Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Tough Times for the President: Political Adversity and the Sources of Executive Power

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Tough Times for the President: Political Adversity and the Sources of Executive Power

Article excerpt

Tough Times for the President: Political Adversity and the Sources of Executive Power. By Ryan J. Barilleaux and Jewerl Maxwell. New York: Cambria Press, 2012. 307 pp.

Tough Times for the President is a fascinating, challenging, and important book. It looks at presidents in trouble, and the authors rightly claim that presidents are in trouble more often than they are in good times. "Trouble" is the norm, and that, alone, is a worrisome starting point, if you are the president. As the authors write, "tough times are a common situation for presidents. Since the end of World War II, every chief executive except John Kennedy has experienced at least one period of political adversity while in office" (p. 261). Barilleaux and Maxwell examine how presidents respond to tough times and what strategies they might employ to govern under such difficult and common circumstances.

The authors focus on three types of political trouble: unmandates, scandals, and national division. Unmandates (an awkward term, to be sure) represent the president's political fall in midterm elections. In an unmandate, the president faces significantly larger losses in Congress than might ordinarily be expected, and this complicates efforts at governing. Scandals of both the personal and political variety further gum up the political works for presidents, putting them on the defensive (here, the authors might have profited by examining more of the extensive literature on political corruption). Periods of national division "pose particular difficulties for chief executives" (p. 163), and can occur when there is "division within the president's own party which led to a challenge for re-nomination" (p. 164-65), when there is a loss of confidence that leads to the emergence of a third party, when the president's job approval rating falls below 40%, and when the public ideology shifts against the president. The authors want to know (1) How did adversity limit what the president could accomplish? (2) Did adversity open opportunities in any way? and (3) What powers did the president retain despite adversity, and how did the president exercise them in a relevant way?" (pp. 87-88).

Presidents may be beleaguered in such periods, but they are not helpless--far from it. They have what the authors call "situational leverage" (p. 27). Here, the authors take on Richard Neustadt's model of presidential persuasion (Richard E. …

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