Will Trump defeat Biden like Dewey defeated Truman?

“History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, but It Often Rhymes”

Mark Twain

In 1948 President Truman’s approval rating was at 36%. Today, President Biden’s approval rating is mired in the thirties. Truman was down 13 points to Republican Thomas Dewey in polling done in September of 1948. Like Truman, Biden has been down in today’s polling. The 1948 economy suffered from inflation related to World War Two rationing and price controls. Today’s economy, while strong overall, suffers from inflation, possibly related to supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, in food and gasoline prices that affect consumers daily. Truman faced third-party challengers from both the political right and left. Southerner Strom Thurmond ran from the political right as the candidate of the States Rights- ‘Dixiecrat’- Party opposed Truman’s civil rights program. Former Vice President Henry Wallace ran from the political left as the Progressive Party candidate.
Today Biden faces challenges from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the political right and Cornel West on the left.

Harry Truman’s White House counsel Clark Clifford drew up an analysis and game plan for the 1948 presidential campaign. One of Clifford’s first observations was that Truman needed to win back independent voters who had voted for Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. To bring independents back to the Democratic Party, Truman needed to link the poor legislative record of the 80th Congress and tie the Republican presidential candidate to that “do nothing’ record. Regarding congressional legislation, Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, said “We’re not going to give that fellow anything.”

In 2024, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, referring to Republican reluctance to pass legislation, said, “Passing a tax bill that makes the president look good …means he could be re-elected..” Republicans in 1948 were in a no-win situation of their own doing. If they produced meaningful legislation, Truman would take credit for it. If Congress did nothing, Truman would denounce them for doing nothing on critical issues. 2024 Republicans have put themselves in the same position.

Another Clifford observation was that Truman needed to appeal to the heart of the Democratic coalition, workers, and minorities. To do so Truman advocated for union labor rights and Civil Rights policies. Like Roosevelt, he attacked entrenched business interests. Truman also advocated for an increase in the minimum wage, strengthening Social Security, and for national health insurance. Today Biden supports strengthening the Voting Rights Act, and the Affordable Care Act, and referring to Republican threats to Social Security, has said, “Not on my watch.”

Truman ran a vigorous ‘whistle stop’ campaign, touring the country and making speeches from the back of his train at many locations. Biden’s fundraising will allow him the opportunity to run a vigorous campaign on all fronts.

“I talked to them as human beings with real needs and feelings and fears. I talked to them about their jobs, their homes, and the cost of living. I treated them not like crowds of people but like businessmen, tenant farmers, housewives, married veterans, laboring men, teachers -individuals with interests for whom I, as President had a genuine concern.”

Harry Truman

“I don’t look at the economy through the eyes of Wall Street and Park Avenue. I look at it through the eyes of the people I grew up with in Scranton, Pennsylvania or Claymont, Delaware.”

Joe Biden

“Give ’em hell, Harry!” became the Democrat’s campaign slogan to which Truman replied, “I don’t give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell!” Biden supporters revel in ‘Dark Brandon’ memes that have sayings like “Let’s get you back on the rails, Jack”. Political analysts were so sure that Truman would lose that on election day the Chicago Tribune printed the headline ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’. The actual 1948 election results saw Truman win 49.4 percent of the vote to Dewey’s 45.0 percent. 2024 may not be an exact repeat of 1948, but it sure does rhyme.








Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=121758373 for the image ‘Dewey defeats Truman’.

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