Why Veterans Run
Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016
Publication: Jan 18
Publication: Jan 18
Publication: Jan 18
6 x 9
10 tables, 7 line drawings
Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it mattersRead Chapter 1 (pdf).
The assumptions that military service helps candidates attract votes—while lacking it harms a candidate’s chances—has been an article of faith since the electoral coronation of George Washington in 1789. Perhaps the most compelling fact driving the perception that military service helps win votes is the large number of veterans who have held public office. Some candidates even exaggerate their military service to persuade voters. However, sufficient counter-examples undermine the idea that military veterans enjoy an advantage when seeking political office.
In Why Veterans Run, Jeremy Teigen explains the tendency of parties to elevate those with armed forces experience to run for high office. He describes the veteran candidate phenomenon by examining the related factors and patterns, showing why different eras have more former generals running and why the number of veterans in election cycles varies. With both quantitative and qualitative analysis, Why Veterans Run investigates each postwar era in U.S. electoral history and elaborates why so many veterans run for office. Teigen also reveals how election outcomes with veteran candidates illuminate the relationship between the military and civilian spheres as well as the preferences of the American electorate.
"Teigen has delivered an insightful study of the role of military service in the history of American presidential campaigns.... Teigen offers several interesting observations on the role of military service in the public’s relationship with the office of the president, including the public’s faith in the utility of a commander in chief with military experience.... One of the many strengths of this study is its consistent format and organization that anchor the conceptual and historical treatment.... Teigen provides useful context for readers unfamiliar with the ebb and flow of American military history as it relates to the broader American experience.... Teigen’s solid contribution to the field of presidential political history is clearly apparent."
— Presidential Studies Quarterly
“Jeremy Teigen has written a timely survey of veterans running for political office in America, starting with the first vet, George Washington. In an era in which fewer Americans serve in the all-volunteer military, the military is one of the few institutions that retains the trust of the American people. Why Veterans Run is an interesting read.”
—Karl Rove, Former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, Wall Street Journal columnist, and Fox News contributor
“An empirically rich and theoretically grounded contribution that sheds new light on America’s long-running ‘love-hate’ relationship with the military. Teigen is a leading scholar of the role of veterans in electoral politics and Why Veterans Run is an important study of a question as old as the Federalist Papers and as fresh as the next election.”
—Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University, and author of Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations
"In the US, the military is subservient to political leaders who make the ultimate decisions regarding beginning, conducting, and ending wars. Teigen traces the prevalence of veterans as presidential contenders. He notes that unlike Eisenhower, most presidential candidates, George Washington included, were not professional soldiers. But voters accepted their military experience as relevant to performance as president, especially in the role of commander in chief. Teigen compares the prevalence of military experience among presidential candidates to that in the population as a whole and finds them to be connected.... Summing Up: Recommended."
"This thorough study examines the candidacy patterns of military veterans who have emerged as U.S. presidential candidates.... The book abounds with interesting historical nuggets about how veteran candidates employed their military records during presidential campaigns.... Teigen’s historical organization of the military–presidential institutional linkages across American history make this an important addition to the literature on American political development. Why Veterans Run is also a significant addition to the literature on civil–military relations established in prior works by Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi. Teigen has written an insightful and useful 'big picture' analysis of linkages among the military, political parties, and the presidency across the nation’s history."
— Perspectives on Politics
"Teigen gives us, in blessedly jargon-free prose, a much needed taxonomy of military veterans in presidential election politics. He tells us when they run, how they run, and what happens when they do. He gives us clarifying charts and graphs; a straightforward roadmap which he faithfully follows; case studies; and a wealth of well-researched insights that will illuminate and enlarge the knowledge of academic, veteran, and layperson alike. He shows how veterans have always responded to larger social and political currents, and how underneath it all, veteran identity is entwined with a perceived patriotic identity thanks to the inseparable role the military played in the formation of the American nation." — American Interest
Table of Contents
1. Veterans Running for President
2. Explaining Why Veterans Run
3. Early Republic: George Washington through James Monroe
4. Antebellum Generals: Andrew Jackson through the Civil War
5. Civil War Generals and the Bloody Shirt: George McClellan through William McKinley
6. Early Twentieth Century: Theodore Roosevelt through Adlai Stevenson
7. The "Greatest Generation": Dwight Eisenhower through Bob Dole
8. Mixed Legacy of Vietnam: Bill Clinton through Donald Trump
Conclusion: Contemplating a Future with Fewer Veterans in Politics