The Reagan Revolution.
And now… the Trump Revolution?
Although he doesn’t put it that way, Ron Fournier is concerned.
So, incredibly, is New York GOP chairman Ed Cox.
But we will begin with Ron Fournier.
In this article over at his National Journal perch, longtime liberal journalist Fournier asks with trepidation:
President Trump? Stranger Things Might Happen
Political, social forces make the 2016 presidential race unpredictably interesting.
After spending his column recalling how far off the radar Barack Obama was in the lead-up to the 2008 election, when everyone who was anyone just knew Hillary had the nomination wrapped up for the Democrats and that Rudy Giuliani was in the lead for the GOP, Fournier shivers:
We're far more likely to see a presidential candidate emerge from outside the traditional political community. A provocative thought: In our celebrity-infused culture, why couldn't the next game-changing insurgent candidate—if not president—emerge from the world of sports or entertainment? Certainly, the path from a corporate suite to the Oval Office is less cluttered than usual.
President Trump? No way. The American public is too smart to let that happen. But stranger things might.
Mr. Fournier is on to something, but he doesn’t quite go far enough in explaining a historical circumstance that in fact has made a regular appearance in presidential elections throughout American history. A circumstance that bodes well for Donald Trump on both the national and New York scene. In the latter case where there is a growing NY GOP clamor for Trump to run for Governor of New York.
And the Fournier bit about how “the American public is too smart to let that (meaning the election of Donald Trump) happen”? Hello? The American public elected Barack Obama twice. How “smart” was that?
Let’s begin with the possibility of what we will call the “Trump Revolution.” A lineal descendant, if you will, of the Reagan Revolution.
What was the Reagan Revolution all about? And why is Donald Trump scaring people like Ron Fournier?
Over here at the Gilder/Lehrman Institute of American History, founded by Reagan and Jack Kemp’s old friend Lew Lehrman and Richard Gilder in 1994, is the following succinct summation of the Reagan Revolution:
The Reagan Revolution of the 1980s sought to change Americans’ attitudes toward their country, their government, and the world, as the United States emerged from the 1970s. Ronald Reagan entered the White House in January 1981 promising to restore Americans’ faith in their nation and themselves, to shrink “Big Government,” and to defend America more aggressively, especially against the Soviet Union. During his two terms in office, President Reagan continued his decades-long battle against Great Society liberalism, the activities and ideas of the 1960s’ student rebels and 1970s’ defeatists, and the spread of Communism. Reagan’s American restoration delivered patriotism, prosperity, and peace. American pride revived as the economy soared and the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe collapsed. “All in all,” Reagan said in his 1989 farewell address, “not bad, not bad at all.”
… A ninety-six-month-long economic boom began, and ultimately yielded 20 million new jobs. Inflation dropped from double-digit levels under Carter to 8.9 percent in 1981, then to 4 percent in 1984. With American pride returning too, Reagan blessed the prosperity as “Morning in America.”
… [A]s the economic boom continued, pride in America surged, and the Cold War ended. Initially, Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II were ridiculed for believing Soviet Communism was beatable. By 1985, when the young reformer Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the Soviet Union, Soviet weakness became more obvious.
In June 1987, when visiting West Berlin and standing at the Berlin Wall, which the Soviets had erected to prevent East Germans from fleeing to the free West, Reagan demanded: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” This dramatic moment helped Reagan claim that his approach beat Communism as the Berlin Wall fell, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe came to an end, and, by 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared.
Ronald Reagan called his presidency “the great rediscovery” — “a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”
There was more to it, of course. And there were certainly tough moments, which are also recorded at the Gilder/Lehrman site, the article written by Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal. And as Professor Troy points out, the opposition from liberals was fierce, relentless. Reagan was pilloried as a cold and callous president who favored the rich over the poor and all the rest.
But the hard fact remains that the Reagan Revolution brought about a sharp reversal of class warfare that Jimmy Carter and his fellow liberals had visited upon the country in just a mere four years. Millions upon millions of good jobs at good wages were created as economic growth surged and Americans rediscovered American values.
