General George Washington and Governor Jimmy Carter, individuals outside the political establishment, both found their way to the White House. At a time of low public trust in politics, the outside appeal resonates with voters. Abraham Lincoln is so central now to American history it is easy to forget what a radical controversial figure he was. He was so radical his election led to the Southern States seceding, a Civil War and ultimately his assassination.
Since the days of George Washington, military generals were the primary type of outsider candidates for the presidency. General Ulysses Grant, victor against the Confederacy, went on to secure a White House victory. Most recently, we had General Dwight Eisenhower elected president in 1952. He visited the apartments gifted to him at Ayrshire's Culzean Castle four times - once as President (Culzean is quite near Trump’s Turnberry if you are looking for it!). Today the party primaries hold our attention and seem to go on forever. In days past the party bosses chose the candidates, not the primaries, and they saw the potential of military men capable of winning the votes of citizens with the popularity gained from a wartime record. Once the political parties began to lose some control over the nomination process, a new type of outsider candidate emerged - those whose political legitimacy came from their non-elite credentials. Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia is a good example of this type of outsider candidate. Nixon's behaviour and subsequent pardon had destroyed public trust in government; Gerald Ford's ratings were rock bottom and so Jimmy Carter's charisma and honesty caught the electoral imagination in 1972.
The outsider winning is, of course, the exception to the rule. Candidates from William Bryan to George McGovern have generated excitement among their supporters only for their campaigns to end in heroic failure.
William Bryan, a Nebraskan congressman, won the 1896 Democratic convention with his “Cross of Gold" speech which, by favouring what was known as “free silver”, would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided the poor and debt-ridden farmers. But while securing the Democratic nomination, he was defeated by William McKinley. In his later years he campaigned for peace, prohibition and women’s suffrage.
Henry Wallace served as Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president during FDR’s third term. He was dropped from the ticket at the 1944 Democratic convention and replaced by Harry Truman, who became president on FDR’s death. Wallace ran as the Progressive Party’s candidate in 1948 on a platform which included a US equivalent of the National Health Service. The election ended in failure with Wallace coming in fourth not only behind Harry Truman and his Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, but also Strom Thurmond a southern “Dixiecrat” who opposed integration.
With the Vietnam war at its height Eugene McCarthy, a poet, professor and Minnesota senator, captured the imagination of young voters who were opposed to the conflict and being drafted to fight in south east Asia. While other Democrats also opposed the war, it was McCarthy who stuck his head over the parapet and took on the increasingly unpopular president Lyndon Johnson while others, notably Robert Kennedy, watched from the sidelines. Seeing that Johnson could be beaten, Kennedy entered the race but was then assassinated and the nomination finally went to Hubert Humphrey. In my youthful enthusiasm I remember wearing a Humphrey/Muskie button during the 1968 election. He failed to catch the imagination of voters which was won by Richard Nixon.
Probably the most famous Democrat outsider candidate was George McGovern, opponent of the Vietnam war, and candidate in 1972. Arguably the most radical Democrat presidential candidate of the modern era, his platform included pulling out of Vietnam and cutting defence spending.
He was crushed by Nixon in the election, even losing his home state. McGovern only won in Massachusetts and Washington DC. McGovern is remembered as a high profile radical but hardly anyone now remembers one of his opponents for the Democratic nomination - Shirley Chisholm, the first African American and woman to run for the Democatic nomination. She won considerable support on an anti draft and educational opportunities for minorities platform and went on to become the first black woman member of Congress. Shirley Chisholm is recognised as paving the way for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
On the political right two candidates deserve a mention here. Barry Goldwater stood for the Republicans in 1964. He was absolutely trounced by Lyndon Johnson but managed to change the Republican Party for future generations, moving it to the right and fatally wounding the eastern liberal wing of republicanism. Goldwater's ultra conservatism and libertarianism made him a rich source of material for my course in American Politics at Edinburgh University in the 1960s. Thanks Barry!
Storm Thurmond, mentioned earlier, from South Carolina was originally a Democrat (Dixiecrat as they were known) leaving in 1948 to run as a strong pro segregation independent. He became a Republican in1964 and served in the Senate till his death in 2003 at 100 years of age (and they say Dennis Skinner should retire).
Here in the UK we can't begin to match the story of the outsider candidate in the USA. The Tories have had some dreadful leaders but none of them could really be called outsiders. Perhaps Churchill would qualify as an outsider, twice changing parties, very much out of favour with the establishment before coming back to be a great wartime leader. On Labour's side we started with Keir Hardie. Hardie was an outsider but that was inevitable as leader of an outsider party, as the Labour Party was then. George Lansbury, who became Labour Leader in the 1930s, was definitely an outsider - standing as he did for peace, disarmament, women's rights and social justice. He resigned the leadership after his pacifism and opposition to rearmament in the face of the rise of fascism was rejected by the Party.
History's verdict on our current leader, Jeremy Corbyn is still a little way off but quite soon we will know what became of Donald J.Trump. Let's hope he is one of the outsider candidates whose political journey ends in dismal failure.