Conference Report: Social Media, Changing Demographics and Implications of the 2016 Presidential Election
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About the Presidential Elections Program
Founded in 2017, the Baker Institute’s Presidential Elections Program is the nation’s first program solely dedicated to the study of U.S. presidential campaigns and elections.
The program examines presidential elections in a nonpartisan manner, providing timely analysis during and after each presidential election cycle and allowing stakeholders of all political parties and groups to better understand the changing dynamics of presidential campaigns. Each conference will explore the various political and policy issues of that contest and their effects on the presidential election process in particular and for elections and democracy in the United States in general.
As part of its activities, the program will conduct biennial conferences on topics of high political and policy salience. A conference will be held in the year preceding and after each presidential election to explore the dynamics of that contest and its effects on elections and democracy in the United States.
The Presidential Elections Program builds on the vast experience of the institute’s honorary chair, Secretary James A. Baker, III, whose roles in presidential campaigns is unmatched. He helped lead five presidential campaigns and later supervised the legal team that preserved George W. Bush’s victory in 2000. It is fitting that the country’s premier institution devoted to the study of presidential elections be located at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
In August 1976, President Gerald Ford demonstrated his high regard for Baker by asking him to be his national campaign chairman for the general election effort against Governor Jimmy Carter. The national press dubbed Baker a “Miracle Man,” transforming the Ford campaign from one seen in the summer as having no realistic hope of defeating Carter to one where Ford lost the Electoral College by a mere 18,490 votes in Hawaii and Ohio.
Baker and George H.W. Bush then began to organize the latter’s Republican Party primary campaign for president in 1980. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan ultimately won the nomination, but not before he unified his party by choosing his most tenacious primary rival as his running mate: Bush.
In the 1980 general election, Baker was a senior advisor to the Reagan–Bush campaign, with specific responsibility for the presidential debates. Baker’s acute political instincts, his prior Washington experience, and his attention to detail made a strong impression on the candidate and Nancy Reagan. And so Reagan asked Baker to be his White House chief of staff.
Again with Baker’s assistance, Reagan was re-elected in 1984 with a 49-state landslide victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale in a campaign largely run from Baker’s chief of staff office.
In 1988, Bush was a two-term vice president and the putative front-runner in the Republican primaries. With Reagan’s reluctant blessing, Baker left what by then was his prestigious post as secretary of the treasury and assumed command of Bush’s presidential campaign. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to become the 41st president of the United States, and Baker became its 61st secretary of state designate.
As the 1992 election year began, Bush’s high job approval ratings began to erode. In July, he asked Baker to resign his cabinet post and take over the leadership of his re-election campaign. That November, Bush lost after his campaign was adversely affected by the independent candidacy of Ross Perot.
In 2000, Baker returned to the presidential electoral process, this time to manage Texas Governor George W. Bush’s legal team in the Florida recount process. Under Baker’s leadership, the Bush campaign successfully pursued its complex legal case that led from county offices in South Florida to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. After the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, Bush became the nation’s 43rd president.
On March 28, 2018 at the Baker Institute, the Presidential Elections Program held its inaugural conference, “Social Media, Changing Demographics and Implications of the 2016 Presidential Election.” The event was part of the 25th anniversary commemorative programs featuring the centers and research of Rice University’s Baker Institute. Veteran political consultants David Axelrod and Karl Rove served as the conference’s honorary directors. The conference brought together a diverse group of academics, campaign consultants, journalists, and other prominent individuals to look back at 2016, at the present, and forward to the 2020 presidential election. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions of the more than two-dozen individuals who participated in the conference’s four thematic panels as well as a lunch conversation featuring Axelrod and Rove.
This material may be quoted or reproduced without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given to the author and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The views expressed herein are those of the individual author(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.