As the news of last week’s appalling jobs report sinks in — news that a mere 74,000 jobs had been created in December — the ghost of the disastrous Carter era rises again. Combined with the vanishing American presence in the world, the rise of China, the resurgence of al Qaeda, the essential realities that gave birth to the Reagan Revolution are once again apparent.
What does this have to do with Donald Trump?
While Mr. Fournier didn’t explore his idea in depth, he was more correct than he let on when he referred to the idea of a “game-changing insurgent candidate” like… Donald Trump.
In fact, with startling regularity, after Americans have set the course by electing a candidate devoted to taking the country in Direction A, they frequently follow-up by electing a “game-changing insurgent candidate” sworn to take the country in Direction Z. Examples?
Replacing Federalist John Quincy Adams with Democrat and populist Andrew Jackson.
Replacing longtime pol and career government official James Buchanan, said to be a “Northerner with Southern sympathies,” with ex-one term Republican congressman and slavery opponent Abraham Lincoln.
Replacing the stodgy, lawyerly and conservative William Howard Taft with the progressive academic Woodrow Wilson.
Replacing Wilson with conservative one-time newspaper editor Senator Warren Harding.
Replacing Herbert Hoover with FDR.
Replacing the aging general Ike with the youthful PT-boat skipper JFK.
Trading in the Kennedy-Johnson era for Nixon and Agnew.
Infuriated by the Watergate scandal, trading the Nixon-Ford era for the pious “I’ll never lie to you” liberal peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.
Who was traded for the conservative Reagan.
And, most recently, done with the Bush era, the nation raced towards the left-wing Alinskyite Barack Obama.
What all of these changes have in common is one thing. Americans massively unhappy with the incumbent and his party repeatedly, deliberately and willfully move in the opposite direction, looking actively for someone who is Not The Incumbent. They are looking to throw out not only the guy they once liked they want his policies stripped naked and stomped on in the public square. Never to be seen or heard from again… until they get tired of the next guy some four or eight or twelve years down the road.
Eventually, history takes over and only then, generally long after the fact, is the final verdict given on all of these winners and losers. The idea of electing the anti-Nixon — Jimmy Carter — in 1976 sent a thrill through the liberals of the day. Today, it is the anti-Carter — Ronald Reagan — who gets the nod as a great president, with Carter now permanently accorded the status of one of the nation’s weakest and worst chief executives.
So let’s return to Ron Fournier’s last sentence: “President Trump? No way. The American public is too smart to let that happen. But stranger things might.”
With all due respect to Mr. Fournier, it is entirely possible that the American public is in fact smarter than Washington insiders — and that Donald Trump is exactly the kind of person they would seriously consider for the presidency. Or, as is under active discussion,
Governor of New York.
Not to be forgotten is that the now legendary “Reagan Revolution” was led by a 68-year old ex-movie actor-turned-television star-turned — GE spokesman-turned -governor who was dismissed repeatedly by his own party as too extreme not to mention not bright enough to be elected president in the first place. He was, in fact, exactly a match for Fournier’s thought that
In our celebrity-infused culture, why couldn't the next game-changing insurgent candidate—if not president—emerge from the world of sports or entertainment? Certainly, the path from a corporate suite to the Oval Office is less cluttered than usual.
Donald Trump — the business genius-turned-television-star — fits the Fournier description exactly, as Reagan himself once did.
What attracted millions of Americans to Ronald Reagan and the Reagan Revolution was the realization that the country (and California before that when Reagan first ran for governor) had gotten wildly — and sadly — off track.
Reagan, who had toured the country for years making his conservative points, had the opportunity to take them to the nation as a whole the night of October 27, 1964 (video link here) when he delivered what is known to history as his “Time for Choosing” speech. In Trump’s case, there are not only speeches but books out there with his view of what a Trump Revolution would look like.
Specifically that would include the 2011 Trump book Time To Get Tough: Making America #1 Again.
