The Corner


Here’s a question for Corner historians. How unusual is this election? Specifically, in what other presidential elections were differences over war or foreign policy the central issue? McGovern/Nixon is the clear precedent. To a lesser extent, Nixon/Humphrey fits in, although the real battle over the war in 1968 was between McCarthy and Johnson in the primaries. Obviously, the current election continues the divisions over war and foreign policy that began with Vietnam. But was there any comparable period in American history? Has the country ever been this divided by debates over war and foreign policy? The division in the North over whether to pursue the civil war is the only precedent that come to mind. Yes, we were divided over whether to enter WWII, but this never polarized the country during a presidential campaign. Eisenhower promised to end the war in Korea, but this was more of a claim to be able to handle the war better than an indicator of real difference on foreign policy. The same thing applies to the “missile gap” of the 1960 campaign. Between Pearl Harbor and Vietnam, I don’t think there was any real difference between Democratic and Republican foreign policy. Can anyone give another example of where a presidential campaign turned around deep national divisions over war and foreign policy? Or is this election as much of a standout as it seems to be?