Jack Kemp was his usual forthright self.
Out there on the campaign trail for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, Kemp — the godfather of Reaganomics and the man widely considered by conservatives to be Reagan’s ideological heir — had no hesitation going after the rival who was the personification of the GOP Establishment, the man Ronald Reagan had selected as his 1980 vice-presidential running mate in a bid to unify the party: George Herbert Walker Bush.
Kemp had minced no words, saying that a Bush election would mean “the end of the Reagan agenda.” Alas for Jack Kemp, Bush’s prominence as Reagan’s vice president gave Republican voters the opposite impression. Jack Kemp lost.
As recorded in Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America,
The wonderful biography of Kemp by Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes, the authors record that Kemp dropped out of the race on March 9, 1988. The authors then note:
On March 28, he endorsed Bush at a joint news conference in Milwaukee and toured with him for three days before the April 5 Wisconsin primary. He said the only thing about the future they’d discussed was that he would have “a strong voice in the Bush campaign in the fall.”
Thus, a mere 19 days from his withdrawal, there was Jack Kemp literally at Bush’s side, giving his rival a strong endorsement and barnstorming Wisconsin with the soon-to-be GOP nominee.
It is now 13 days since Donald Trump clinched his status as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Which is to say, Speaker Ryan, the man with a Ryan agenda who styles himself as Jack Kemp’s disciple, has another six days to match Kemp’s record of endorsing a man with whom Kemp vigorously disagreed. So vigorously, in fact, that Kemp was well on record as saying Bush’s election would mean “the end of the Reagan agenda.”
The clock ticks if Ryan is to match his mentor’s example of leadership. The longer he waits, the longer he projects — however unintentionally — an image of indecision or worse a picture of elitism, of an eager willingness to ignore the voters who have given the GOP its House and Senate majorities. The latter exactly the image of the Washington GOP Establishment that drove voters to Donald Trump in the first place.
On Trump’s side of this? Here’s some presidential wisdom:
The people can never understand why the President does not use his powers to make them behave. Well all the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
Thus wrote President Harry Truman in a 1947 letter to his sister in Missouri.
Donald Trump? Meet Harry Truman.
Yesterday, following the much-ballyhooed meeting between the Republican Speaker of the House and the man the voters of the Republican Party have overwhelmingly selected as their nominee, a statement was issued. Vaguely reminiscent of those old Cold War communiqués after a summit between the president of the moment and some doddering Soviet tyrant, it went like this:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 12, 2016
A joint statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan and Donald J. Trump
The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall. With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground. We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal. We are extremely proud of the fact that many millions of new voters have entered the primary system, far more than ever before in the Republican Party’s history. This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification.
Well done. But as Sean Hannity said back at CPAC in March of 2015, at the end of the process there will be only one winner. Hannity asked his CPAC audience, if, at the end of the day, they would support the nominee regardless of who it was. “Everybody stood,” he remarked on his radio show Thursday. Hannity, true to his word, has now endorsed Donald Trump.
Hannity made a promise — in fact I made the same promise as the campaign was underway. So? So now it’s time. And one would hope that the members of Speaker Ryan’s House GOP Caucus get the message.
Watching the breathless coverage of the Trump-Ryan summit — the plane has landed! Trump’s motorcade has left the airport! There are protesters! The Speaker is here! Here comes the motorcade! THERE HE IS!!!! — one has to ask: Why was this summit necessary? Jack Kemp never did anything remotely like this to George H.W. Bush — and Kemp accused Bush directly of being willing to “end the Reagan agenda.” An agenda, it should be reminded, that was at the very heart of Jack Kemp’s political heart and soul.
Yes indeed, it is the job of the presidential nominee to unify his party. In 1980 newly minted GOP nominee Ronald Reagan rented a home in the Virginia countryside outside Washington where he would host meetings with various members of the defeated GOP Establishment of the day, among others. But Reagan — or any presidential nominee — isn’t the only one with the job of unifying the party. What Trump was doing in that meeting with Ryan is what that Truman quote makes clear is the job of a nominee and if elected the job of a president: “… flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”
The point here? It’s over. The nomination battle is over. The choice is now crystal clear: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Period. In an earlier time, Ryan’s mentor Jack Kemp got the message directly. Eventually it would be Bush versus left-wing Democrat Michael Dukakis. Kemp stood up and did the right thing. So? So it’s time, Mr. Speaker. It’s time. Get on board. You are Speaker of the House. A leader of the Republican Party. So… lead!
This public hemming and hawing is not helpful, even if it isn’t fatal. In fact, in the current atmosphere Ryan’s decidedly un-Kemp-like persona here, as with the sulking of the Bushes and Mitt Romney, may in fact actually help Trump. It is, after all, precisely the kind of conduct that Ryan is exhibiting that made Trump the nominee in the first place. Recall this type of story that appeared in September of last year, this excerpt from a Fox story on the mood of GOP voters:
Most Republicans feel betrayed by their party — and show their displeasure by supporting outsiders over establishment candidates in the GOP presidential race.
…The appeal of outsiders comes from significant dissatisfaction with the party establishment: 62 percent of Republican primary voters feel “betrayed” by politicians in their party, and another 66 percent say the recent Republican majorities in Washington have failed to do all they could to block or reverse President Obama’s agenda. For comparison, 40 percent of Democratic primary voters feel betrayed by their party.
That was a poll. Now we have had elections. A string of them from Iowa and New Hampshire across and around the country and back to Indiana. That Fox poll from September — and there were others — was spot on. And the way the voters of the Republican Party dealt with the issue was to resoundingly nominate Donald Trump.
By all accounts Speaker Ryan and Donald Trump had a good meeting yesterday. Ryan is discovering now what those of us who know Donald Trump have long known: he is a very smart, highly capable and very charming man. And yes, he is conservative on the key issues — the Court, the Constitution, taxes, the economy, national security, energy and more. All those media hot flashes to the contrary, in Reagan’s old formulation that “My 80-percent friend is not my 20-percent enemy”? Donald Trump is decidedly — at a minimum — an 80 percent friend both to Paul Ryan and the conservative agenda, not to mention the legacies of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp.
Mr. Speaker? You loved Jack Kemp. Me too. He was a fabulous example.
Here’s hoping you follow that example — and endorse Donald Trump.
Photo: Ray Granberg, Flickr-Creative Commons