Jackson politely congratulated the winner, but was seething. He soon declared the system was rigged. The Jacksonians’ phrase was “bargain and corruption”—they said the House speaker, Henry Clay, had thrown the vote in exchange for being named secretary of state. This conspiracy theory added an element of rage to Jackson’s basic argument that he was simply owed the presidency. Although the House had voted in accordance with the Constitution, Jackson insisted that he should have automatically won because “the majority” of the people supported him. (He’d actually won a plurality of the popular vote, 40 percent, which was politically significant but had no legal bearing.)
With an eye to the next election, he set out to upend the political system, which had been running predictably for a generation. A party founded by Thomas Jefferson had installed four consecutive presidents. Most elections were not even close. Relatively few people voted, and many lacked voting rights. But the franchise was expanding to include all white men, and boisterous new political forces were sweeping the growing nation.
Jackson and his allies spent four years building a popular movement in favor of majority rule. They worked to delegitimize President Adams, promoting the “corrupt bargain” conspiracy theory and blocking his programs in Congress. In their 1828 rematch, Jackson defeated Adams in a landslide. His 1829 inauguration was recorded as a triumph of the people, who mobbed the White House in such numbers that they trashed it. It’s this moment to which Giuliani referred on election night 2016.
When Bannon spoke of founding a “new political movement,” though, he was referring to the period immediately afterward. Jackson and his allies created a new organization, the Democratic Party. His opponents were forced to up their own political game by founding a new opposition party, and American politics began growing into the two-party rivalry that we know today. The old, staid political order cracked up.
It’s too early to predict if 2016 will turn out to be another long-term inflection point. (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama also seemed to have changed the game when they took power.) But there are resonances between Jackson and Trump.
Jackson, like Trump, made innovative use of the media. He offered nothing like Trump’s running commentary on Twitter, nor did he even make formal campaign speeches, which were considered undignified for presidential candidates. But he did use newspapers, which were growing in number and importance. A subscriber to as many as 17 papers, he understood the changing media landscape better than his critics did. He personally involved himself in news coverage, once writing a letter urging that a friendly, but alcoholic, newspaperman must be kept sober long enough to “scorch” one of Jackson’s rivals. He counted newspaper editors among his close advisers, and made sure they established a pro-Jackson newspaper in Washington when he took office. (His famous “kitchen cabinet” included these newsmen.) Trump, of course, has made analogous moves by managing his own media relations, asking Sean Hannity for advice and inviting Bannon to serve as his strategist.