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

Romney Wins Arizona and Michigan Primaries

In the last two big primary contests before Super Tuesday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won handily in Arizona while edging out a narrow victory in Michigan.

Romney won 47% of the vote in Arizona; Santorum trailed with 27%.  The race in Michigan was especially tight, with tentative reports of Romney capturing 41% of the vote compared to Santorum's 38% . Both candidates spent a significant amount of time and money in the state in the lead up to the primary.

A win in Michigan was critical to Mitt Romney's campaign.  Romney was born and raised in Detroit, and a victory -- however small -- in the state helps to put a damper on Santorum's momentum following his sweep of the February 7 contests, as well as quiet some of the criticism from within the GOP that Romney is not a viable candidate.

Prior Experience and the Presidency

Ronald Reagan celebrates gubernatorial win in 1966.  Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Reagan celebrates his gubernatorial win in 1966.  He also served as Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve before becoming president.

Presidential elections are a gamble. Which candidate, once in the Oval Office, will perform better than the rest? Which will best steward the economy? Which will best protect us from foreign enemies? There is no crystal ball that can predict presidential performance with any certainty. Unfortunately, voters are left to their best guesses. 

Or, are they?

“A Man who Runs for Vice President is a Very Foolish Man”

Click "listen," then "play" above to hear the clip. Launch full screen player.

Is it too early to be talking about VP candidates in the waning days of February? Apparently not. On February 1st, 1964 (just over two months after the assassination of JFK) President Johnson openly discusses the the VP spot with Sargent Shriver. This discussion is part of a larger conversation between Johnson and Shriver wherein Johnson discusses a number of policy issues including the conflict in Vietnam. Specifically, Johnson admits that the United States government was responsible for the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. The discussion of Vice Presidential selection occurs at about the halfway mark in this secretly recorded phone call.

Santorum on JFK: “That Makes Me Throw Up…”

President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy

As recounted yesterday in Politico, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Rick Santorum made a strong statement about John F. Kennedy's speech from September 12, 1960, in which Kennedy stressed the importance of the separation of church and state.

Kennedy famously said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."

Santorum vehemently disagreed: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” And he noted that the idea made him want to throw up.

In the Miller Center’s Presidential Speech Archive, we feature transcripts, audio, and video of many famous presidential speeches, including the full speech that President Kennedy gave in 1960 (the excerpt Santorum referred to begins at 1:47).

Friday Feature: President Taft Not Riding a Tiger

Taft riding a water buffalo

William Howard Taft riding a carabao (water buffalo) in the Phillipines, c. 1904.

William Howard Taft is seen here riding a water buffalo in the Philippines in 1904. He was appointed to be the first American civilian Governor-General of the Philippines, serving from 1901-1903. 

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

The Economic Crisis and the (Political) Revival of Manufacturing

Obama at Master-Lock plant in Milwaukee on Feb. 15, 2012

President Obama visits Milwaukee’s Master-Lock plant on Feb. 15.  Photo by

Since his January State of the Union address, President Obama has emphasized the centrality of manufacturing for the U.S. economy. In a rare example of shared cross-partisan priorities, Obama’s Republican rivals have also emphasized manufacturing in recent months. This is a significant and surprising departure from the economic focus of most recent presidential campaigns.

Making the Case for History: Using Historical Analogies in Policy Analysis

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a January 2012 visit to Ecuador. Photo by Miguel Ángel Romero/Presidencia de la República del Ecuador.

The conflict between Iran and Israel, which has escalated steeply in recent weeks, is likely to be a critical campaign issue for both President Obama and the Republican candidates. What can history tell us about this conflict? How useful is history as a tool for understanding the present?


Universities Aren’t Just Economic Tools

Today we welcome a post from Ethan Schrum, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, on President Obama's proposals from the campaign trail for higher education.  This column first appeared in the Commentary section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In his budget speech Monday at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, President Obama continued to beat the drum for the bold higher education policy proposals that he announced in his recent State of the Union address and a subsequent speech at the University of Michigan.

A lot of people are talking about the specific proposals, but almost nobody is talking about the overarching rhetoric in which he wrapped them.

