot but only by a mere sixty delegate votes.

Watch President Ford acknowledged the hard-fought primary contest in this excerpt of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on August 19, 1976.

Watch President Ford's full acceptance speech.
Watch Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1976 Republican Convention

Honoring Troops at the White House

Nixon hosts a White House dinner for U.S. troops in 1973.

President Obama’s Leap Day gala for 200 veterans of the Iraq War has invited comparisons to one held nearly 40 years ago at the end of what used to be America’s longest war. 

The black tie dinner Richard Nixon gave 600 newly freed prisoners of North Vietnam remains the biggest one held in White House history. Technically, it was outside the White House beneath an enormous red and gold tent within whose folds glowed chandeliers. The White House had to borrow two refrigerator vans from the army to keep the first course (Supreme of Seafood Neptune) and dessert (strawberry mousse) at precisely 36 degrees. Nixon also served the POWs the biggest names in entertainment. Jimmy Stewart. Bob Hope. John Wayne. 

Nothing was too good for the men he had used so cruelly.