How does it historically work out for the presidential nominee when they are challenging the incumbent of their own party?

Are there cases where this succeeded?

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    With the reversal of the wording you made the existing answers require edits to avoid sounding awkward but don't change the relation to the other question. – user9389 Jul 12 '17 at 20:05

Generally speaking, it's considered a sign of a weak president and a dis-unified party if an incumbent president chooses to run and gets a legitimate, mainstream primary challenger (or, basically, anyone who would register on the radar screen for getting more than an handful percentage of the vote).

I believe recent history has presidents who were challenged eventually losing the general election, even if they win the primary, so parties really, really try to avoid going through that. We also see only a couple of instances where the challenger actually is successful in the challenge (as defined by unseating the incumbent), and none where that initial strong challenger wins the nomination -

2012 - Obama incumbent, no real challenge.

2004 - "W" Bush incumbent, unopposed

1996 - Clinton incumbent, no real challenge

1992 - "HW" Bush incumbent, Pat Buchanan challenged, was not considered a serious threat, but has enough support to get the party platform to include some far-right provisions to appease him and his supporters, and he was given a major speaking spot at the nominating convention, delivering what some refer to as his famous "Brown Shirt Speech," which many credited with sending independent voters towards the Democrats. Clinton won in the general election.

1984 - Reagan incumbent, unopposed

1980 - Carter incumbent, challenged by Ted Kennedy, won primary, lost general to Reagan.

1976 - Ford incumbent, but not really - a special case because he was never elected, was only president because of resignations in disgrace of previous VP and President, faced a stiff conservative primary challenge by Ronald Reagan, and lost in the general to Carter.

1972 - Nixon incumbent, was challenged but no seriously, winning all but one delegate during the process.

1968 - Johnson incumbent, was primaried by Eugene McCarthy, barely losing New Hampshire and doing well in the polls, and then Robert Kennedy entered the race. Johnson dropped out, causing VP Humphrey to eventually throw his hat into the ring (so, technically, was successfully primaried). Kennedy was assassinated, Humphrey was already ahead by then, and got the nomination. Nixon won the general.

1964 - Johnson incumbent, having become president the previous year when Kennedy was assassinated. Beat back a relatively feeble challenge by George Wallace of Alabama. Johnson had even claimed to not be decided until just before the nominating convention, so most of his votes gathered in the primary contests were as write-ins. With the goodwill and popularity/sympathy after the Kennedy assassination, his nomination was generally considered a foregone conclusion.

1956 - Eisenhower, the war hero general who commanded all Allied forces in defeating Nazi Germany, was not seriously challenged in either a primary or the general election.

1952 - Truman was the incumbent, was challenged by Estes Kefauver from Tennessee, lost enough early contests to drop out of the race. Adlai Stevenson eventually got the nomination, lost to Eisenhower in the general

1948 - Truman was president, taking over upon FD Roosevelt's death, was not seriously challenged, won the general election in a very close race.

That covers everything back to FDR. As you can see, modern history does not smile upon the party where an incumbent is faced with a serious primary challenge.

References: Wikipedia - "Democratic Party presidential primaries" and "Republican Party presidential primaries"

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    Bill Clinton won over GHW Bush due to Ross Perot's third party run that attracted a substantial number of conservative votes. Remember "giant sucking sound"? Just as Al Gore's loss to GW Bush, as close as it was, might have been tipped by Ralph Nader's indy run that year, that attracted a surprising number of liberal votes. – tj1000 Jul 12 '17 at 18:24
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    @tj1000 - exactly, IIRC Nader got like 80K votes in expected battleground state Florida, more than enough to tip FL (and electoral college) to GWB. Green party has hard time learning this lesson, needed to re-learn it 2016 again, for detriment of the green cause. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Jul 12 '17 at 18:50
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    @tj1000 - I believe we covered this territory before. We have another question that specifically dealt with this issue. They found a pretty even split on "2nd choice" in exit polls between parties. Also, if Pat Buchanan doesn't make that speech, enough independents stay with the incumbent to make Perot's influence not the deciding factor, possibly. You seem to be fixated on the idea that it was only Perot's run that made it possible. Generally, third party candidates don't bother or don't get traction unless there is dissatisfaction or weakness of major party players. – PoloHoleSet Jul 12 '17 at 19:18
  • @PeterMasiar: Consider 2016. As appalling as both main candidates were, a reasonable third party candidate could have achieved significant support... possibly have even won. Sadly, Gary 'what is Aleppo' Johnson was a complete idiot, and Jill Stein just never seemed to have any sort of message... other than fronting for the dems on the recount initiative. The one year that an indy with strong character and a strong message could have made inroads... and both indy candidates blew it. It's enough to make you weep... – tj1000 Jul 12 '17 at 19:19
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    Second-choice polling does not necessarily correspond to who that person would have voted for in the absence of Ross Perot's candidacy, which may well have altered the political landscape. I don't think it's fair to say "Ross Perot was the reason Bush lost," because obviously we can't know that. And I also don't think it's fair to say "Bush would have lost anyway," because we don't know that either. Politics is not an exact science, and let's not pretend that it is. It seems clear that there is a very strong chance that Perot's candidacy swung the race in one direction or the other. – Salmoncrusher Jul 12 '17 at 20:58

No, they still have to win the primary and be nominated.

The incumbent President still have to win the primary and be nominated, though they usually do not have any serious challengers. For example, Barack Obama was nominated unanimously by all 5,556 delegates at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Should they be challenged, it is called a "primary challenge" and it is very rare as incumbent Presidents are usually seen as the leader of their party.

There have only been 5 incumbent Presidents who were denied the nomination by their own parties. They are Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, John Tyler, Andrew Johnson and Chester A. Arthur who all did not run for reelection. It's worth noting that only Pierce was elected, the rest were ascended to the presidency after their predecessor either died in office or was assassinated.

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    Truman and Johnson both dropped out after taking beatings in the earliest primary challenges. Since both initially tried to run for re-election, and it was only failure that caused them to drop out, I'd argue that they were denied the nomination by their own parties. – PoloHoleSet Jul 12 '17 at 16:40

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