As Joe Biden continues to hold a solid and steady lead over Donald Trump in the polls, many continue to wonder how Trump might find a way to re-election. But what if Trump was destined to lose this election since his inauguration? Allow me to introduce the 40 Year Cycle.
The 40 Year Cycle
The 40 Year Cycle hinges on the idea of American politics running on “cycles”. Each of these consist of 40 year time periods.
In the 40 Year Cycle, each party gets eight years each amongst the first sixteen years. 20 of the 24 remaining “cycle” years then go to the first party that held eight years. This idea may seem random, but history does suggest this pattern holding consistently. This pattern took hold with Benjamin Harrison’s win in 1888, which resulted in 20/24 years of GOP control. It was immediately followed by Woodrow Wilson’s election in 1912. Since 1912, this cycle has been perfect at predicting the end outcome of the Presidential electios.
In the cycle which ran from 1912 to 1952, the Democrats first broke long-term GOP control with the election of Woodrow Wilson. After eight years of Wilson came eight GOP years, first Harding and then Coolidge. In the 1952-1992 cycle, the party roles reversed, and ended with 20 years out of 24 with GOP control. This came first from Richard Nixon and later from Ronald Reagan. The current “version” of this cycle has existed since 1992.
What the Future Might Hold
If this current cycle follows historical patterns, then Democrats should be in the midst of a period of domination. This would put Trump on track to lose in 2020. The current edition has been in exact alignment (with the parties flipped, of course) of the version before. It started with eight years of a Democrat (Bill Clinton) and then eight years of a Republican (George W. Bush). Donald Trump would therefore sit right in the middle of 20 Democratic years. This makes him simply a reprieve from a Democratic majority. In order for the cycle to continue to be fulfilled, Democrats would need to win each of the next three Presidential elections.
Let’s look at some of the Presidents so far in this cycle compared to 1952’s and see how they match up.
Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton
Both were elected at the start of a cycle after a long period of control for the opposing party. They were considered centrists at the time due to the shifts in the Overton window caused by the other party’s dominance. Both passed a major piece of legislation that would substantially alter American trade. For Eisenhower, this was the Highway System, for Clinton this was NAFTA. Both also got involved in a minor conflict near the end of the 2nd term they served (Cuba vs Yugoslavia). Both also left office with very high approval ratings.
George W. Bush and JFK
Both won in close elections decided by less than 100,000 votes against the VP of a popular president. They both faced a major crisis in the first term – for Bush, this was 9/11, for JFK this was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both of these were immediately followed by major wars- Vietnam and Iraq. These would both be regretted later on, as both major party nominees in 1976 and 2016 spoke against these wars.
Richard Nixon and Barack Obama
Both ran on recovery and withdrawing from the aforementioned wars, and Both won by decent margins. Both also had a controversial issue (Watergate vs Benghazi), albeit on different scales, that muddled an otherwise popular Presidency. The two also had strikingly similar healthcare plans.
Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter
Even these align in some ways. Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare are similar to Carter’s attempt to pass Humphrey-Hawkins. Both featured a lot of internal strife amongst the congressional majority that by the time something was passed, nothing effectively changed to the law. The COVID-19 pandemic fills the role that the Iranian Hostage Crisis filled for Jimmy Carter – a show of incompetency that continued to drag down the incumbent President’s campaign each and every day up until the election.
The movement of politics from one generation to the next appears to have a profound effect on the 40 Year Cycle. The first election in which the entire Baby Boomer generation was eligible to vote was 1980. This particular election brought the rise of Ronald Reagan and modern conservatism. Meanwhile, 2020 will mark the first election where Millennials are the country’s largest generation, having passed Baby Boomers. As this guard changes, this particular year marking a substantial change in American History, as the 40 Year Cycle would suggest, would make sense.
These “analogs” aren’t perfect by any standard, though. For example, Nixon and Obama’s crises were on far different scales. Joe Biden also isn’t an ideal Ronald Reagan analog. In light of all of this, the true test of accuracy will come in November. Either way, the similarities between these previous cycles are too strong to ignore.