Among the greatest headscratchers in American history (How did George Custer think he was gonna win the Battle of Little Bighorn? . . . Why did Grady Little leave Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? . . . What the hell is Chris Matthews talking about?) is this:
Why in the world did the Democratic Party make Adlai Stevenson its 1956 presidential nominee, given how badly Dwight Eisenhower had blowtorched him in 1952?
1952 electoral map (via The American Presidency Project):
Final electoral tally: Eisenhower 442 (83.2%), Stevenson 89 (16.8%).
(Notice the semi-solid South, which would soon enough turn red.)
So how did Stevenson get a mulligan?
From History Today:
Over the next four years, Stevenson was the country’s leading Democrat. Intelligent, civilized and sophisticated, he was a witty and stylish speaker and the darling of Democratic intellectuals. It was entirely typical of him to say that ‘the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.’ When 1956 came, Senator [Estes] Kefauver started campaigning with a flourish, winning the Democratic primaries in New Hampshire and Minnesota, but then Stevenson bestirred himself. He took the crucial state of California handsomely and in July Kefauver withdrew from the contest and announced his support for Stevenson. At the convention Governor Stevenson’s candidature was moved by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Former president Harry Truman was unmoved, saying Stevenson was “too defeatist to win.” In the end he was right.
Similarly, in 1952 there was this series of Eisenhower Answers America spots:
Four years later, Stevenson ran a series of response ads asking, “How’s That Again, General?” Representative sample:
How’d that work again, Adlai?
Final electoral tally: Eisenhower 457 (86.1%), Stevenson 73 (13.7%).
In other words, an even worse beatdown than in ’52.
Blessedly, there was no Adlai 3.0.