Bucking Political Traditions: 2016 Presidential Election

Hindsight is infinite wisdom.  It is a major tool historians use to interpret historical events like the recent presidential campaign. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ran against political traditions.  When she announced her candidacy in 2015 for a second run at the presidency, Hillary broke with political tradition by attempting to succeed Barack Obama as his democratic successor.


In the 1800’s a political tradition was established when Thomas Jefferson was succeeded by James Madison .  Madison passed the presidential baton to James Monroe. During Monroe presidency,1816-1824, the Federalists ceased to exist as a political party, mainly because they failed to support the war of 1812. As a result, in 1824 there was an intra-party battle between John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State and Andrew Jackson, military general and hero of Battle of New Orleans, 1816.  After a bitter fight, Adams won.  The political tradition continued. In 1828, Jackson defeated Adams and passed the presidential baton to Vice President Martin Van Buren. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower attempted to continue the tradition through Vice Present Richard Nixon.  That attempt failed when Nixon was defeated for the presidency by John F. Kennedy.  It was not until the end of President Ronald Reagan’s second administration the tradition was continued in the person of Vice President George W. Bush. President Bush was limited to one term because he was defeated in 1992 by William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton.

Hillary’s candidacy bucked not only political tradition but an unwritten rule of the Democratic Party. Since the unsuccessful candidacy of Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 against Eisenhower, the Democratic Party had not endorsed a candidate for a second presidential bid.  Hillary became the exception to that rule.

When Hillary accepted the presidential nomination of the National Democratic Party on July 28, 2016, she became the first woman to be so honored, thus breaking with a male tradition dating back to the days of George Washington.  Her nomination created another crack in the glass ceiling.  In endorsing Hillary, President Obama said she was the most qualified person to ever seek the presidency. Hillary had millions of supporters and the presidency was within her grasp.  But tradition was not to be broken.  Hillary fought a gallant battle but she allowed her political opponent, Republican nominee, Donald Trump to define the campaign.  Trump, a real estate tycoon and leader of the birther movement that questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s birth rights and presidency, had become the Republican nominee on July 19, after successfully defeating sixteen Republican opponents.  He also became the first candidate of a major political party to run for the presidency without any political or military experience. As the campaign progressed, it became very bitter and divisive.

Trump continued to define Hillary as being crooked but she did not respond accordingly to how dishonest he was in business affairs, federal tax returns and speeches fraught with lies.   Trump conducted a very unconventional campaign while Clinton remained conventional in her approach. His supporters accepted his angry campaign rhetoric seriously and literally.

Trump urged his supporters to help drain the swamp in corrupted Washington.  Nearly every major newspapers and magazines in America editorialized that Trump was a clear and dangerous candidate for the presidency. But his supporters remained steadfast.  Political pundits and commentators cautioned that a Trump presidency would be disastrous, both domestically and internationally for America.

Despite these dire warnings, in the aftermath of the presidential election on November 8th, Trump was victorious.  Hillary’s crusade to become the 1st woman president had failed.  The glass ceiling remained politically unbroken. In her second quest to capture the presidency, Clinton had been defeated by Trump, a male opponent of questionable business deals, unethical characteristics and one who subscribed to the Machiavellian philosophy: “the end justifies the means.”

Sherman Jackson. Ph. D.
American Constitutional History and Law
Professor Emeritus
Miami University

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