In 1976 Disney released Freaky Friday. The plot of the movie is that on Friday the 13th a mother and daughter (Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) have been fighting, each believes the other has the easier life. At the same time they both wish they could switch places for one day and their wish comes true. They then have to live the other’s life until they switch back, and of course high jinx ensue and lessons are learned. It wasn’t the first time body switches had been done in entertainment but it became a cult classic and the standard by which similar plot lines are measured against. So what does this have to do with the current Presidential election?
To understand the comparison you have to look at the primaries of the past forty years. On the Republican side the Presidential candidates have been selected based on the Runner Up system. In 1976 Ronald Reagan lost a heated convention fight but was the winner of the next primary. After that the runner up became the nominee except in certain circumstance. Here’s a breakdown of the Republican election cycle:
Year Nominee Runner up
1976 Gerald Ford Ronald Reagan
1980 Ronald Reagan George H.W. Bush
1984 Reagan is reelected
1988 George H.W. Bush Bob Dole
1992 Bush loses to Clinton
1996 Bob Dole Pat Buchanan
2000* George W. Bush John McCain
2004 Bush wins reelection
2008 John McCain Mike Huckabee
2012** Mitt Romney Rick Santorum
*By the year 2000 Pat Buchanan had broken away from the Republican Party took over Ross Perot’s Reform Party. He ran as their Presidential candidate so the GOP nominated the legacy candidate George W. Bush.
**Even though Mike Huckabee was an early favorite he decided to sit out the election and so the Republicans went with the second runner up Mitt Romney.
Overall the Runner Up system has been 2 for 5 but the Republicans keep trying.
Meanwhile when the Democrats hold their primaries it seems to be an Anything Goes system and the potential winner is hard to predict in advance. Here’s a comparison breakdown of the past 40 years of the Democratic election cycle:
Year Nominee Runner up
1976 Jimmy Carter Mo Udall
1980 Carter loses to Ronald Reagan
1984 Walter Mondale Gary Hart
1988 Michael Dukakis Jesse Jackson
1992 Bill Clinton Jerry Brown
1996 Bill Clinton wins reelection
2000 Al Gore Bill Bradley
2004 John Kerry John Edwards
2008 Barack Obama Hillary Clinton
2012 Barack Obama wins reelection
Unlike the Republicans there is no way to predict the outcome of the Democratic primary, half the time the Dark Horse candidate comes out on top and the other half it’s a known party insider. As far as primary experience goes Carter, Dukakis, Clinton and Obama had never officially ran for President before. Meanwhile Mondale, Gore and Kerry had dropped out of previous primaries and never finished. When it came to candidate the Democrats rarely supported them twice, the closest anyone came was Gary Hart who had to drop out due to a sex scandal.
Which brings us to the current Freaky Friday election. Instead of going with the First Runner Up or the Party Loyalist the Republicans have nominated the wildest of the Wild Cards ever dealt from the bottom of the deck, Donald Trump. He has never held political office or ran for an elected position before and he has expressed open disdain for the Republican Party, he is the exact opposite of the usual GOP choice for a Presidential candidate. Meanwhile the Democrats, other than Bernie Sanders trying to rework the primary number, have nominated a Hillary Clinton, who has participated in politics since 1964, been involved in most levels of government and was the runner up in the 2008 primary. Even stranger is that mainstream Republicans are openly saying they will support Hillary or not vote at all in order to stop Trump. Meanwhile liberal Democrats are claiming they will boycott the election since Bernie isn’t the candidate.
Both sides have done the exact opposite of their normal strategy, it’s as if the party leaders looked at the same pagan idol at the same time and said “I’d like to run a campaign like theirs”. So the questions are how will this Freaky Friday election work out? Will high jinx ensue, will lessons be learned? Will everything go back to normal after the November election? I guess we’ll just have to ride out the soul exchange and see how things work out in the end.