Donald Trump, Duty, Election of 1912, Election of 2016, Elihu Root, Fate, History, Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft
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 â€” complete with floor fights, riots, and the threat that the party will tear itself in two â€” 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 Rooseveltâ€™s chosen successor in 1908, by 1912, the increasingly radical Roosevelt was dissatisfied with Taftâ€™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 Trumpâ€™s defense of eminent domain abuse and Rooseveltâ€™s contempt for property rights, and Trumpâ€™s strongman tendencies have antecedents in TRâ€™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 werenâ€™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, Taftâ€™s forces dominated.
This didnâ€™t stop Roosevelt from crying foul. â€œI believe in pure democracy,â€ he had proclaimed at the Ohio Constitutional Convention in February of that year. As the forces of his eraâ€™s Republican establishment stood arrayed against him, Roosevelt, in the words of historian Lewis Gould, remained â€œfirm in his conviction that the nomination was being stolen from him.â€ One can almost imagine the outrage of Trump boosters, such as Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich and others, at the notion that the â€œwill of the peopleâ€ could be so successfully thwarted by the party apparatus. Unlike Trump, Roosevelt didnâ€™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 speakerâ€™s platform in order to prevent assaults. For Roosevelt had cast his battle for the nomination in apocalyptic language, proclaiming to his followers that: â€œWe stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.â€
None of these protests stopped the conservative forces of President Taft from denying Roosevelt the nomination. Taftâ€™s ally Elihu Root defeated Rooseveltâ€™s chosen candidate for convention chairman. Rooseveltâ€™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? Didnâ€™t they know that their dirty tricks would â€œhand the election to the Democrats?â€ Didnâ€™t they know it was time to â€œcome together as a party?â€ What Taft, Root, and their allies understood was that, as Root would later put it, â€œworse things can happen to a party than to be defeated.â€ In fact, as Root understood the situation before the party, â€œthe result of the convention was more important than the question of the election.â€
In 1912, Americaâ€™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 passÃ©. Rooseveltâ€™s progressivism led him to support a variety of radical measures â€” such as popular recall elections for judges and judicial decisions â€” that also threatened Americaâ€™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 â€œa nucleus about which the conservative people who are in favor of maintaining constitutional government can gather.â€ And even though they lost the election, ushering in Wilsonâ€™s disastrous presidency, history has proven their wisdom. It is hard to imagine a President Coolidge, a candidate Goldwater, or a â€œReagan Revolutionâ€ had the Republican party become the vehicle for promoting Rooseveltâ€™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 Americaâ€™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.