Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Donald Trump and the Twenty-Four-Year Itch
This morning, I voted in Michigan’s Republican presidential primary, and I returned home to read in Erasmus’ Adages in preparation for tomorrow’s class. But before I settled down with book in hand, my mind began a-wandering, and I realized that I had seen this movie — or something very much like it — before.
Forty-eight years ago today, George Wallace won the Michigan Democratic presidential primary, and 24 years ago, Ross Perot appeared on the scene. Strangely enough, I have a sharper memory of Wallace’s campaign than of Perot’s. I did not live in Michigan then. I was a freshman at Cornell and had recently begun writing an opinion column entitled “O Tempora, O Mores” for The Cornell Daily Sun. I was then, as I am now, a political animal, and I watched with wonder the primary season unfold.
I was, in those, days a left-liberal. I had been swept up in the Kennedy mania in the wake of JFK’s assassination. I did not like the Vietnam War, and I favored Eugene McCarthy. Those were the days! I was nineteen. The girls were enticing, and nearly everything that I read was fresh and new.
That summer, I returned to Oklahoma City and took a job as a reporter with The Oklahoma Journal. Now defunct, that newspaper had been founded on a grudge by the first figure in Oklahoma politics to have secured the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and to have lost in the general election. Henry Bellmon was then the state’s first Republican governor, and my employer – hopping mad – had founded a newspaper to take on E. K. Gaylord, the proprietor of The Daily Oklahoman, whom he rightly blamed for doing him in.
The bigwigs did not then — and do not now — spend much time in Oklahoma. But it was an election year, the newspaper was run on a shoestring, I was cheap labor, and I was dispatched to cover this, that, and the next thing, including a press conference organized by the American Party for its candidate, George Wallace, and a rally it held on his behalf.
I had spent the summer of 1966 in Chicago as one of six high school students – three Roman Catholics and three Lutherans from the Missouri synod – who had been pulled together to discuss theology, morality, and politics on the eve of the 450th anniversary of the Reformation, and we had spent the summer visiting churches, attending press conferences, meeting with gang leaders and politicians, and keeping a diary from which the organizers extracted bits and pieces to make up a little book entitled Wine in Separate Cups.
One evening, we visited a tiny black Lutheran church and listened politely as Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke. On the way out, I shook his hand. In the summer of 1968, I was resolved that the hand that had shaken that of King two years before was not going to be sullied by the hand of George Wallace. So when he waded into the crowd of reporters and reached for my hand, I shrunk back. I can still remember his voice, saying, “Boy! Your mama should have taught you some manners.”
I covered the Wallace rally later that day and watched the supporters of Eugene McCarthy – many of them my friends – stage a walk-out as the crowd rose in rage to shout at them. I was fired the next morning. Someone from the American Party had complained to the managing editor, and he decided to give me the boot. I was, however, useful. I could write, and I was cheap. So the city editor hired me back the next day. I honor the man who fired me – for I was in the wrong – and I am grateful to the man who hired me back. For that summer I had the time of my life.
I still remember the Wallace rally as if it were yesterday. It was a highly patriotic event, and my friends, the ones who staged the walk-out, were regarded as traitors. Race no doubt had a great deal to do with Wallace’s support, but it was striking that he never mentioned the issue at all. His theme was what he called “pointy-headed bureaucrats” and “pseudo-intellectuals” (which is, I suppose, what I aspired to be), and he promised to throw the briefcases of the former in the Potomac and to put the latter in their place.
There was, as this suggests, more to his appeal than racial animosity. The people who turned out for him were angry that the Great Society had upended their lives. They were, for the most part, older folks. They were little people. They had fought in World War II or Korea. They had worked in factories or run small businesses. They had played by the rules. They had skimped and saved, and they had done tolerably well. Now, a bunch of snooty, ivy-league types had descended on them from DC and were telling them how to run their lives.
They did not much like LBJ. He was a crook, and they knew it. They liked Hubert Humphrey even less. He was, they knew, a socialist of sorts; and Eugene McCarthy and his brigade of college students they thoroughly despised. Wars were for winning; and, though they may not have loved the Vietnam War, it was their view that we should whip the communists there and then and only then come home. There was bigotry I do not doubt, but there was also public-spiritedness and a love of country behind their anger. They believed that they and the country had been betrayed, and they did not see anywhere safe to turn.
