In fact, Washington and Lincoln would crush Trump in an election.

Donald Trump is not a modest guy. It’s not exactly a secret. Several cities have buildings in which Trump’s last name is visible in letters taller than Trump himself. Trump’s adult life has been about getting attention for himself: selling stuff, getting viewers, getting votes. And he’s good at it.

Yet he can still on occasion impress us with his ability to exaggerate his own case. As he did in a speech he gave Wednesday in Florida.

Asset claims that, shortly before the start of the pandemic, a pollster walked into the Oval Office.

“He said, ‘Sir,'” Trump began – using his say infamous for a story he’s making up – “‘if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rose from the dead and they were a president-vice president team, you’d beat them by 40%’.” that’s how good our numbers were!

No. Even then, before the pandemic and before the consequences of his electoral defeat, Trump would have lost. Wrong.

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Before we get into the poll, however, it’s worth considering the question more abstractly: Is it possible we could see George Washington take on Trump in 2024? It’s actually a little less ridiculous as a concept than you might think.

Consider three questions.

1. Can a deceased person run for president?

There have been times when voters elected dead people. In 2000, Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan (D) died in a plane crash less than a month before the election. Missouri law stated that he remained on the ballot; he continued to win. (The loser, John Ashcroft, received the consolation prize by becoming United States Attorney General.)

In fact, there’s a long history of states having to figure out how to deal with candidates who died suddenly, like the Congressional Research Service explored in 2002. State governments and political parties have mechanisms in place to deal with pre-election deaths. Post-election deaths are a little trickier. Take the case of Horace Greeley, who gained 44 percent of voting in the 1872 presidential election to die before the electoral votes were cast. Some of his constituents went ahead and voted for him anyway. Luckily for the system, Ulysses S. Grant’s victory was never really in question.

All of this, however, is quite different from putting someone who has already died on the ballot.

The Constitution does not prohibit deceased persons from being elected president. His only report stipulation is that, to be president, someone must have resided in the United States for 14 years. If the term had been “lived” in the United States, we would have a problem. But “reside” doesn’t require “living,” and both Washington and Lincoln have had a presence in the United States (in Virginia and Illinois, respectively) for more than 14 years.

But if we assume that Washington and Lincoln are seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Trump, it should be noted that the to party would probably eliminate them. In 2020, the Democratic Party rules explained that candidates for the party’s nomination had to affirm in writing that they were Democrats – tricky for Washington and Lincoln because a) they weren’t Democrats and b) they were dead.

To briefly answer question 1: No.

2. Can these dead people run for

Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that the Democratic Party changed its rules (which it could do) and would allow non-living and non-Democrats to run for nomination in 2024. Washington and Lincoln could they actually do it?

Both Washington and Lincoln (who, as a theoretical running mate, must meet the same criteria as the president) are over 35 (Washington at 235 and Lincoln at 178). Both were born in the United States or, in the case of Washington, were “a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution”.

But then there’s this damn thing 22nd amendment, ratified in 1951 to prevent another Franklin-Roosevelt-style domination of the White House. It states that:

“No person may be elected to the office of 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 for which another person has been elected president cannot be elected as President more than once.

Going into it, I confess I was curious whether Lincoln’s tragically truncated second term would allow him to run again. But the language is clear. Both men were twice elected to office. Therefore, they cannot be used in the future – even if, as Trump’s pollster would have claimed, they had come back to life.

To briefly answer question 2: Nope.

3. Can these deaths beat Trump?

Finally, we come to the question of Trump. Would Washington and Lincoln defeat Trump? And the answer is, almost certainly – for the same reason he lost in 2020 in the first place.

It’s important to recognize that’s why he tells the story, of course. Trump has always looked for a scapegoat to explain his loss, generally preferring to blame imaginary voter fraud as the cause. But at times he also blames the economic turbulence of the pandemic, a tangible externality that has likely altered perceptions of his presidency.

But it is an exercise in reflection more than anything else. Could Trump have been re-elected in 2020 without the pandemic? Maybe – but that understates how widely unpopular he was. When asked why they came to vote that year, Republicans generally cited Trump: they wanted to see him reelected. When the Democrats were asked the same question, they offered the same answer, Trump: they wanted to see him ousted. To think that Democrats had become markedly more supportive of Trump since 2018 — when his unpopularity sparked an electoral backlash against Republicans — is to underestimate how unpopular he was.

Thanks to YouGov, we can actually address Trump’s theory more directly. In 2021 — certainly not before the pandemic — the pollsters asked Americans how they viewed past presidents. Washington and Lincoln both received high marks, landing in the third and first all-time preference slots, respectively. Trump landed at 20, just under Gerald Ford.

Of all Americans, Trump trailed Washington in favor by 31 points. Among the Democrats, it was 59 points. Even among RepublicansWashington is doing better.

And that ignores that many Americans – for very understandable reasons – had no opinion on Washington or Lincoln. If we look at each former president’s preference within the group of people with an opinion, both Washington and Lincoln move further away from Trump. In the GOP, Trump trails Washington by 11 points and Lincoln by 8 points.

Lincoln, as Trump liked to recall, was himself a Republican. So Trump might think he cared less about fending off a general election challenge from Lincoln than one primary a.

If the contest between him and Washington, it seems pretty clear that Washington would be encumbered by his personal history. Forcing slaves to work on his plantation was less politically risky in 1788 than it is today. (His running mate probably wouldn’t be very excited about it, for his part.) Not to mention the questions of whether and how these two deceased people might affect decision-making once in power. Here, too, Lincoln might have some thoughts.

Would Americans hesitate to elect two ghosts to serve in the White House? Most likely. Are there many Americans who would rather vote for a ghost than Trump? Most likely. That’s one reason Mel Carnahan won: the alternative turned out to be less appealing.

Keep in mind that Trump’s assertion was not just that he had beaten Washington, but that he would do so by 40 dots. By a margin of victory not seen in the United States since the emergence of the Republican Party.

To briefly answer question 3: Yes.

Again, I am aware that Trump was simply telling a story for effect. But this little exercise in reflection prompts some useful reminders. Because as popular as Trump thinks he is and as popular as he wants others to think he is, he’s not terribly popular. If he ran against really popular former presidents, he would lose.

At least in this case, he would have a good reason to identify the votes cast by the dead as a central cause.

Update: Patrick Murray, Director of Monmouth University Polling Institute, Remarks that his poll asked this specific question in December 2019 – just before the pandemic.

When asked who is better president, Washington or Trump, Americans chose Washington by a 56 dots margin. Even the Republicans preferred Washington.

It pretty much answers that.

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