As history reminds us, unseating an incumbent President is rare. In the last 25 years, no incumbent President has lost re-election. 2020 Democrats can learn from the failures of 1996, 2004, and 2012.
1996: Republican Presidential candidate Bob Doll lost to President Clinton
2004: Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry lost to President Bush
2012: Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost to President Obama
The lesson for winning the Presidency is simple. Nominate a candidate that excites people and you’ll have a chance. Nominate a candidate that’s as boring as watching paint dry and you’ll have to go ahead and start preparing for 2024.
What if in 1996 instead of nominating Bob Dole, Republicans nominated Pat Buchanan. He was a fiery personality much the same way Trump was in 2016, and could have pulled off the same unlikely upset that he did.
What if in 2004 instead of nominating John Kerry, Democrats nominated John Edwards. A young southern candidate that did well communicating empathy for the people struggling much like a Bill Clinton did in 1992. He could have made W. Bush look out of touch like Clinton did to H.W. Bush and won a narrow victory.
2012 is a little bit trickier. They didn’t have anyone that attracted much excitement. Mitt Romney might very well have been their best bet, as boring and unable to connect with people on a personal level as he was. Perhaps Ron Paul garnered some excitement among the youth, but he would have had no chance against the charismatic machine that is Barack Obama.
As far as 2020 goes, right now the exciting candidates the Democrats appear to have are Beto and Kamala. To a lesser extent, maybe Bernie and Cory Booker, though their look might not be one voters could envision being President of the United States. All other talked about potential candidates as of now don’t seem to have that excitement factor, but that could all still change in this unpredictable environment.
Remember this lesson though. Running for President tends to be less so a job interview and more so a popularity contest.