Twenty-four years later, there was another eruption. It had nothing to do with race, but it was — in all other respects — similar to the one that propelled Wallace to victory in the Michigan primary. This time, it was not an intraparty affair: There were longtime Republicans and longtime Democrats who rallied to Ross Perot, and they did so because they believed that there was a collusion between the two parties to cover up a scandal. These people knew that they had played by the rules, and they knew that the folks involved in the Savings-and-Loan Scandal had done nothing of the sort. These scoundrels had contributed heavily to Democratic officeholders; they had drawn in a hapless son of George Herbert Walker Bush; and they had gotten off scot free. Because of the involvement of the younger Bush, the Republicans did not want to pursue the matter, and the Democrats were deeply involved.
Today, we face the same sort of situation. President Barack Obama came into power intent, as he put it, on “fundamentally” changing America. He called his administration “The New Foundation,” and he tried to be as good as his word. First came the expenditure of three-quarters of a trillion dollars, most of which went as gravy to the patronage-hounds of the Democratic Party. Then came Obamacare, with all the lies about one’s ability to keep one’s insurance and about cutting medical costs. This gave rise to the Tea Party, and the Republicans profited, chiefly because the Democrats’ punitive treatment of the Republicans in Congress forced them to oppose the so-called “stimulus” and because the emergence of the Tea Party induced Senator Charles Grassley, John McCain, and the others who would have embraced Obamacare to back off. In the 2010 off-year election, the Republicans did better than at any time since 1928.
In 2012, the Republicans failed to find a plausible candidate who could capitalize on the fury that had gripped their base, nominating a man who had designed for the state of Massachusetts the healthcare program that had served as the inspiration for Obamacare. He did well initially and opted to sit on a lead that he quickly lost; and Barack Obama as president got a new lease on life.
Then, in 2014, this disaffected electorate propelled the Republicans to a victory even more dramatic than the one that they had won in 2010, and they gained control of the Senate. But with this victory they did nothing. They had long before surrendered the law-making power to the executive agencies that Obama was employing to reshape American life, and they had also given up the power of the purse. All that the president had to do was to threaten a veto and threaten to shut down a variety of government functions, and they cowered. Never mind the fact that the Constitution gave Congress the power of the purse and that the shut-down would be the president’s work. They were too timid to fight the battle to the bitter end that would restore to them their constitutional prerogatives.
Moreover, in 2010 and 2012, Republican candidates had said a great deal about the need to put an end to illegal immigration, and this, too, was a concern for a lot of Americans who saw their jobs going to illegal aliens willing to work for a pittance. In the wake of 2012, however, under the influence of the Chamber of Commerce — which likes nothing better than cheap labor — the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress worked assiduously to legalize the presence of these illegal immigrants, and they sat back and did nothing while the president flouted the laws providing for the integrity of our borders.
That is when the little folks gave up on our officeholders, as they had done 24 and 48 before. I will not praise these people for their judgment. George Wallace and Ross Perot would have made terrible presidents, and Donald Trump is arguably worse. But there is a lesson in this. When a sizable proportion of the American population has a grievance, they expect redress and — if those in office fail to address their concerns — they will look elsewhere and regard the disreputable not as reprobates, but as virtuous men. Donald Trump would not be a real force in this electoral cycle if people did not feel betrayed.
I do not know where this will end. In 1968, the eruption made Richard Nixon president. In 1992, it produced William Jefferson Clinton. This year, if we are lucky, it might push Senator Ted Cruz to the forefront and, perhaps, over the top. But it could saddle us with yet another disastrous presidency.
There is, however, a moral to the story: When you step on ordinary folks and they get spitting-mad, you had better watch out. One of the two parties will address the concerns of these people, and the party that does so will prosper mightily over the next few years.Published in History, Politics
Very well put.
Despite being a nationalist and thinking that we do need to get more serious about immigration enforcement, the issue only marginally informs my voting. But it does inform a lot of other people’s and it’s one of the few issues where Republicans and blue-dog like Democrats) are willing to blow things up over. Ask George W. Bush and Harry Reid. It’s professionally negligent on the part of party leaders.
