Among Republican presidents, who counts as the top vote-getter of all time? The surprising answer to that question provides important perspective for todays efforts to rebuild the GOP.
In terms of raw votes, George W, Bush is the obvious champion: in 2000 and 2004, he won a combined total of 112.5 million votes, easily topping the combined total for second-place finisher Ronald Reagan (with 102.7 million for 1980 and 84). The expansion of the electorate meant that Bush drew more votes even while winning lower percentages. In a growing country, with more voters showing up at the polls, even John McCains losing effort in 2008 drew a million more votes than Ronald Reagans historic 49 state sweep in 1984.
In terms of gauging popularity or effectiveness as a party leader, however, the total number of voters who cast ballots for a candidate obviously means less than the percentage the candidate draws of all voters who went to the polls that year. Surely, in those percentage terms Ronald Reagan (deservedly beloved by all Republicans) counts as the reigning GOP title holder, right?
In his two presidential campaigns as Republican nominee, Reagan drew a combined percentage of 109.5 (representing 50.7% in 1980, and 58.8% in 1984). Meanwhile, Dwight Eisenhower, largely forgotten by todays GOP, actually did substantially better with his combined percentage of 112.6 (55.2% in 1952, followed by an even more resounding 57.4% in 1956).
Ikes amazingly successful political career (he never ran for elective office of any kind beyond his two crushing presidential victories) puts him in a class that no other Republican politician can approach. Among all two term GOP presidents, the combined victory percentages are dramatically lower than Ikes peerless 112.6 -- just 95 for Abraham Lincoln, 109 for U.S. Grant, 103 for William McKinley, and 98.4 for George W. Bush. Even the phenomenally popular Theodore Roosevelt, in his only successful presidential race in 1904 (after succeeding the assassinated McKinley), drew 56.4% of the vote against a listless, little-known Democratic opponent (Judge Alton B. Parker) less than Ikes big margin in 1956, with 57.4%. Whats more, Eisenhowers energetic and widely admired opponent Adlai Stevenson challenged the president after Ike had suffered a major heart attack, but Stevenson still carried only 7 states (all in the South), compared to thirteen states that went for TRs opponent, Parker.