Is Trump about to reprise Herbert Hoover's historic defeat in 1932?

Is Trump about to reprise Herbert Hoover's historic defeat in 1932?
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Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE spoke in Warm Springs, Georgia, where Franklin D. Roosevelt convalesced from polio in the 1920s and then resumed his political career. In 1932, FDR defeated the incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover, whose presidency during a crisis offers striking similarities to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE’s. The parallels do not bode well for Trump in next week’s election.         

Like Trump, Hoover, who was elected in 1928, took office in a prosperous era, the “Roaring Twenties.” A year later, the stock market crashed and the economy collapsed catastrophically. Hoover was as incompetent at managing the Great Depression as Trump has been at dealing with the worst pandemic in a century. 

Both Hoover and Trump viewed their respective crises as public relations problems that would go away with the right messaging. In early 1930, Hoover said the worst would be over in 60 days; at the end of May, he predicted that the economy would be back to normal by the fall; and in June, he told a delegation that had come to plead for a public works project, “Gentlemen, you have come sixty days too late. The Depression is over.” He should have known that his messaging wasn’t working when the Democrats took the House in the 1930 midterms and special elections, although Republicans still held the Senate (yes, just like in the 2018 midterms).


The Great Depression was far from over. By 1932 more than 15 million men and women, including 22,000 graduates of Ivy League schools, were unemployed, some 25 percent of the work force. Hoover insisted that unemployment was high because “many people have left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples.” 

Is Trump any different? As the American death rate rose past 50,000, then 100,000, then 200,000, and continues to relentlessly increase, Trump insisted over and over that “we are rounding the corner” on the pandemic. A Trump administration press release claimed that “Ending The Covid-19 Pandemic” was one of the president’s first term scientific achievements, even though COVID infections are skyrocketing. Some of Trump’s comments have been as mindless and heartless as Hoover’s; for example, when Trump said that the nation’s COVID death rate was at a low level, “if you take the blue states out.”

Hoover and Trump both tried to distract the public by emphasizing their law and order credentials. In his 1932 reelection campaign against FDR, Hoover boasted about how he used the U.S. Army to forcefully break up a peaceful encampment of more than 20,000 desperate World War I veterans who were in Washington to demand immediate payment of a promised war service bonus. “Thank God we still have a government in Washington that still knows how to deal with a mob,” Hoover told a crowd. Likewise, Trump, who deployed federal agents to disrupt a peaceful demonstration near the White House, boasts that “I am the president of law and order.”

Both Hoover and Trump, by using such tactics, ceded compassion and empathy to their opponents even though these qualities, as historians point out, are important in a leader, especially during a crisis. It matters to a beleaguered people that a president cares about them. 

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, FDR spoke of the days of “crushing want,” the millions of Americans who “have suffered so much” and famously promised a “New Deal” for the American people. Likewise, Biden has gone all in on the compassion issue, and it shows. In a recent poll, 58 percent of likely voters said that Biden is the candidate who cares more about people like them, while only 38 percent said that of Trump. 


On Election Day in 1932, FDR carried 42 of 48 states in a landslide, winning 472 electoral votes. And (Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE take note) Democrats took the Senate and increased their majority in the House. Hoover is remembered as the man who “turned a Republican country into a Democratic one.”

So, if the 1932 election is a guide, Donald Trump is about to become, like Herbert Hoover, a failed one-term president.  

Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and The Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.