Grand Old Partisan praises Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections. White House correspondent Fred Lucas has written a fascinating narrative of six closely decided races for the presidency. Each chapter engages the reader with both telling anecdotes and insightful analysis. Throughout the book are apt references to the 2016 primary and general election campaigns. Also explored is what might have happened if the results had turned out differently.
Lucas rightly calls the 1800 presidential election "an inspiration to the world." Virtually unprecedented was a national leader giving up power after being defeated for re-election. He wryly observes that supporters of Thomas Jefferson, one of the wealthiest men in the country, used class warfare rhetoric against the middle-class John Adams. Then the story turns to a flaw in the Constitution prior to the 12th Amendment. Thomas Jefferson and his running mate receiving the same number of electoral votes meant the election would be decided by the House of Representatives! Aaron Burr, a political operator who created Tammany Hall, eventually had to settle for the vice presidency, in part due to opposition from Jefferson's erstwhile enemy, Alexander Hamilton.
Broadening the voting franchise first had an effect in 1824. As the author reveals, this was the year opinion polls made their debut. Andrew Jackson, the only candidate with nationwide appeal, contended with at least three other candidates. Lucas compares Old Hickory's outsider appeal to that of Donald Trump. Jackson claimed to have been cheated out of the president by a scheming Henry Clay, but evidence is presented arguing against that commonly-held belief. In any case, he could have benefited from not winning the White House until four years later. And, the Democratic Party may never have arisen had he not lost to John Quincy Adams.
Perhaps the highlight of Tainted by Suspicion is its re-telling of the tumultuous 1876 election. Samuel Tilden, the Democrat nominee, may well have won had it not been for what Civil War general Dan Sickles did after an evening's entertainment. Results in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were in dispute, and Rutherford Hayes would be President if he won all three. Public opinion tended to favor the Republican, who but for Democrat suppression of the black vote would have fared much better in southern states. Lucas explains how Democrats finally acquiesced after attempted bribery was exposed and the Compromise of 1877 reached. An astonishing detail is that The New York Times was a Republican newspaper back in the day. My history of the GOP, Back to Basics for the Republican Party, is cited five times in this chapter. I would have to disagree with the author's contention that "the 1876 election set back civil rights progress for about a century."
The bitter contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore still clangs in our collective memories. Fortunately, this book corrects many misconceptions about the 2000 presidential election. As in 1876, Florida played a pivotal role. Gore won half a million more popular votes than Bush, but whichever candidate won that disputed state would be the 43rd President. Lucas points out that Bush came out ahead on election day and in the official recount. Democrats throwing out more than a thousand military ballots cost them any claim to the moral high ground. After thirty-six days, Gore conceded once the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to strike down his ploy for another recount only in selected Democrat counties. Interestingly, a young Ted Cruz played a key role on Bush's legal team.
Tainted by Suspicion discusses two other close elections, Benjamin Harrison versus Grover Cleveland in 1888 and John Kennedy versus Richard Nixon in 1960. While losing the popular vote to incumbent President Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison won decisively in the Electoral College. Delivering an unprecedented ninety-four campaign speeches, he would have won many more popular votes had it not been for Democrat vote fraud in the South. Noting that Nixon had a much stronger record on civil rights than John Kennedy, the author presents evidence that the Republican may actually have won the popular vote. Even so, his 303-219 loss in the Electoral College meant that more than the Daley machine's cheating in Illinois cost him the election.
Lucas sums up his masterful book by asserting that "of the four key elections examined in these pages, none were stolen." And to sum up my review, Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections provides an excellent, accessible view of our political past with valuable lessons for us today.
Clarence Thomas cited Back to Basics for the Republican Party in a Supreme Court decision.
"This is the most amazing book about politics that I have ever read. The Overview should be required reading for anyone with even a minor interest in government. The remainder is an enthralling history lesson that I will never forget. For years, we have all been misled about the true nature of the GOP. This is the real deal! Read it and be proud!"
"Michael Zak wrote the definitive history of the GOP."
"Back to Basics for the Republican Party is the most significant contribution to the Republican Party in the last twenty years apart from Ronald Reagan."
"Back to Basics for the Republican Party is more important to our party now than ever before."
"one of the best books I ever read"