The History Channel in October listed “five famous instances” where presidential candidates considered prohibitive underdogs nevertheless “proved the oddsmakers wrong.”
The first of the five improbable victors was James K. Polk, the Democratic Party standard- bearer in the 1844 presidential election, who bested Whig Party opponent Henry Clay to become the nation’s 11th president.
One Whig newspaper was so certain Clay would romp over Polk – an “obscure former congressman,” as History described him – it joked: “The Democrats must be Polking fun at us!” Indeed, Clay supporters were so certain their man would win, they actually commissioned a set of rosewood furniture for the White House bedroom.
Fast-forward 172 years to last November’s presidential election pitting Donald J. Trump, the real estate developer and realty show impresario, against Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and two-term U.S. senator from New York.
The party of Clinton mocked Trump. When he entered the presidential race in June 2015, Holly Shulman, the Democratic National Committee’s national press secretary, trolled: “He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field.”
The mainstream media almost unanimously predicted a certain Clinton victory in their Election Eve polls. And Clinton herself was confident she would be nation’s 45th president, going so far as to plan a victory party under the glass ceiling – get it? – of Manhattan’s Javits Center. There were even going to be fireworks until Clinton decided at the last minute – perhaps presciently – that maybe she should hold off on the pyrotechnics.
By the time the polls closed on Election Night, the Clintonistas were no longer mocking Trump. The mainstream media was no longer so certain that Trump couldn’t possibly win. And there were tears, rather than cheers, at Javits Center.
Came the day after the election, Donald Trump, the Grand Old Party’s standard-bearer, had pulled off arguably the biggest upset in a presidential election in the history of the Republic. And, in so doing, he shook up the world.
Now comes January 20 – Inauguration Day – when Citizen Trump will assume office as America’s 45th president, taking his place in a line of succession that stretches from Ronald Reagan to Franklin Roosevelt to Abraham Lincoln to George Washington.
Hardly anyone expects Trump to join the pantheon of this nation’s greatest presidents, but – who knows? – he just might surpass the expectations of his detractors.
And we will all be witnesses.