27 Mar 2016

Constitutionalism, Not Post-Constitutional Candidates

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TrumpThrone

Gerard van der Leun of American Digest (who is normally our most kindred spirit blogger) disagrees with NYM on Trump. Yesterday, he responded indignantly in a comment to our quoting John Hawkins‘s negative opinion of Trump:

The enemy of my enemy is always my friend until he helps me to destroy my enemy. After that he becomes my enemy again.

That or adios supreme court for one or two generations.

I think myself that Mr. van der Leun is not looking properly at the big picture. He ought to consider the historical perspective proposed by National Review’s Avi Snyder, to begin with.

With the GOP looking at the possibility of an open convention — complete with floor fights, riots, and the threat that the party will tear itself in two — the best historical analogue seems clear: Donald Trump is Teddy Roosevelt, and this is 1912 all over again.

The 1912 Republican National Convention was a battle for the soul of the party.

Though President William Howard Taft had been Theodore Roosevelt’s chosen successor in 1908, by 1912, the increasingly radical Roosevelt was dissatisfied with Taft’s relative conservatism in office. In violation of an earlier pledge not to run for a second full term, Roosevelt chose to challenge the president for the Republican nomination.

Much like Donald Trump, the progressive Roosevelt was a post-constitutional candidate. There are parallels between Trump’s defense of eminent domain abuse and Roosevelt’s contempt for property rights, and Trump’s strongman tendencies have antecedents in TR’s impatience with the machinery of constitutional government.

In the early 20th century, only a handful of states held popular primaries to choose presidential nominees, and the results weren’t even binding. But Roosevelt was a popular figure, and he took advantage of these contests, carrying nine out of twelve primaries. President Taft, however, still controlled the machinery of the party, and in states where convention delegates were chosen by party regulars, Taft’s forces dominated.

This didn’t stop Roosevelt from crying foul. “I believe in pure democracy,” he had proclaimed at the Ohio Constitutional Convention in February of that year. As the forces of his era’s Republican establishment stood arrayed against him, Roosevelt, in the words of historian Lewis Gould, remained “firm in his conviction that the nomination was being stolen from him.” One can almost imagine the outrage of Trump boosters, such as Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich and others, at the notion that the “will of the people” could be so successfully thwarted by the party apparatus. Unlike Trump, Roosevelt didn’t promise riots if he failed to secure the nomination, but the convention organizers were prepared for them. A thousand policemen patrolled the aisles of the convention, and barbed wire was hidden beneath the bunting of the speaker’s platform in order to prevent assaults. For Roosevelt had cast his battle for the nomination in apocalyptic language, proclaiming to his followers that: “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”

None of these protests stopped the conservative forces of President Taft from denying Roosevelt the nomination. Taft’s ally Elihu Root defeated Roosevelt’s chosen candidate for convention chairman. Roosevelt’s forces lost important votes on the floor, and the convention awarded contested delegates to Taft. Roosevelt had won more primaries and had entered the convention with a plurality of delegates, but Taft easily wrapped up the nomination on the first ballot.

Taft and Root knew that denying Roosevelt the nomination would likely lead him and his supporters to bolt the convention and run on a third-party ticket, splitting the GOP vote and virtually guaranteeing a Democratic victory in November. Of course, this is precisely what happened. Combined, Roosevelt and Taft won over 50 percent of the popular vote, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election with just over 40 percent.

Why was the Republican establishment of the day so intent on denying Roosevelt the nomination? Didn’t they know that their dirty tricks would “hand the election to the Democrats?” Didn’t they know it was time to “come together as a party?” What Taft, Root, and their allies understood was that, as Root would later put it, “worse things can happen to a party than to be defeated.” In fact, as Root understood the situation before the party, “the result of the convention was more important than the question of the election.”

In 1912, America’s very system of constitutional government was under attack. Woodrow Wilson, the man who would become the Democratic candidate, had spent his prior academic career attacking the Constitution as outdated and dismissing the eternal truths of the Declaration of Independence as passé. Roosevelt’s progressivism led him to support a variety of radical measures — such as popular recall elections for judges and judicial decisions — that also threatened America’s constitutional order. Had Roosevelt captured the party in 1912, America would have been without a constitutionalist, conservative party.

