This morning, Gov. Mike Huckabee told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that President Obama “is going to be tough to beat. I think all this talk that ‘oh, he’s going to be a one term president’ -- people tend to forget that only one time since 1868 has an incumbent president been taken out who ran for re-election.”
I agree with Gov. Huckabee's sentiment about President Obama: 2012 will be a tough contest. But the governor's history needs a little polishing. Since 1868, six presidents were defeated for re-election (the number rises to seven if 1868 is included in the series) and at least two presidents faced such long odds for re-election they gave up the contest.
Grover Cleveland was defeated for re-election in 1888 after one term. His successor, Benjamin Harrison, was similarly defeated for re-election. William Howard Taft went down after one term in 1908. Herbert Hoover was booted after one term in 1932. Jimmy Carter (thankfully) made it only one term before being bested by Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton after one term, opening the way for the rise of Huckabee to the vacant Arkansas lieutenant governor's office in a 1993 special election, following the elevation of Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker to the governor's office. Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman both decided against running for re-election after serving their first complete terms, because their defeats were so likely. Rutherford Hayes was so unpopular that he was also a likely loser in 1880, but had pledged to serve only one term. And Gov. Huckabee's analogy starts in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson was so reviled that he couldn't be re-nominated.
If the transcript is mistaken and Gov. Huckabee said "1968" rather than "1868," then two presidents -- Carter and Bush 41 -- have been defeated for re-election since 1968.
A better way to look at it is that since WWII, five presidents have sought re-election and won (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43) and four had either been defeated for re-election (Carter and Bush 41) or withdrawn from the contest because the odds were so long (Truman and LBJ). While President Obama is a slight favorite and a tough campaigner, the outcome of the 2012 contest very much depends on the quality of the GOP nominee and their campaign over the next 20 months.
Karl Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and is the author of "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions, 2010).