It is, moreover, worries me the most about Rubio, who I voted for just last week (though I should include Cruz as well, who’s involvement in the Gang of Eight bill Frank Soto covered admirably this morning). Someone of Rubio’s intelligence and experience should have known that the issue is radioactive. Cruz, whatever else one might say, at least had the foresight to dissemble.
Probably true. But the voter should know better, too. I mean really, Trump over Rubio, Cruz, Walker, Jindal, etc.? I want a golden egg, daddy!
Great post. Thanks.
Thank you for taking a longer look at the current times. I’ve struggled to comprehend the attraction to Trump even though I have several coworkers (who qualify as less educated, working class whites) who advocate for him. The best I can tell from my talks with these men is that Trump is riding a wave of emotion masquerading as reason. They say they want a fighter, but I think they want one from the UFC, not a student of the sweet science. They want someone willing to throw elbows and knees, unrestrained by the rules of conventional fighting. If there is no blood on the mat and no teeth are left laying about after the fight they will be disappointed.
But the left is fighting by street rules. They are doing so in the schools, the work place, the churches, and the government.
Great post Dr. Rahe.
Agreed. And I think Jonah is wholly correct that if Trump gets the nomination and wins, there’s going to be a lot of people looking like LTC Nicholson at the end of Bridge Over the River Kwai asking what in God’s name they’ve has done.
Regarding Rubio, though, if he burns out next week, then his candidacy should serve as a lessen of just how dumb it is to get on the wrong side of the American people on immigration: that is, even if you’re an incredibly conservative and attractive candidate, this issue can still sink you.
I pray that the costs aren’t that high and that Frank is wrong about Cruz.
I think this is overblown. Machiavellian implementation of whiny, narcissistic, girly-man policy is an oxymoron.
Thank you for this perspective. I appreciate it.
Meh. I don’t think it was immigration that did it. I think it was the fact that he’s a conventional politician in a year when people want to riot. They’re looking for a person to throw the first bricks, not a president.
I think we can specify the phenomenon somewhat more by noting that in ’68 & ’92 the president’s party was thrown out of the White House in both cases, but not out of Congress–nor the opposition party into Congress. That ties up with something else: In neither case was the political accomplishment of the outgoing administration overruled. The Great Society is still around to burden & to haunt America; & the Reagan’s tax reform & changes to the rhetoric on the economy are both still extant & determining thinking & policy.
This time, however, I am nowhere near as sure that Dems will lose the White House & the GOP will win, with whatever candidate. The big difference is, this time it’s the GOP, though it does not have the presidency, that’s threatening to collapse…
The ’68 Dems & ’92 GOP were not only thrown out of the White House, but they only regained it within a decade by luck–Watergate, in one case, the strange 2000 elections in the other case.–I don’t see reason to foresee anything like that for the 2016 Dems.
So I think things have changed in the direction of the administrative state, so that the political beneficiary of this vote-the-revolt election will be the Dems, both short- & long-term.
Maybe it’s not that unreasonable: Maybe the Sunshine Senator has done too much to embrace his party, Mr. W. Bush, & too little to explain what great changes to the party he will make. Possibly, the primary electorate does not like that. The fantasy-by-poll electorate for the general election is not much more more in love with him either…
I think you have things assbackwards: It is the few who go asking for the votes of the many, not the many going to the few to ask them to lead. That may be ideal, but it is not seriously to be expected. I would not say any of the candidates killed in the media-primary, money-primary or the first actual primary elections really worried about persuading the electorate… Gov. Walker above all was applauded by money-men & political men as much as by activists & was looking great to all of them & in all polls after CPAC’15. Then he turned out to have nothing to say to the people who would really be voting. That was probably a bad idea-
That’s part of it too, but immigration is the spark that set this off. You don’t have to — and I don’t — buy Trump’s line on this that nobody would be talking about the issue were it not for him, but the fact that the most popular (Rubio) and best-funded (Bush) candidates were the most out of line on the issue were real fuel for that fire.
That is not, however, to forgive Trump for being Trump, nor to let his supporter’s off the hook.
2016: Not the year of tradition, status quo, or conventional wisdom.
I am not asking to be let off the hook.
