Kristie Miller, author of Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Ladies, talked about former president Teddy Roosevelt's challenge to incumbent president William Taft in 1912, and their campaign against Woodrow Wilson.
In this lesson, students will learn about five high-profile challenges to incumbent presidents from within their own party: in 1912, 1968, 1976, 1980, and 1992. In each of these elections, the sitting president faced a strong challenge in the primary, and although they all won their respective primaries, each ultimately lost in the general election. There is an optional extension to research potential challenges to President Trump in the 2020 Republican primary.
Introduce or review the following vocabulary words. If this is the first time students are seeing these words, take the time for students to research and define the terms.
Instruct students to view each of the video clips and take notes using the handout. Students should pay particular attention to the reasons why the challenger ran against the incumbent president and the impact of their challenge. Some videos refer to multiple elections.
Video Clip 1: 1912 Challenge to President Taft (1:34)
Video Clip 2: Contested Conventions in 1980 and 1912 (2:11)
Video Clip 3: Robert F. Kennedy's Presidential Announcement: 1968 (3:28)
Video Clip 4: Primary Challengers: 1968 and 1980 (1:29)
Video Clip 5: Reagan Challenges Ford Over Communist Policy: 1976 (4:48)
Video Clip 6: President Carter’s Challenges in 1980 (1:32)
Video Clip 7: 1992 and 1976 Challengers to Incumbent Presidents (2:02)
After viewing these clips, students will synthesize the videos to explain the cause and effect of each primary election challenge. This section may be preceded by students forming pairs or small groups to review and ensure comprehension.
Answers will be written in the second chart of the handout in complete sentences.
Instruct students to answer the two final questions, at the end of the handout.
In each of the above elections, both the primary challenger and the incumbent president were defeated in the election. Why do you think that is?
Have students research the current list of presidential candidates through the FEC Filing site and compare fundraising totals for incumbents and challengers.
Research the presidents who were denied the nomination of their party after their first term: Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur. Why did their parties reject them? Read more about them here: When Has A President Been Denied His Party's Nomination? (NPR).