The isolated presidency : the institutional logic of constitutional presidential power.


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This dissertation argues that the presidency as created by the Constitution possesses an institutional logic which grants the president a unique perspective and provides the president with considerable power and agency in pursuing his agenda as informed by that perspective. Furthermore, I contend that we gain the clearest view of this institutional logic and the presidency’s constitutional strength by examining those administrations where presidents were institutionally isolated from other branches of government, the political parties, and the public, being left with nothing but their constitutional authority to rely on. To demonstrate this, I undertake case studies of “isolated presidents:” John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, and Gerald Ford. Each of these presidents were incredibly institutionally isolated, and their uniquely disadvantageous positions allow us to study their administrations as “least likely” cases for the exercise of presidential power. That is, if ever we were to expect presidents to be unable to exercise robust executive power, we would expect those presidents to be unelected, facing staunch opposition from Congress, and lacking a supportive party coalition. In examining these three presidents, I show how the Constitution constructs a presidency that provides even the most isolated presidents with significant power and agency informed by the office’s unique institutional position. This institutional logic forms a baseline of authority that all presidents can draw upon and is grounded in the structure, duties, and powers of their office as provided by the Constitution.



American politics. Presidency. Constitution. American political thought.