A historical perspective on Trump’s 2024 presidential bid

Former president Donald Trump launched a third bid for the White House this past week as he faces multiple investigations. Meanwhile, Democrats are eyeing a generational shift in House leadership as Nancy Pelosi announced she will not seek reelection to the role of Speaker. Beverly Gage, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    And today's weekend briefing we are taking stock of this major moment in political history. This past week, former President Donald Trump launched a third bid for the White House as he faces multiple federal and state investigations that says Democrats is a generational shift in House leadership.

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi who was 82 years old, announced that she will not seek reelection to leadership. Her heir apparent New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is 52. Beverly Gage is here to help us put this all in perspective. She's a professor of history and American Studies at Yale University. It's good to have you with us.

    So what's your assessment of this moment having a twice impeached former president who tried to overturn an election he lost, running again for the White House, combined with the rise of copycat candidates who endorse his anti-democratic tactics?

  • Dr. Beverly Gage, Yale University:

    Well, we definitely haven't seen this one before in American history, I can say that much officially as a historian, although the mere fact of running again is not actually so strange in American history before the 1970s. We have lots of candidates who would lose, run again as their party's nomination, pry again and often lose again. We haven't seen that so much since we went to a popular primary system in the 1970s. So there are some precedents for what we've been seeing, but not too many for the very particular person who is Donald Trump.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Is there anything in American history that can speak to this moment in GOP politics?

  • Dr. Beverly Gage:

    Well, I think we're really seeing something like a war for the soul of the GOP at the moment. I mean, we have some pretty distinct factions, who are going to be presenting pretty distinct candidates, I think, in the GOP primary. Trump, of course, being one of them. One of the big outstanding questions is how many others there will be if the rest of the Republican Party and particularly the Republican establishment, which does not like Trump and does not want to see Trump win again, are going to come together around any particular candidate.

    It reminds me a little bit of what happened in 1964, when there was a really powerful faction behind Barry Goldwater as the Conservative candidate. There were lots of establishment Republicans who did not want him as the candidate and there was a real floor fight because that's how you picked your presidential candidates in 1964 over what the future of the party itself was going to be.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    On the Democratic side there is this as we said, a generational shift happening in House Democratic leadership. It strikes me that institutional traditions can be a real impediment to a younger generation especially in a place like Congress where power is built on seniority that takes years to accrue.

  • Dr. Beverly Gage:

    Right at the moment, we have a whole generation really, in some ways two generations of Republican, but democratic, especially politicians that have been waiting for their moment in the sun. Pelosi, stepping aside for the Democrats is really going to make that kind of generational shift possible.

    And as you say, there are lots of aspects of the ways we structure our politics that tend to favor people who are older, people who stay in office longer, quite famously, the white South when it was in the Democratic Party really consolidated, its hold on the Senate in particular, because it had so many members who just went back year after year and term after term, and ended up with a lot of concentrated power. So this is a big moment for lots of Democrats who have been waiting to play some really major leadership role.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    President Biden, as we have this conversation, he turns 80 today, and there are some who are questioning how old is too old for him to be running for reelection. But Democrats don't exactly have a generational star waiting in the wings to rocket to power.

  • Dr. Beverly Gage:

    That does seem to be the case. And it would be incredibly unusual, not again, entirely unprecedented, but extremely unusual for Biden, in fact, to step aside after one term, we have a couple of examples. Harry Truman could have technically run again, Lyndon Johnson, of course, stepped aside, but each of them had had more than one term in the presidency, because their predecessors had died in office. So we don't have so many examples of people who are voluntary, one termers, and I'd be pretty surprised if Biden does that in the end.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Dr. Beverly Gage is a professor of history and American Studies at Yale University. So great to speak with you. Thanks for being with us.

  • Dr. Beverly Gage:

    Great, thanks so much.

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