America’s first real presidential fight was between John Adams’s federalism, which meant greater commerce, and Thomas Jefferson’s idealized farming society. Commerce won.
Secretary of State James Madison routed former general Charles Pinckney despite public opposition to a recent export ban, which hurt merchants.
By the time James Monroe became president, both parties had so thoroughly accepted the federal role in national commerce that the Federalist Party dissolved and Monroe was reelected without challenge.
“King Andrew” Jackson killed the bank of the United States, painting it as a “monster” that gave too much taxpayer money and special privilege to corrupt elites. He won reelection.
“You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold,” thundered populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who was crushed by a wave of corporate money.
“Trust-buster” Teddy Roosevelt beat an appellate judge and his mining-millionaire running mate with the promise of a “square deal” and some contributions from big business.
T.R. formed the Bull Moose Party to challenge his conservative successor, William Howard Taft, but they split the vote and ushered in Woodrow Wilson, whose “New Freedom” platform called for a return to small business.
The laissez-faire Calvin Coolidge swept progressive Robert La Follette and a corporate lawyer reluctantly chosen by the divided Democrats. Months after he won, Coolidge famously said, “The chief business of the American people is business.”
Ross Perot ran as a deficit hawk who said his business experience would set U.S. finances straight. The country enjoyed smaller deficits in the short term after Perot siphoned enough votes away from George H.W. Bush to help Bill Clinton win.
Texas Governor George W. Bush took on Vice President Al Gore, a political wonk, by running as the CEO candidate. Voters didn’t seem to mind his checkered business record.