How Does Trump's Midterm Campaigning Compare To Other Presidents? David Greene talks to columnist and commentator Cokie Roberts, who explores the history of how presidents have influenced off-year congressional races.
NPR logo

How Does Trump's Midterm Campaigning Compare To Other Presidents?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/656814400/656814401" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How Does Trump's Midterm Campaigning Compare To Other Presidents?

How Does Trump's Midterm Campaigning Compare To Other Presidents?

How Does Trump's Midterm Campaigning Compare To Other Presidents?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/656814400/656814401" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

David Greene talks to columnist and commentator Cokie Roberts, who explores the history of how presidents have influenced off-year congressional races.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are in the 6th Congressional District in this state, which is one of those that could decide control of the House this fall. President Trump campaigns in this district this weekend for the Republican. He campaigns tonight in Ohio. Commentator Cokie Roberts answers your questions about how politics and the government work, and she spoke with David Greene about campaigning.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Yeah. The president's constant presence on the campaign trail was our topic with Cokie this week, and let me bring her in. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: OK. So the first question is coming from a guy named Oeishik. He goes by that name. He's in India. He tweets - @tributeprojects. And he asked this.

OEISHIK: How do current president's rallies compare in terms of estimated number of attendees to similar appearances by past presidents?

GREENE: All right, Cokie. So how do these Trump rallies compare?

ROBERTS: Look. Let's just stipulate. Donald Trump has enormous rallies. And sometimes there are also hundreds, sometimes thousands outside trying to get in. But it's hard to do a direct comparison because we don't really know how many people showed up at earlier rallies. I can tell you that John F. Kennedy had enormous crowds in 1960. He was constantly straining the fire codes. The night before the election, he was at the Boston Garden, where 22,000 people were estimated to be there. I was actually there, David, and it was terrifying there was so many people.

GREENE: Wow.

ROBERTS: But also keep in mind that in early history, it was considered unseemly for presidents or presidential candidates to campaign, though they did it through surrogates, of course, which is pretty much what Trump is doing for Republican candidates this year.

GREENE: Wait. There was a time when candidates didn't want to campaign?

ROBERTS: I know. Doesn't it sound restful and wonderful? but...

GREENE: Yeah, really.

ROBERTS: But Andrew Johnson, when he was president, did go out on the campaign trail in 1866, campaigning against the Republicans in Congress that he thought were too radical. It was called his Swing Around the Circle. It backfired totally. It didn't help that he often appeared to be drunk and sometimes fell off the platform.

GREENE: Oh, God.

ROBERTS: But it's also true that much of the public and press thought it was just undignified for the president to engage in a campaign.

GREENE: Well, the next question comes from someone who uses the Twitter name - wait till you hear this - Give Me a Freaking Break.

ROBERTS: (Laughter).

GREENE: I love that. So Give Me a Freaking Break asking, was there ever a time when money wasn't an issue? It sounds snarky, but I'm hoping history has a positive example of where it wasn't. That's the question. So was money ever not so involved?

ROBERTS: I hate to disappoint Give Me a Freaking Break, but basically, money's been there since the beginning. We talked recently on one of these talks about how George Washington had wined and dined voters when he was running for the Virginia House of Burgesses...

GREENE: Right.

ROBERTS: ...And it caused that body to pass the nation's first campaign finance law. The first few presidential campaigns were not particularly dependent on money, but that changed with Andrew Jackson in 1828, when he ran much more of a grass roots campaign. And then, in 1832, he was renominated at the national political convention. And, of course, as you well know, David, political conventions cost money.

GREENE: Quite a bit.

ROBERTS: And that - and from there on out, it's basically been, Katie, bar the door.

GREENE: The rest is history. Cokie, always good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Nice to be talking with you, David.

INSKEEP: Cokie Roberts with David Greene. You can tweet us your questions @morningedition with the hashtag #askcokie or email your questions to askcokie@npr.org.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.