Root and Taft insisted that the party of Lincoln should be maintained as “a nucleus about which the conservative people who are in favor of maintaining constitutional government can gather.” And even though they lost the election, ushering in Wilson’s disastrous presidency, history has proven their wisdom. It is hard to imagine a President Coolidge, a candidate Goldwater, or a “Reagan Revolution” had the Republican party become the vehicle for promoting Roosevelt’s proto-welfare state. In the face of defeat, the losers of the election of 1912 could rest in the knowledge that they had ensured constitutionalism would continue to find a home in one of America’s major parties.

The relevance of 1912 to the 2016 GOP primary race should be obvious.

———————-

Of course, apart from such grand issues as preserving the alternative of a constitutionalist party, one needs to bear in mind that it likely to be better for the future of the country, and of the conservative cause, to see one’s adversaries elect a failed and disastrous presidency than to elect one of those supposedly representing your own party and your own principles.

I do not believe that Donald Trump shows any reasonable probability at all of winning, making America great, or making good decisions or appointments. I can easily picture Donald nominating his liberal sister and a few random poker buddies to the Supreme Court. I can picture Donald Trump taking a shot at reviving tariffs and Protectionism and instigating a world-wide trade war, dramatically deepening the economic bad times, and shaking the foundations of the world economic order.

I can picture Donald Trump bullying corporations, initiating his own series of New-Deal-style make-work federal programs, and adding some next larger entitlement to the Welfare State.

I think that four years of Donald Trump at the helm will produce results similar to Trump University’s or Trump steaks’, and that electing Donald Trump as a Republican will inevitably result in giving the radical democrat party a “One-Free-Presidency” coupon to be cashed for absolutely anyone.

Beyond these practical considerations, I think that we have a duty as citizens to respect our country and our institutions and to support for the chief magistracy only, in the words of John Adams’ prayer, “wise and honest men.”

It may be, this year, as in 2008 and other disastrous years, that Fate is against us. There is nothing we can do to win. We may not be able to command success, but we can, at least, conduct ourselves, and choose, in such a way as to deserve it.

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6 Feedbacks on "Constitutionalism, Not Post-Constitutional Candidates"

Scullman

“I do not believe that Donald Trump shows any reasonable probability at all of winning..”

For a guy who makes declarations like this every single day, to the exclusion of almost everything else here, you seem awfully concerned about his eventual victory.



GoneWithTheWind

Putting aside my preference for Cruz I believe this effort to dump Trump by the GOPe is a terrible and anti-American effort. By ‘anti-American’ I mean specifically against the interests of Americans. It all but guarantees Hillary the presidency. The Gop is willing and eager to lose because they can retain much of their traditional power regardless of who is president. They are not “pro-constitution” as most of their conservative base are they are pro-GOPe, period. They will survive and even flourish with a Hillary presidency and that is all that matters to them. They don’t care about conservatives, Republican voters or America. They care about their own power and income, simple as that.
It may be that a Trump presidency is bad but would it be as bad as Hillary??? I think Hillary will be exponentially worse than Trump. Should we (conservatives, Republicans, Americans) commit suicide so that the GOPe can continue to hold their power and attend their cocktail parties? We will, I can see the writing on the wall. The GOPe will split the vote and Hillary will be our president.



TmjUtah

Problem is that the RNC can’t stand as any sort of Constitutional defender.

Say goodbye to all that, as they say.

This election is more about the Gods of the copy book headings than any since Lincoln.

Pity. But here we are.



Jim O'Neil

“There is nothing we can do to win. We may not be able to command success, but we can, at least, conduct ourselves, and choose, in such a way as to deserve it.”

Sorry, staying home, not voting for Trump if nominated, simply handing the country to Hillary, can not be construed as conducting yourselves as a way to deserve it.



T. Shaw

If the elite GOP (no different than Dems) gets its way and puts up Kasich, Ryan, or some other loser, it will be 2008 and 2012 all over again.

This time will be different. This time millions more (now including me) will not vote for the GOP worm.



Dan Kurt

Trump is the only candidate that MAY stop the replacement of Whites by Blacks and Browns migrating into the USA. I truly wish there was another choice. The USA can suffer a lot of ruin but if the White population is replaced the USA will become just another Brazil.

Dan Kurt



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