And we are to ignore the racism?
I don’t think so.
Suppose Cruz is able to battle Trump to a draw, or even have a slight lead in a contested convention. After the first ballot aren’t these people party professionals that know Cruz would be worse than Goldwater? I know Trump would cause a riot if the nomination was taken away from him, but if we take it away from both of these jokers won’t that lessen the sting? Kasich, Romney, Ryan – anybody has a better chance against Hillary than these two guys.
How did the later armed seizure of the administration building by black students, with their non-negotiable demands for amnesty and Afro-centric curriculum changes at Cornell, affect your attitudes about racism, white guilt and Western self-abnegation?
It seems like those demands have had a much greater impact on higher education and the culture than little old George Wallace.
& another question, Prof. Rahe: Did you know Allan Bloom at Cornell?
The crucial events took place in April, 1969. I was associate editor of The Cornell Daily Sun at the time and wrote extensively in the paper about developments, and I helped mount a successful campaign to oust the school’s president.. Witnessing those events taught me that I was a conservative. In the aftermath, as I thought through the implications of my dislike of what had happened and my contempt for the faculty members and the administrators who had backed down, I moved right.
I was one of the students in the year-long seminar he taught in 1968-69 on Plato’s Republic. It is described in The Closing of the American Mind.
Ryan is a fine man, but he favors open borders. Kasich is a liberal, and Romney would not be acceptable to the supporters of Trump or Cruz. For what it is worth, in the polls Cruz beats Hillary. I do not think him worse than Goldwater (nor better than Reagan).
“When you step on ordinary folks and they get spitting-mad, you had better watch out.”
No, it isn’t.
Let me be blunt. George Bush murdered the Republican party, after his dad seriously wounded it.
It takes serious political incompetence to start with a 90% approval rating and then lose to the draft-dodging ethically challenged governor of Arkansas- But H. W. Bush met that bar. People read his lips, and voted accordingly.
Later, George Bush managed to preside over the 9/11 attack- but then did the absolute wrong thing about it, by refusing to fix the immigration system and secure the border, but deciding to ramp up domestic spying to such an extent that it has become a festering wound on the body politic today.
Invading Iraq, he made no response to the endless idiotic charge that he lied about WMD, but also astonishingly refused to tell the public that WMD were in fact found in Iraq, which would have rebutted the charge.
Then, when a storm hit New Orleans, he stepped up to accept all blame, letting the local Democrats completely off the hook. We were told family values didn’t stop at the Rio Grande, signaling that he had abandoned the Rule of Law in favor of cheap labor for his wealthy friends. The economy collapsed- this had nothing to do with him. It was Barney Frank and the community reinvestment act that Bush had done nothing about.
The buck stopped with them.
The GOP had not one but two chances to become the majority party of this country, but it wasted both of them. The party was and remains completely unwilling to represent most of the people who vote for it, instead giving us nothing but platitudes and excuses.
With better leadership- if the Bushes hadn’t been failures- maybe it would have been different.
Too late now. Hence, Trump.
Thanks for writing 2 consecutive comments, Xennady, it permitted me to “like” you twice.
The Republican Party has never come to terms with the legacy of George W. Bush and squared itself with the great majority of the American people that saw Bush as a disaster.
In 2008 McCain offered no substantive difference to the stagnation, debt, war, regulation and government of W. He would have been the 3rd Bush term.
In 2012 Romney offered the same policy prescriptions, tax cuts and sabre rattling as W, so people preferred to stick with the alternative.
Then in 2016 came Jeb. Same BS. Nuf sed.
Rubio is refried Bush – is there anything he wants to do that George W. wouldn’t have wanted too, right down to amnesty and more war in the Middle East?
No more Bushism and no more Bushes – and that goes for you too, George P.
But it’s not too late for the GOP to recover. Trump has demonstrated that the Beltway consultants were always wrong and Steve Sailer was always right.
End Immigration Now!
Arguably, the campaigns of Wallace in ’68, Perot in ’92, and now Trump in ’16 could be classified as expressions of what Samuel Francis called Middle American Radicalism. And it is a grave error to dismiss the concerns of such people as “racism,” as leftists regularly do and many on the right have been wont to do this election season.