I love speculating on alternative history. I like to dabble in what I call a theory of turning points with alternate history fiction. For example, what if the Americans took the war of 1812 as representative of a “they will never stop coming after us” theory and built up a war machine to conquer Britain and won? Think about how different WWII would have been.
But on the notion of Clinton having resigned leading to Gore winning, I’m not convinced. Historically, VPs who take succeed to POTUS due to death or resignation only have a 50/50 chance of winning. Of the, IIRC, eight who did so (and were same-party), only four were “re-elected” when their assumed term ended. Of those four, if memory serves, two happened during military conflict (Johnson and Truman), one was a real outlier (Roosevelt) in that he had been very active in that term and was very well liked at the time.
On the contrary, Gore wasn’t particularly well liked and would likely not have had a list of acccomplishments. It is one thing to take over after an assassination and quite another to do so when the POTUS resigns in disgrace.
However, even if he had won I think we would still have had the Second Gulf War. People today forget that Gore was a hawk. He supported the first war, one of the reasons Clinton selected him, supported the forced removal of Hussein, and his sole objection to the way Bush did the second one was the more “do it (comparatively) alone” way he did it — not that he did it. We have to remember that Clinton barely avoided what 60–70% of Americans pushed for: removing him by force. A POTUS Gore after 9/11 would likely have done no different. Gore was somewhat known for using threats of U.S. military intervention against smaller nations behind the scenes.
It is easy to forget the mood against Hussein in the 90s; how 70%, according to polls, favored taregting Hussein directly and 60% favored “boots on the ground” in Iraq. Democrats and Republicans both chided Bush (the elder) and Clinton for not “getting the job done”. This was all prior to 9/11.
Recall that also after 9/11 it wasn’t just republicans pushing for going into Iraq. Leiberman, Peretz, and Beinart (to name a few) were also doing so. Indeed, prior to Gore’s decision to not try again for POTUS he was openly and proudly hawkish. Given his history and predilection for hawkishness, I’d be hard pressed to see how he would have avoided it when the opportunity was handed to him on a golden platter and “the people” wanted it.
If Gore did win and the invasion of Iraq turned out in the 2004 cycle anything like it did in actual history, had Bush decided to try again I think he’d have had a chance. He would have had the “stolen election” meme on his side, Gore would have been suffering in the public eye, and Bush’s charismatic affability likely would have had him in office in 2004, pitting potentially Obama against an affable incumbent in 2008 as opposed to McCain. It is easy to see the war Bush and forget how charming and charismatic he was.
Obama likely would have had a record of supporting Gore’s wartime proposals as senator, and Hillary could have been the victor in that primary race had the resignation of her husband occured. Or Obama could have faced someone else in that primary who could have defeated him, since being the spouse of a resigned-in-disgrace POTUS may not have made for a good candidate.
While the major events would not have changed much at that point, the candidate pool could have been dramatically different. We couldn’t even say if Obama would have even run in 2008. Would a press that had dealt with a hawkish Gore presidency and all the baggage that came with it have given him the attention needed? More poignantly, would he have even had that address at the convention that launched the sequence of events?
That opportunity was due to his involvement with then-candidate John Kerry in his 2004 bid. A sitting Gore POTUS in 2004 makes a huge difference in the Demcrats’ primaries in 2004. If Gore wanted to run for re-election, would Kerry have run? If he had, would he have won? If not, would his team have had the power to give Obama that keynote address? Would a victorious Gore team have done it? I think there is too much uncertainty there to provide an edge one way or the other. But I do think that absent that keynote by Obama he would not have been the 2008 candidate. That was, in my estimation, the critical turning point in the path to Obama’s presidency.
Would Kerry have campaigned on doubling down on Iraq or getting out? If Kerry was up against a non-incumbent Bush, could he have beaten him? It is possible, though I think unlikely, that had it been Kerry v. Bush in 2004 with a sitting Gore POTUS Kerry could have won. The dynamics of a hawkish President Gore, and thus the Democrat party, carrying the water for the invasion of Iraq change the landscape so much. But I do think we could reasonably draw a line from Gore winning to Trump not winning, and probably not even running.
Gore and Obama were both very much elitists, and one thing you can rely on is that once America has an elitist President we tend to not elect another one for a couple of decades. Carter was our last such example, and the “reaction” was to elect Reagan. Trump was the “reaction” top Obama’s elitism. Remove the critical events that lead to Obama in 2008 and you don’t have a reasonable path to Trump in 2016.
So much fun, exploring potential timelines. Gotta stop and eat. :) Thanks for the jumping off point, Kady!