Would You Vote for a Divorced President?
Approximately 30 percent of U.S. adults experience divorce. Divorce is hardly an uncommon event, but still carries with it a social stigma. People continue to perceive divorce as a personal failing, rather than a logical and often necessary solution to an unhappy or incompatible marriage. If you don’t think this is true, ask yourself this: Can a divorcee become President of the United States?
You might think so, but history suggests otherwise. The U.S has seen 43 people serve as U.S. presidents. Out of that number, 41 were married. The only single president in U.S. history was James Buchanan. And only one president, Ronald Reagan, was a divorcee.
People don’t associate Reagan with divorce. After all, his relationship with Nancy is cited as an example of a loving, happy marriage. Nancy, however, was the President’s second wife. He married Jane Wyman on January 26, 1940. They had two biological children (Maureen and Christine — Christine died a day after her birth). They also adopted a son, Michael.
Jane Wyman filed for divorce in 1948, reportedly due to disagreements the couple had about Reagan’s political goals. The divorce was hardly a high net worth divorce, but was a divorce nonetheless. Reagan remains the only divorcee to ever assume the presidency.
Divorce and Political Mud-Slinging
If you admire Reagan (and even if you didn’t), your response might be “so what?” A divorce in 1948 had no effect on his political life during his terms of office, and his personal life reveals a man who valued both marriage and family. And that’s perfectly true. However, the divorced presidential candidate is always at a disadvantage when competing against a married candidate, because family values play such an important role in public opinion.
Imagine, for a moment, a politician who dismissed family values as irrelevant. He or she would have the political life expectancy of a wounded mayfly. Political opponents see a divorce as an opportunity to question a candidate’s commitment to marriage and family. From that starting point, it’s a quick mud-slinging jump to suggesting he or she is a quitter and unfit for office. A trip to a divorce lawyer’s office could become political suicide.
Politicians are quick to tie family to the American Dream and, by extension, patriotism. Just look at the same sex marriage issue. One side claims allowing same sex marriages would destroy the sanctity of marriage and the moral fiber of the nation. The other side demands equal marriage rights for all regardless of sexual orientation. No matter which side of the argument you agree with, both focus on the importance of marriage to society.
Is Divorce a Presidential Deal Breaker?
At most law firms, you’ll find people who like to think that divorce doesn’t prohibit someone from reaching the highest political office in the land. Reagan proved it’s possible for a divorcee to become president, possibly because his actions after the divorce proved his commitment to family values.
A political candidate with multiple divorces probably wouldn’t fare as well. One divorce can be forgiven by voters. So-called “serial monogamy” casts aspersions on a candidate’s morality. Rightly or wrongly married presidential candidates are much more likely to succeed than divorcees.
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