SEE HOW THEY RAN: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate by Gil Troy

SEE HOW THEY RAN: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate

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Cerebral campaign-by-campaign account of how candidates have sought the presidency. Troy (History/McGill) asks whether presidential politics were ever dignified and substantive and concludes that America never did have a golden age when the nation's best sought high office without resorting to some kind of political tactics. From the early days of the Republic, when political parties dominated the choice of candidates (viewing each as a ""risk to be minimized""), those who won the presidency were often figureheads able to keep silent about their plans for office. Candidates deferred to the party platform, wrote statements accepting the nomination, then retired to their farms or estates. Whig warhorse Henry Clay lost to Democrat James K. Polk in 1844, Troy argues, because Clay wrote letters responding to constituents who demanded his views. Controversy can be fatal--Stephen Douglas stumped the country delivering speeches (while claiming he was really en route to visit his mother); Lincoln shrewdly kept as silent as possible. By the 20th century, passive campaigning (with candidates ever seeking the right mix between patrician leadership and populist accessibility) no longer won elections and new tricks appeared: speaking from one's own front porch to camped supporters and journalists, delivering speeches to live audiences while slanting the material to capture the much larger newspaper readership. Eventually, the modern campaign took form, requiring even the intellectual Adlai Stevenson to don cowboy outfits and stalk lingerie counters begging for votes. Of interest for its historical perspective on today's media-based politicking, but Troy's formula of studying each campaign in order without fully explaining the issues of the day leads at times to a bloodless narrative too limited in scope.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1991
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan