Robbins: Could a Bull Moose occupy the White House?

Last week, for the first time in five years, Barack Obama returned to the White House. To many, he was a sight for sore eyes. What he had come to do was to celebrate the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) — specifically, to commemorate a rule change to fix the so-called “family glitch” — which, as stunning as it seems, was acted into law 12 years ago.

Obama seemed at home at what in fact had been his home.

Which got some folks to thinking: If he wanted to, could Obama seek another term, something that many on the left might like to see? Could, at least in theory, our 44th president become our 47th? For entertainment sake alone, what if Obama squared off in 2024 against The Donald? It would be fireworks season all campaign season long!

But could he? Could Obama be the quintessential Comeback Kid?

The 22nd Amendment speaks to this. Passed in 1951, following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three full terms and a partial fourth term before he died in office in 1945, what it provides is that:

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No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once….

So there’s that.

“But wait,” you may be thinking. “What about the other Roosevelt?!”

Here’s where things get a little complicated.

Republican Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, was the fifth cousin of our 32nd president, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt’s wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, known to the world as “Teddy” became president following the assassination of President William McKinley.

Although many folks believe that JFK was our youngest president, they are only partly right. John F. Kennedy was the youngest person ever to be elected president. At the age of 42 (one year younger than Kennedy), when Teddy Roosevelt succeeded the slain McKinley, he became (and still is) the youngest. In perhaps a bit of interesting historical marginalia, when one thinks about the exemplar of at least traditional Republican values, one often thinks of Teddy and, regarding Democratic values, Franklin Roosevelt looms large.

Teddy served out the remaining nearly four years of McKinley’s term and was elected to his own term in 1904. Hewing to the precedent that our first president, George Washington established — that a president should only serve two terms — Roosevelt decided to stick to his 1904 pledge not to run for a third term. Off he went to manly rifle-fueled exploits in Mombasa, the Belgian Congo, and Khartoum, slaughtering a vast menagerie of game in his party’s wake. Next, was a speaking tour of the Europe’s capitals.

Though he swore that he was done with politics, in 1911, he began again to feel the itch. A schism had widened in the Republican party and Teddy meant to bull through it. Roosevelt began to envision himself as the savior of the party. Disappointed in his successor, William Howard Taft, in February 1912, Roosevelt announced in Boston, “I will accept the nomination for president if it is tendered to me.

The row was on.

When his defeat at the Republican convention seemed likely, an undaunted Roosevelt announced that he would “accept the progressive nomination on a progressive platform and I shall fight to the end, win or lose!” Roosevelt left the Republican Party and, thus, the Progressive Party was born.

On Oct. 14, 1912, while campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roosevelt was shot from close range by a delusional saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank, who believed that the ghost of assassinated president William McKinley had directed him to kill Roosevelt. The bullet lodged in his chest after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a 50-page-thick single-folded copy of the speech titled “Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual,“ which he was carrying in his jacket. Schrank was immediately disarmed and captured, and Roosevelt assured the crowd he was all right.

As an experienced hunter, Roosevelt correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not reached his lung. He declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately and instead delivered a 90-minute speech with blood seeping into his shirt. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” Only after finishing his address did he accept medical attention. Thereafter, the Progressive Party became better known by the sobriquet the Bull Moose Party.

Cutting to the chase, both Taft and Roosevelt and his Bull Moose Party lost. Woodrow Wilson was elected. But had he won, like his distant cousin, two decades later, Teddy would have served three (or perhaps more than three) presidential terms.

So what about Obama? What if — just what if — he chose to run again?

Nah. He couldn’t. The 22nd Amendment, enacted after both Roosevelts, says no.

One other bit; only one president has ever served two non-consecutive terms. Grover Cleveland won in 1884, lost in 1888, and won in 1892. As such, he enjoys the rare distinction of being both the 22nd and the 24th President of the United States.

Could a Bull Moose occupy the White House?

Yes … but no.

If the office-seeker were seeking a third term, the 22nd Amendment would prevent it. If however, a new Bull Moose-type party emerged, well … yep, it’s possible, depending on who steered its helm.

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