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Why Trump Will Win: Lessons Learned From the 1996 Presidential Election

How Past Election Results Hint that Democrats Nominated the Wrong Candidate.

President Donald J. Trump — a fiery nationalist Republican who pulled off one of the most surprising political upsets in American history — is currently facing reelection in November.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s main electoral opponent, is looking to win back the White House for the Democratic Party. While American voters are assessing who they will cast their ballots for, recent tumultuous political developments (such as the emergence of the novel COVID-19 disease, the rapid volatility of financial markets, or the issue of wealth inequality worsening), may cast doubt on the president’s reelection chances.

Assuming there are going to be several factors that will come into play over the next few months, it's hard to concretely state who I think is going to win. Instead, I suggest we travel 24 years in the past, where the United States faced a similar situation to what we encounter today…


In short, there are three lessons we can learn from the political landscape of 1996:

1. Old, moderate, and heavily-experienced politicians are more likely to lose to younger, incumbent presidents than any other statesmen.
2. Economic perception is more important than actual statistics.
3. Mid-term election results mean nothing for the subsequent presidential election.


The year was 1996. On August 15, prominent Kansas Senator Bob Dole exuberantly accepted the Republican Presidential Nomination in San Diego, California, which effectively propelled his bid to unseat incumbent president Bill Clinton. His running mate, Jack Kemp, served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Bush administration.

Dole was a highly exceptional American Statesmen. Not only did Dole serve in the U.S. Senate for 27 years, he also represented Kansas in the House of Representatives for four terms, served as Chairman of the Republican Nation Committee in the early 70’s, and was the Republican Vice-Presidential Nominee in the 1976 election alongside Gerald Ford. Known as a moderate, establishment-endorsed politician, Dole easily defeated his fellow Republican opponents in the primaries, who included Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes.

However, despite his accomplishments, Dole was perceived to be an "old geezer" who was out-of-touch with the issues. Dole once mistakenly referred to the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Brooklyn Dodgers at a campaign event, despite the fact they relocated in 1957! Whereas the 50-year-old Clinton was considered hip, in touch with the masses, and most favored to win (and did by a landslide).

Electoral Results of the 1996 Presidential Election

How this relates to the 2020 election with Joe Biden as the nominee: While both major party nominees would be 70-something white males, Biden is perceived to "act older" by younger generations, and has recently been known for stuttering and aggressively lashing out at people.

In addition, Joe Biden is also four years older than President Trump, which is normally not a big deal, but when it comes to presidential races, it is.

Biden is also a career politician—much like Dole—who served 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware and 8 years as VP under Obama. But what will hurt Biden more than the "hair sniffing" allegations, will be the Right's assertion that his mental capacity is diminishing, and the tales of a "good man dancing with dementia" will significantly hurt his chances at winning the upcoming November election.


Similar to what President Trump was able to accomplish in his first term, Clinton presided over an industrious economy that was recovering from the early 1990s recession. From 1993-1996, the real GDP growth of the United States averaged around 3.3%. Additionally, the national unemployment rate decreased from 6.5% to 5.4%. He was also responsible for the successful implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — which created approximately five million jobs over the next two decades.

Not bad for his first term, eh?

Well, there’s more to the story.

Some contemporary economists believe that Clinton’s domestic accomplishments were, in part, the result of the previous administration’s policies. In fact, conservatives have downplayed the economic record of the democratic president by arguing he gets too much credit for it. After all, the real GDP growth of the United States was 3.5% in 1992, one year before Clinton was inaugurated. If we look at economic conditions right after the 90s recession commenced and before Clinton was sworn in as president, the conclusion can be made that the economy was already rebounding without Clinton’s policies being enacted.

Bob Dole campaigned on several inconsistencies that adversely plagued the Clinton economy. They included:

  • Adjusting for inflation, median household income under the Clinton Administration in 1994 was actually $97 less than what it was in 1992.

  • 1996 was the first year that 1 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy.

  • The Employment Cost Index (a Labor Department quarterly economic series to measure both wages and benefits) rose less than one-half of 1% in 1995 — the slowest growth within 14 years up to 1996.

Throughout Clinton’s eight-year presidency, 22.5 million jobs were created and unemployment dropped significantly by the end of his second term. Moreover, he was able to bring down the poverty rate to 11.8% in 1999, which was the lowest it had been since 1979.

Most notably, Clinton was able to produce a $127 billion budget surplus when he left office in 2001.

With this note, however, we have only seen four years of President Trump. That is why I have focused my criticism exclusively on President Clinton’s first term.

So, with that out of the way, let’s compare President Trump’s economic record right before the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic:

  • Record low unemployment rate (not the lowest in history, but close to it)

  • Steadily rising wages

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed February 12, 2020 with a record high of 29,551.42 points

In his first term (pre-COVID19), President Trump presided over one of the greatest economic environments the American people have seen in a long while (with several exceptions). However, does President Trump really deserve all the credit he receives from his supporters?

Economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that the annual average growth for the year 2019 fiscal year was 2.3%. This actually pales in comparison to the 5.5% peak achieved in the second quarter of 2014 during Obama’s years in office. Furthermore, if we go all the way back to the 1950s and 1960s, the GDP of our nation was valued at a much higher value than today.

Let’s examine the economic conditions that the United States experienced under President Barack Obama, who served from 2009-2017:

  • The economy gained a net 11.6 million jobs.

  • The S&P 500 stock market index rose 166%.

  • The number of people without health insurance dropped by 20-24 million.

  • While insurance premiums did rise, they rose more slowly than in previous administrations.

  • The United States unemployment rate dropped from 10% in 2010 at the height of the Great Recession, to less than 5% right around the General Election of 2016.

