Abraham Lincoln remains our most revered political leader, but even some of his admirers misunderstand his rise to power. They believe Lincoln only became president in 1860 because Democrats divided, and three major candidates split the votes against him. In fact, those three opponents drew a combined total far less than Lincoln’s hefty majorities in 15 of the 18 free states of the union—providing more than enough electoral votes for decisive victory. The only states Lincoln failed to carry were the fifteen slave states, which naturally opposed a candidate who said: “If slavery isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong.”
In Lincoln’s re-election run in 1864, he won an even greater landslide: winning the popular vote by 10 percent, and carrying 22 of 25 states. His example reminds us that great presidential leadership relies on clear-cut majority support, not the cobbled together, squeaker victories that seem to obsess too many strategists and commentators as they look toward 2020.