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There have been six presidential rematches in U.S. history, starting with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Joe Biden versus Donald Trump would be the seventh.

A 2024 Biden-Trump Rematch Would Be the Seventh in American History

Presidential rematches in the United States aren’t common, but they aren’t rare. Of the 59 presidential elections in U.S. history, six (more than 10 percent) have been rematches. The rematch this year between Joe Biden and Donald Trump would be the seventh.

For anyone keeping track, the first four rematches resulted in a different outcome. In the last two rematches, the incumbent defeated the challenger again.

Presidential rematches seem unusual because the last one was in 1956, before many present-day voters were born. Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and again in 1956, after the Korean War had ended and the economy was booming. Stevenson and Eisenhower were photographed smiling and shaking hands after the election, a scene unlikely to be repeated in this year’s rematch.

The first presidential rematch involved John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Presidential Rematch History
The first presidential rematch came early in American history, with John Adams pitted against Thomas Jefferson. Adams prevailed in 1796, then Jefferson won in 1800. Both elections were chaotic. In the 1796 election, 13 men received at least one electoral vote. In 1800, there was an electoral college tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, which threw the election to the House. After 36 rounds of voting, Jefferson was chosen president and Burr vice president.

A quarter century later in 1824, John Quincy Adams, the son of the former president, was locked in a four-man presidential race in which no one received enough electoral votes to claim victory. Once again, the selection of a president fell to the House, led by Speaker Henry Clay, one the four presidential contenders. Clay helped Adams win in what became known as the “corrupt bargain” by supporters of Andrew Jackson, who lost. In 1828, Jackson got his revenge winning the popular and electoral votes. He went on to serve two terms.

Eight years later, Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s vice president, won the presidency in 1836 over political newcomer William Henry Harrison. The new Whig Party, which ushered in sloganeering and campaign rallies, carried Harrison to victory over Van Buren in 1840. At the time, Harrison was the oldest man at age 67 to be elected president. He also was the first president to die in office after he came down with pneumonia only one month into his term.

Another Harrison was involved in a presidential rematch near the end of the 19th century. Grover Cleveland was elected in 1884, but faced a challenge from Benjamin Harrison (the former president’s grandson) in 1888. Cleveland lost but made a successful political comeback against Harrison in 1892. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Trump wants to be the second president with that record.

The next rematch came a decade or so later. William McKinley, a business-oriented conservative who forged a coalition centered on urban-dwelling immigrants, captured the White House in 1896 by defeating William Jennings Bryan, a staunch opponent of the gold standard. Four years later, after the Spanish-American War ended and the U.S. economy was thriving, McKinley defeated Bryan again. In 1901, McKinley was shot by an anarchist while touring the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him.

Trump Bucks Tradition
The last two presidential rematches, which saw two-time challengers lose, have discouraged political parties from giving losers a second bite of the apple. Trump has bucked that tradition, in large part by denying he lost the last election. As he campaigns in 2024, Trump still claims the 2020 election was stolen from him.

In some ways, perhaps unintentionally, Trump is following the playbook of Grover Cleveland, whose wife famously told White House staff after his 1888 loss to “take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house … for I want to find everything just as it is now when we come back again four years from today.” Melania Trump hasn’t seemed all that excited to return to the White House, but Trump has made clear he needs to return to “save the country”.

Cleveland, a Democrat, broke a 24-year hold on the White House by Republicans with a reputation as “honest, thrifty ad hardworking”. In his 1888 loss, Cleveland received more popular votes than his opponent, but fewer Electoral College votes. Cleveland and Trump do share one biographical detail – neither served in the military. Cleveland dodged service in the Civil War by hiring a substitute to take his place.

Economy, Not Age the Key Factor
Most of the men elected president were old. One presidential rematch – Eisenhower versus Stevenson – featured two men who were bald. Instead, money seems to be the recurring motivating factor in elections.

In the early years of the nation, a major quarrel centered on a National Bank. John Quincy Adams and Clay favored it and Jackson and his followers opposed it. National attitudes wavered. Later on, McKinley and Bryan disagreed over repeal of the Gold Standard. Bryan’s mesmerizing “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention failed to sway voters in 1896 and 1900.

Cleveland’s first re-election prospects were damaged after the country fell into a depression and suffered from labor. Since then, the national economy has been a barometer of voter attitudes. Franklin Roosevelt swept to power over Herbert Hoover because of a deep depression. Eisenhower held off a challenge from Stevenson because of a strong post-war economy. Jimmy Carter’s re-election was undone because of long lines at gas stations.

However, economic conditions in 2024 remain an electoral puzzle. Even though inflation has dropped significantly, unemployment has remained historically low and the stock market has broken all-time records, Biden’s approval rate on managing the economy is under water.

Trump has benefitted from the memory of a solid economy before the bottom fell out when the Covid pandemic struck in 2020. Economists give Biden credit for spending policies that restored the economy, though that backfired by incenting economic recovery before supply lines could meet demand, igniting inflation.

A critical factor in the 2024 presidential election may be how younger voters, who feel hamstrung by higher prices for housing and food, decide to cast their ballots, or if they vote at all.

The Role of Immigration in Politics
Trump has made immigration at the southern border his leading campaign issue in 2024, though it also was a prominent issue for him in his 2016 campaign. While his attacks focus on illegal immigration, Trump also attacks immigrants, suggesting they are “poisoning the blood of America”. His supporters view immigrants as recruits for the Democratic Party.

The libertarian think tank Cato Institute offers a different perspective. In a study released in 2018, it found, “Our strongest and most significant finding is that an increase in high‐​skilled immigrants as a share of the local population is associated with a strong and significant decrease in the vote share for the Republican Party. By contrast, an increase in the low‐​skilled immigrant share of the population is associated with a strong and significant increase in Republican votes.”

“A closer look suggests that the main impact of immigration on voting outcomes comes from the skill level of immigrants, which affects the voting behavior of existing voters, and not from how naturalized immigrants vote,” Cato concluded. “High‐​skilled immigrants, both naturalized and not, are associated with a lower share of the Republican vote and, vice versa, low‐​skilled immigrants, naturalized or not, are associated with a higher share of the Republican vote.”

Mass immigrations in the 19th century tended to come from Europe. Instead of being reviled, immigrants were welcomed by political parties eager to swell their ranks. In a Brookings Institution commentary by Steven Schier titled From Melting Pot to Centrifuge, he wrote, “Nineteenth-century immigrants arrived to find important political groups eager to satisfy their material needs. Political parties, especially the many urban political machines, needed immigrants’ votes and did their best to get them – accelerating the newcomers’ political assimilation in the process.”

“Today, the American political system, less in need of new immigrants’ votes, does little to bring them into the world of campaigns and elections,” Schier said. “Three big changes in American politics – the diminishing role of the parties, the rise of a new kind of campaigning and (ironically) efforts to get more minorities into government – have left immigrants on the outside looking in.”

Trump’s Unique Voice
What will distinguish the 2024 presidential rematch is the unique voice of Donald Trump. While politicians routinely call their opponents scoundrels, Trump goes further and calls them traitors. His insults have endeared him to rabid supporters and appalled his detractors. There isn’t a precedent in U.S. history for his political discourse.

His language is responsible for a defamation suit that ended with a jury assessing an $83 million penalty. His own words have become evidence in four criminal cases he faces, which are a historical first for an American president. Trump has lambasted his prosecutors and claimed they are persecuting him.

Presidential campaigns often involve apocalyptic predictions. In a country deeply divided, Trump’s rhetoric, often based on untruths, is blamed for driving the wedge deeper and predicting political violence if he loses again.