The book is nothing if not a sharp contrast to the Age of Obama, Trump’s stark language reminiscent of that used by Reagan to launch the Reagan Revolution. Running the policy gamut from energy to China to taxes, Big Government, national security and welfare, Obamacare, immigration and the idea of America itself, like Reagan in his day at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, Trump pulls no punches. Writes Trump:
The damage that Democrats, weak Republicans, and this disaster of a president have inflicted on America has put us in a mess like we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes. To fix the problem we’ve got to be smart and get tough. There’s no time to waste.
All of this, of course, applies not just to America as a whole but specifically to the disaster that is the State of New York.
Which brings us to the curious role of Ed Cox.
The other week Donald Trump was much in the news as considering a run for Governor of New York. In fact, a veritable army of New York Republican officials have come to Trump Tower to discuss a Trump for Governor race.
A Trump for Governor race has everything going for it. The Obama administration is highly unpopular as it enters year six — six-year elections historically bad to very bad for the party of a 6-year-in presidential administration. New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed not only to ignite the electorate with his performance, he is the third Democrat in a row to hold the job since the disastrous advent of Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer was famously forced to resign in a prostitution scandal while Spitzer’s successor, David Patterson, turned in a performance that was so bad Cuomo was able to edge Patterson aside without a fight.
After twelve years of Democrats in the governor’s chair the state is, predictably, in miserable shape. Indeed, on the very day an enthusiastic group of New York Republicans were talking with Trump about running for governor, no less than New York’s longtime Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer was on the airwaves in New York bemoaning the latest jobs report and how bad it was for New York. Schumer did not mention, of course, that the jobs report was the direct handiwork of the Obama administration’s policies. Instead, he skirted the issue by demanding an extension of unemployment benefits.
And then there’s this, as headlined over at the Huffington Post:
New York Soon to Trail Florida in Population
The HuffPo began with this quote from the New York Times:
New York, whose status as the most populous state has long been ceded, will soon fall behind Florida into fourth place, a long-anticipated drop that is rife with symbolism and that could carry potentially serious economic consequences in coming years.
So after twelve years of Spitzer/Patterson/Cuomo, with Albany a fever swamp of corruption (one state senator after another, all of them Democrats, have been sent to the slammer, as noted here by, of all places, NPR) people and jobs are fleeing the state in droves.
The state is ripe for a Trump Revolution. A Governor Trump would turn Albany inside-out-and upside down in a reform fashion not seen since Teddy Roosevelt was governor.
Yet amazingly, who stands in the way of an uber-financed candidate with instant name recognition and a tower full of sound conservative policy ideas?
That would be New York State GOP Chair Ed Cox.
Cox, you see, is supporting Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (who?), apparently a very nice man who has no deep pockets, no serious name ID, and who would be steamrollered by Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo already sits atop a $30 million campaign fund Astorino has no way of matching.
Says Cox: “If he (Trump) is serious about running, it is important he go through our process.”
Well, isn’t this curious.
Here is the state chairman of the party, who should be neutral in this kind of situation, blatantly taking sides. With the weakest candidate at that. And demanding respect for “process.”
Indeed, Mr. Cox himself recently illustrated the weakness in his own position by issuing a letter to New York Republicans in which he huffed and puffed that they shouldn’t endorse… Andrew Cuomo! The letter in itself is nothing if not an admission of the weakness of the party chairman — and by extension the candidate, Astorino, that the chairman has to endorse. If a state party chair has to plead with Republicans not to back his own candidate’s Democratic opponent, what does that say about the state chairman? Indeed, the Daily News reported that former GOP state executive director Brandon Quinn labeled the letter “insane.”
What particularly interests is that Mr. Cox is famously the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon. Which brings to mind Mr. Nixon’s successful quest for the GOP presidential nomination in 1968. Back in the day, journalist Jules Witcover wrote a book titled The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, a blow-by-blow account of Nixon’s triumphal election to the presidency in 1968 after his narrow loss to JFK in 1960 and a humiliating defeat for Governor of California in 1962. The two defeats were thought to have finished Nixon politically but, as Witcover detailed, not so.
There is one very interesting item in Witcover’s book on Nixon’s triumph that is particularly relevant as Cox, Nixon’s son-in-law, demands of Trump that Trump follow “process.”
