An examination of the problems of presidential succession in American history, which in numerous cases has been anything but orderly.
William Henry Harrison lasted only a month as president before succumbing to pneumonia in 1841, thrusting his vice president, John Tyler, into office. Therewith a chain of events was set in motion that would splinter the Whigs and turn a powerful potential ally, Henry Clay, into a foe: “While Clay sought reconciliation from Harrison,” writes Cohen (Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East, 2007, etc.), “he was prepared to wage war with Tyler.” It wouldn’t be the first time the elevation of a vice president to chief office would rupture old relations, as the author documents. A more modern case was the arrival of Lyndon Johnson to the Oval Office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Texan had been building the power he lost when leaving his post as Senate majority leader, for as second-in-command, he “lacked any real constituency inside the administration.” Other vice presidents brought into office following the demise or departure of the president were less effective, and certainly less showy: Calvin Coolidge earned the moniker “Silent Cal,” but he effectively calmed the turbulent scene surrounding the administration of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding (around whose death, Cohen hints, a cozy conspiracy theory might be built). The book is light on theory and long on anecdote, but it makes for pleasant reading for politics junkies, especially those keen on reading the political winds. Though his book is timely, the author insists that it is incorrect “to look at the timing of this book and assume it was inspired by all the impeachment talk surrounding Donald Trump.”
Easily digestible political history and, Cohen’s protestations aside, interesting reading for those contemplating the prospect of a President Mike Pence—or President Nancy Pelosi.