The Five Most Ding-Dong Presidential Candidates of All Time

There’s a former president on the list, but he’s not named Trump
The Five Most Ding-Dong Presidential Candidates of All Time

These days, Looney Tune presidential candidates seem more like the rule than the exception. But the country wasn’t always this insane. In fact, for a very long time, ding-dong presidential candidates were more of the fringe third-party variety than either part of a famous political family (looking at you RFK Jr.) or one of the two prevailing political parties (looking at you you know who). That said, the degree of their absurdity is still pretty hard to beat…

1832: William Wirt for the Anti-Masonic Party

In 1832, Democrat Andrew Jackson was running for reelection against Henry Clay of the National Republican Party, a short-lived political party that kinda-sorta led to the Republican Party’s founding two decades later. But there was also a third party named the Anti-Masonic Party that believed the elite, secretive organization known as the Freemasons, which many prominent political figures belonged to at the time, were basically a cult. Their candidate was William Wirt, who was the former attorney general under both James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.

In the end, he ended up carrying a none-too-shabby 100,715 votes, which represented nearly eight percent of the popular vote. But he quickly regretted running for president under the Anti-Masonic party and never did so again. 

1856: Millard Fillmore for the Know Nothing Party

The only former president on this list, Millard Fillmore was a Whig when he was in office. The Whigs were the more direct precursors to the Republican Party, but after Fillmore left office, the Whigs fell apart. A brief party that popped up afterwards was the Know Nothing Party, also known as the Native American Party. As presidential historian Louis Picone, author of The President Is Dead! and Grant’s Tomb, explains, “The Know Nothings got their nickname because they were kind of like Fight Club in the start. When people asked about the anti-immigration Native American Party, they’d answer, ‘I know nothing about that.’”

1872: Victoria Woodhull for the Equal Rights Party

The first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull is much more of a hero than a ding-dong. But her methods and platform were highly unconventional enough — especially for the time — that she deserves mention here. In addition to campaigning for equal rights and women’s suffrage — two very noble causes — she also promoted “free love, sex ed and vegetarianism, earning her the nickname ‘Wicked Woodhall,’” explains Picone. She was so radical that, as History explains, “Just a few days before Election Day, she was jailed on charges of distributing obscene literature for publishing an article accusing a prominent minister of having an extramarital affair.” Also, besides being a woman — and thus, being unable to vote — she was only 34 years old in 1872, so she didn’t qualify for president age-wise either.

1936: William Dudley Pelley for the Christian Party

William Dudley Pelley was pro-Hitler and pro-Nazi. He also founded the underground, pro-fascist organization the Silver Legion of America. If that’s not enough, he claimed to be able to levitate, see through walls and to have had several out-of-body experiences.

1940: Gracie Allen for the Surprise Party

The comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen was a big hit in Vaudeville and later on television. Burns was the cigar-smoking straight man while Allen was his ditzy wife. As History explains, “During the 1940 presidential election, the couple staged a now-legendary publicity stunt by throwing Gracie’s hat in the ring as the nominee of the tongue-in-cheek ‘Surprise Party,’ which featured a kangaroo as its mascot and the slogan ‘It’s in the bag.’” The campaign ended months before election day, but Allen still received thousands of write-in votes. Proving that, even back in the 1930s, way too many people took celebrities seriously when they said they were running for office.

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