As Nixon campaigned for the GOP nomination against first, Michigan Governor George Romney, and, when Romney dropped out, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the demand rose for “process” in the 1968 GOP race. Specifically, the call went up for Nixon to debate his GOP opponents. And… Nixon refused. Why? Wrote Witcover:
Nixon said during the primaries, in dodging debates with Romney and then Rockefeller, that he thought Republicans should debate Democrats, not other Republicans.
Which is to say, Richard Nixon believed in party unity. Precisely the argument Donald Trump is making as he says he wants a unified New York party. Trump understands exactly that it would be a waste of time and money to fight a primary — which he would surely win — against Astorino. As with Nixon in 1968, the need is for unity.
Alas, apparently, what was OK for Ed Cox’s father-in-law and the national GOP is not OK for Donald Trump and the New York Republican Party.
This is known in the trade as a double-standard, and Cox’s defiance of the grassroots leadership of the New York GOP is causing quite the stir. No one is disputing that Mr. Astorino isn’t a nice guy, a bright guy and all the rest. But he is simply unelectable against the Cuomo machine. Thus causing Cox’s judgment to be called into serious question.
Which in turn feeds into a central question. Why is Ed Cox deliberately backing a candidate that so many GOP leaders see as a sure loser to Cuomo? Is it because this is the New York version of the struggle within the national GOP? In which Establishment Republicans are battling Reagan conservatives?
As the New York Times has reminded, Cox began his career working for the left-leaning Ralph Nader. In recent years he served as John McCain’s state chairman, and, notably under the circumstances, served as well on now-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s transition team after Cuomo’s election as state attorney general. Wrote the Times of Cox:
Mr. Cox has never been a fire-breathing partisan and even served on Mr. Cuomo’s transition team in 2006. For decades, he has been a successful corporate lawyer, but he started out as one of the original Nader’s Raiders—the band of idealistic young lawyers marshaled by Ralph Nader to take on corporate and government abuses.
This is another way of saying that Ed Cox was no Reagan Revolutionary, much less would he be a Trump Revolutionary. From Ralph Nader to Andrew Cuomo’s transition team to the McCain campaign is the picture of the Establishment Liberal Republican.
So will Mr. Cox shoot his own party in the foot before the campaign begins?
The other day Carl Paladino, the New York GOP’s 2010 nominee against Cuomo, let loose a blistering attack against Cox in letter form, found here.
The letter is in fact the New York version of the Reagan-RINO struggle nationally, replete with charges that Cox is using his chairmanship to deliberately attack New York’s Reagan conservatives by running a “secret Republican In Name Only (RINO) effort to block Donald Trump from running for Governor.” Cox was said to be “insulting, antagonistic and uncharacteristically rude” to those who had attended a meeting with Trump.
What’s to say here?
What’s to say is that Ed Cox apparently lacks not only Ronald Reagan’s conservatism but Richard Nixon’s skills at party building as well.
So let’s close where we began.
Whatever else the Obama era has wrought, among its legacies is a growing sense of revolt against the status quo (Obama quo?). As history instructs, this is a frequent factor in American presidential politics.
It is, in fact, what helped fuel the Reagan Revolution.
What the National Journal’s Ron Fournier correctly if reluctantly sees on the horizon is the looming forces of America’s next political revolution.
And yes, that revolution, in the style of the Reagan Revolution, just may be called the Trump Revolution.
Donald Trump may run for Governor of New York. Or he may skip the race and move directly to the presidential race. In either case, one can be sure that Trump, like Reagan will be out there for more than this or that race for this or that office. What Donald Trump is doing is leading a revolution.
And make no mistake. At a time when people are losing jobs, can’t get jobs, or are losing their health care — attention is being paid to Donald Trump. Invitations from non-New York places like New Hampshire, West Virginia, South Carolina, and out there in Sarah Palin’s Alaska are piling up in Trump Tower. Just as the same kind of letters once piled up in the office of a retired California governor.
Will the Reagan Revolution become the Trump Revolution?