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Fun for the whole family: What if there were no 22nd Amendment?

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One thing I’m surprised doesn’t get discussed more often is the question of whether on the whole the 22nd amendment is a good thing. In particular, I’ve noticed that lots of people who are implacably imposed to term limits in general never seem to mention the most prominent example of such a rule in our system. (Maybe there’s a sense of fatalism around a constitutional amendment, although note that the immediately preceding amendment repealed another amendment passed just 13 years earlier).

Anyway, part of this presently non-existent discussion could involve the counterfactuals raised by the amendment. Starting with Eisenhower, the first president subject to it — Truman was exempted by the amendment’s terms — we’ve had five presidents who could have run for a third term if not for the amendment. What would have happened if it wasn’t there? (Obviously a hurricane can be caused by a butterfly flapping its wings two months earlier etc. so none of this should be taken too seriously).

Eisenhower

Would he have run? Almost certainly. Eisenhower was seriously depressed by the prospect of leaving the White House, probably because he realized it marked the end of his career, and also because he had no respect for Richard Nixon. Despite his age (he turned 70 near the end of this second term, and 70 was considered a lot older then than it is now) I think it’s very likely he would have run.

Would he have won? This is much tougher to judge, of course, but I think he would have been a strong favorite. He left office with high approval ratings, he was a national hero, and JFK, assuming he would have been the opponent for simplicity’s sake, was a candidate with some pretty obvious weaknesses to go along with his strengths.

Putting the two questions together, I think there’s a better than 50% chance that Eisenhower would have gotten a third term. Ironically, the GOP vendetta against FDR’s four terms that led them to push the 22nd through probably cost them the presidency the first time the amendment had political relevance.

Reagan

Now this is a fun one. On the one hand, Reagan would have turned 78 three weeks after starting a third term, and it was VERY obvious to those close to him that he was seriously slipping mentally in the latter part of his presidency. On the other, he was the charismatic leader of movement conservatism, and had a massive ego.

I bet he WOULD have run, although it’s not nearly as close to a sure thing as in Ike’s case.

Would he have won? Against Michael Dukakis? Yeah probably, although who knows how successfully his people would have been able to prop him up at that point during his cognitive decline? A third Reagan term would have been a disaster for the country on many levels, so consider that a bullet dodged thanks to our friend #22.

Bill Clinton

Would he have run?

Yes.

Would he have won?

Yes.

The interesting counterfactual here is whether, if he had been eligible to run, the Republicans would have gone through with the impeachment anyway, when it became obvious it was really boosting Clinton’s popularity.

George W. Bush

Would he have run? No way. This is almost an exact replay of the situation at the end of Truman’s second(ish) term, minus firing MacArthur.

Would he have won? N/A

Barack Obama

Would he have run?

Yes.

Would he have won?

Against Donald Trump? Yes. Or if the answer isn’t yes, I want out of this timeline.

One thing that’s absolutely certain is that Obama would destroy Trump if he were the candidate this year. Consider that a big strike against #22.

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