For Jimmy Carter, It's 1981 All Over Again

Updated on January 20, 2017

The presidency of Donald John Trump begins in less than 48 hours from now, and for many Americans, including nearly all millennials, Trump's victory is new anomaly. He campaigned with fierce flamboyancy, ignited emotions, and moved the populist to his side, leading to a shockwave-inducing win, and today at noon, it becomes official. When Trump stands before the nation to take the oath of office, it will be a sight polar to that of Obama's in 2008, and will more likely resemble George Bush's inauguration in 2001 after he became president following a popular vote defeat. But despite the controversy, and similarities to the 43rd president's swearing in, there's one person who's been here before: James Earl Carter Jr.

Carter (left) and Reagan (right) on inauguration day, 1981.
Carter (left) and Reagan (right) on inauguration day, 1981.

Cut Short

As November of 1980 rolled around, Jimmy Carter's goal was simple: become the first president since Eisenhower to complete two full terms. But to get there, the climb was steep. First he had to defeat his adversary on the left. The charismatic Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy stood firmly opposed (from behind) to Carter and his track record as president. Kennedy's campaign looked to have life after an attempt to free American hostages held in Iran ended in disaster for Carter. Ultimately Carter prevailed, but his Republican opponent would prove far more formidable.

Governor Ronald Reagan hit the campaign trail hard in 1980, promising to restore the American dream and ensure American pride was strong across the nation. He planned to restore US military capability, fight communism head on, balance the budget, and cut taxes. He simultaneously highlighted Carter's inabilities as president including the gas crisis, a receding economy, and of course, Iran. By election day, it was all but over, and Reagan swept Carter by 440 electoral votes. He would later surpass this landslide with an even bigger one in 1984.

Historians now view Carter's presidency as one that ended before it really began, and his legacy is one made more of disappointments than successes. From Iran to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to out of control inflation, the Carter administration oversaw mostly devastation when he in fact intended to build a better governance at the federal level. Jimmy Carter sought to create a national government that could be trusted and was honest with the American people. He believed his predecessors, excluding Gerald Ford, had failed due to their morality. Nixon and LBJ had their own interests in mind, and not those of the nation. Had he pull off a win in 1980, he most likely would have continued to resolve the Iran crisis, correct the bad economy, and expand women's rights, an issue he later admitted failure with.

History Repeats Itself...Sort Of

The list of similarities between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan is long. Both political outsiders who spoke bluntly, Reagan and Trump rose to prominence after being dismissed by the establishment and overcame long-shot odds to win. Reagan's words inspired hope in his supporters. Much like Trump, Reagan's fans saw the current administration as a disappointment that was failing the American people, and that he was the one who could fix it.

What differs between 1980 and 2016 was the campaign strategy. Both Clinton and Trump played major offense, despite both having plenty to be defensive about, while Reagan mostly took the high road and attacked Carter on his positions, not his person. Reagan also ran against the incumbent, while Clinton sought to win a third term for Obama by continuing his legacy.

Ronald Reagan approval rating 1981-1988
Ronald Reagan approval rating 1981-1988 | Source
Trump Favorability Rating
Trump Favorability Rating | Source

Reagan also enjoyed the support of the American people since day one. Meanwhile, Trump will enter office with more people viewing him unfavorably than favorably. His inauguration will be unique in the excessive number of politicians, and entertainers, boycotting. Reagan's inauguration was unique in that while he gave his address, Iran freed 52 Americans after over a year of being held hostage; moments after becoming president, he resolved an international crisis that had consumed the final months of his predecessor administration. Likewise, Trump is likely to unravel dozens of Obama's executive actions in his first minutes and hours as president.

A New Morning in America

When Jimmy Carter watches the inaugural proceedings of Trump, what he, and the rest of the world, will really watch is yet another shift in national politics. Carter marked the end of personal but responsible big-government of the 20th Century while Reagan marked the beginning of modern conservatism taking over, and a realignment towards traditional ideology within the Republican party.

Likewise, Trump represents a new realignment of both the GOP and the national political scene. Instead of a movement towards traditional conservatism, his presidency will mark the start of something entirely different; something alternative (and no, not the "alt-right"). Trump can most closely be identified as a paleoconservative with his views on strong immigration laws, minimal foreign intervention, and belief in Western values, but differs when it comes to things like his soft tone on gay marriage, and willingness to let states implement their own cannabis laws. In summary, Reagan's traditional conservatism, seen under his administration and both George Bush I & II, is going to be shown the door and will be replaced with something similar, but not synonymous: a contemporary Trumpconservatism.

Meanwhile Obama, most likely, represents the end of the New Democrats in the White House; the centrist coalition of fiscally conservative but socially liberal Democrats that enable the nations past two Democratic presidents. As the latest primary season has shown, the progressive appear to be taking over the party.

It may also explain why Hillary ultimately lost: the old way of doing business is angering the electorate, and it's time to try something new.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting and well-organized. The Carter-era was a reaction to the shock of Watergate and Nixon. It's hard to see Trump as a reaction to something specific since numerically he lost. But you make many good points. It will be interesting to see what happens.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)