1832 could be the year 2020 most resembles – but only if Trump is able to win reelection. That was the year Andrew Jackson was seeking a second term. Like Trump, Jackson was a cantankerous, crude populist disliked by the Washington elite, some of whom expected the incumbent to lose. And like Trump, Jackson was dealing with a pandemic.
The cholera epidemic hit America well before it had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many looked to God for relief. Jackson’s Whig Party opponent, Henry Clay, sponsored a congressional resolution for a national day of fasting and prayer. But Jackson, who had a Jeffersonian view of the Constitution, refused to “disturb the security which religion now enjoys in the country in its complete separations from the political concerns of the General Government.” Historian Joyce Chaplin credits Jackson with indirectly encouraging a “shift toward secular and civic solutions to epidemics.” Jackson’s response to cholera wasn’t a major factor in his reelection, but his populist resistance to any political pressure from elites certainly was.
Trump has been criticized for not following the advice of scientific experts and pressuring states to prematurely reopen the economy. But if the coronavirus is more contained than many expect by the fall, Trump might receive credit from the public and revitalize his campaign, just in time.