Forum Recap: The Swing Vote

Douglas A. Blackmon

Douglas A. Blackmon, Miller Center Forum chair.  Photo by Robin Holland

Happy President's Day!  Today we welcome a post from Douglas Blackmon, the new chair of the Miller Center's Forum program, who brings us a recap of this morning's Forum on the role of independent voters in the 2012 election.  Blackmon is The Wall Street Journal’s Senior National Correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-win­ning author of "Slavery by Another Name."

Ambivalent Leadership?  Obama, Militant Partisanship and the Challenge of the Modern Presidency

Obama on Feb. 13

Pres. Obama visits Northern Virginia Community College on Feb. 13.  Photo by Damon Green.

We all remember the excitement and promise of Barack Obama’s 2008 crusade for the presidency, when he memorably offered the voters “Change We Can Believe In.” But the momentous and rancorous first three years of his administration has left unclear what kind of change he represents.

By Sid Milkis and Carah Ong

Maine Chooses Romney in Disputed Caucus (UPDATED)

With a final tally of only 84% of precincts reporting, the Maine Republican Party has declared former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney the winner of the Maine caucuses, beating runner-up Ron Paul by a slim margin. Romney received 2190 votes, or 39%, while Paul received 1996 votes for 36%. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich came in third and fourth, respectively; neither campaigned actively in the state.

The Maine caucuses hold unofficial, non-binding polls in which they ask participants to select which Presidential candidate they prefer. Some caucuses declined to participate in this poll (or were delayed by weather) before February 11, when results were officially announced. This led to some consternation, especially within the Paul camp.

UPDATE, February 17: An updated tally upholds earlier results, showing Romney beat Paul by 239 votes.

Why was the Missouri Primary Called a “Beauty Contest”?

St. Louis Gateway Arch

Photo by Bev Sykes

On February 7, 2012, Missouri held a presidential primary for the Republican candidates, the same day that Colorado and Minnesota had their caucuses. Rick Santorum won all three contests, surprising many who expected a better showing from Romney.

Many in the media referred to the Missouri primary as a “beauty contest,” because the primary did not count as it was non-binding, which means that the delegates that Missouri will send to the Republican National Convention in August will not be affected by the way voters voted in February. The Missouri Republican Party will hold caucuses beginning on March 17, 2012, that will actually decide which candidates the delegates will support at the convention in August.

So why did Missouri hold a primary that didn’t matter?

Santorum Sweeps Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri in Feb. 7 Contests

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won yesterday’s Colorado and Minnesota caucuses, as well as Missouri’s “beauty contest” primary, introducing an element of doubt into Mitt Romney’s status as frontrunner for the GOP nomination. Santorum is the only Republican contender with four notches in his belt, having previously won the much maligned Iowa caucus.

Santorum won with 55% of the vote in Missouri, 40% in Colorado, and 45% in Minnesota. Romney came in second in Missouri and Colorado, but Ron Paul claimed that position in the Minnesota contest.

Romney Takes the Nevada Caucus

Mitt Romney in October 2011

Mitt Romney at the Values Voter Summit in DC in October 2011.  Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney captured 50% of the vote in the February 4 Nevada caucuses, winning 16,486 votes, compared to runner-up Newt Gingrich’s 6,956 votes for 21% of the total. Ron Paul came in a close third with 6,175 votes (19%), and Rick Santorum finished fourth with 3,277 votes (10%).

Romney’s second straight campaign win puts some distance between him and the other candidates in the field, and confirms his status as the prohibitive front-runner in the GOP presidential race. In his victory speech, Romney focused his remarks on President Barack Obama instead of his Republican rivals, a clue to who Romney considers his real competition.

Food Stamps: As American as Apple Pie

Food stamps in 1941

Food stamps used in 1941. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

One of Newt Gingrich’s most recent criticisms of President Obama has been that he is “the food stamp president.” Gingrich contrasts this with his own plans for the presidency, in which he assures the GOP debate audiences he would be a “paycheck president.”

But since the 1950s, every president has been a food stamp president. Food stamps have long drawn strong support from Republicans as well as Democrats. For most of their history, in fact, food stamps have been as American– and as bipartisan – as apple pie.