Of course, the economy under Obama wasn’t perfect. As with virtually all administrations, there were several inconsistences.

But based on the aforementioned evidence, does President Trump deserve credit for pulling the US economy out of the aftermaths of the 2007-2008 Financial Recession? Or has he simply inherited economic prosperity spawned from his predecessor?

Here are the facts:

  • Trump's tax cuts are not doing anything to produce real economic growth, as the Congressional Budget Office recently calculated that the federal deficit is expected to top $1 trillion this year.

  • The Gini Index (which measures income inequality by a scale of 0 to 1; a score of “0” means total equality, while a score of “1” indicates complete inequality, where only one household has all the income) grew from 0.482 in 2017 to 0.485 in 2018.

  • Over half a million people are homeless in the United States.

While it may be true that President Trump is not directly responsible for ALL the success his economy, it raises the question if independent voters are going to take a chance with Trump’s "mentally diminishing" challenger, or if they are going to tolerate him for another four years in order preserve a rather decent economy…

The answer to the latter question is an overwhelming yes.

Like Dole, Biden might struggle in convincing voters to cast their ballots for a change in administrative leadership that has proved it can generate a thriving economy. Biden represents reverting back to the Obama years. Why rock the boat? Clinton was presiding over satisfactory growth, and that was all he really needed to extend his time in office by another four years.

Now, if we dive back deeper into American history to 1980, Ronald Reagan was able to decimate Jimmy Carter out of the White House based on his poor economy. Under Carter, the annual GDP actually retracted 0.3% in 1980, and the unemployment rate increased from 6.0% to 7.2% between 1979 and 1980. With a recession affecting everyone in the country, the middle class and poor included, people had the perception that the economy was faltering under Carter. Widespread panic drove the price of oil to extremely high levels, resulting in the 1979 oil crisis that personally hit people's wallets.

Regan — a naturally charismatic Hollywood actor — coined the phrase “Let’s Make America Great Again” and asked “Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?” to voters, and it deeply resonated with a lot of people. Regan was able to portray himself as the solution to the country’s problems; someone who could bring a resurgence to the economy — a man who could offer brighter days than what were currently around.

Trump was smart enough to mirror Regan in his campaign style, and this will be an advantage in the upcoming presidential race.

While I disapprove of many of the president’s policies, I must concede that he is one of the greatest advertisers of our time. His ability to plant terms into the heads of the American people such as: "fake news," "little Marco," "it's a hoax," is the reason why he is able to survive the plethora of career-killing allegations that would have destroyed any other politician.

It's also this skill that will have many Americans falsely believing that "sleepy Joe" will have full blown Dementia the second he gets into the White House.

In other words, perception is always more important than reality.

It's why George Herbert Walker Bush lost in his reelection bid in 1992 against Bill Clinton (no, Ross Perot did not ruin Bush’s election chances), why Herbert Hoover was obliterated in 1932 against FDR, and why Gerald Ford narrowly lost in 1976 against Carter (who would face the same fate four years later).

So, the lesson here is that perception of how well the economy is doing is more important than real statistics when an incumbent faces reelection. Average Americans don’t feel like change is necessary in the White House, particularly if there is a national crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing fallout is most likely not going to hurt President Trump’s reelection bid. A recent Politico Magazine article, titled “How a Pandemic Could Actually Boost Trump’s Reelection Chances”, found that due to the Terror Management Theory:

“…anxious Americans might actually be more likely to support Trump in November because of his dominant leadership style and his claims of offering protection.”
The "terror management theory" essentially suggests that humans will travel at any length in order to avoid death, which includes relying on dominant leaders who are perceived to be able to confront anything jeopardizing their security.

In addition, Trump's administration has injected nearly 2 trillion dollars into the economy with a stimulus-relief bill that is expected to help many people recover from the current volatile financial climate.

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), recently passed by Congress, will cost around 10% of our nation’s GDP. According to the Los Angeles Times, the CARES Act is the largest economic stimulus package ever enacted in American history. And unlike the previous incumbent presidents that were mentioned, President Trump has a very loyal base of supporters that will stick with him through thick and thin — even if he famously shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.

Meaning, it will take a very strong candidate to beat him in November.


When President Bill Clinton was running for a second term, many speculated that the Republican Revolution of 1994 was an omen signaling he was going to suffer a humiliating defeat against Dole.

Of course, they were dead wrong.

1994 was a horrible election year for the Democratic Party. On the federal level, the Republican Revolution resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives and a pickup of 8 seats in the Senate. This effectively seized Republican control over both chambers of Congress and propelled Newt Gingrich to the prominent Speaker of the House position. The GOP also solidified their control of several gubernatorial, mayoral, and state legislative offices across the country.

Many people reasonably concluded that Clinton was doomed to lose based on the results of the ruthless beating of the Democratic Party in 1994. Yet, as we have already seen, Clinton defeated his opponent by a dominating 220 electoral votes only 2 years later.

If we look back in more recent years, Republicans gained 63 congressional seats in the 2010 midterm election which blunted Democratic control over the House of Representatives. Mitt Romney, as we know, failed to capitalize on the previous midterm election to defeat incumbent President Obama in 2012.

So, if modern history tells us anything, the Blue Wave that occurred in the 2018 mid-term elections was simply part of an ever-existing pattern. Presidents frequently face political backlashes in the middle of their first terms. What occurred two years ago shouldn’t really give Democrats much optimism for November.

Perhaps a last-minute marketing miracle will invigorate the Biden candidacy, and we will once again, have to scratch our heads in unison.

Article written by Jett James Pruitt

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