In the Age of Google and links there isn’t much call to rerun an old article.
But there’s always an exception to the rule, and the week that Donald Trump has been elected to be the 45th President of the United States is surely that moment.
Back there in the mists of time, to be precise on July 14, 2015, I wrote the article below. The headline: “Yes, Trump Can Win.” It began with these two sentences:
The media assures: Donald Trump can’t possibly win.
The GOP Establishment assures: Donald Trump can’t possibly win.
And so they did assure us — then and right up until sometime Tuesday night. When they were both shocked to the core of their souls at the final results.
I first began writing about Donald Trump as a potential president in June of 2013, over three years ago in a piece titled “Never Ignore Donald Trump.” From time to time I followed up, as here in October 2013 with “Donald Trump: America’s Entrepreneur.”
As can be seen in the piece below there were a lot of people who thought the idea of a Trump presidential run was insanity if not inanity. Not mentioned in the 2015 article was this quote on Fox News from the Washington Post conservative columnist George Will, a quote that is memorable indeed. Sitting on a panel for Bret Baier’s show, panelists were asked who they would bet on in the show’s “Candidate Casino” for 2016. Replied Will: “One dollar on Donald Trump in the hope that he will be tempted to run, be predictably shellacked, and we will be spared evermore this quadrennial charade of his.” Doubtless President-elect Trump will savor that one.
The reason to rerun the July, 2015 article is not to gloat. The reason is to remind that underestimating Donald Trump — as once Ronald Reagan was repeatedly underestimated — is a perilous enterprise indeed. As did Reagan, I believed when writing in 2015 that the now President-elect had the ability to attract support from working Americans of both parties. Once upon a time they were called Reagan Democrats, and with the Trump victories in my own Pennsylvania plus Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan they can now be called Trump Democrats. As I did with Reagan, I believed Donald Trump has the ability to be a great president. The quotes cited in the piece — quotes from all manner of estimable Establishment media types not to mention Establishment Republicans also highlight one of the central problems with both — a Ruling Class arrogance. Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan before him, was airily dismissed with a certitude that is now doubtless regretted in both cases.
So. Without further ado, from July of 2015: “Yes, Trump Can Win.”
The media assures: Donald Trump can’t possibly win.
The GOP Establishment assures: Donald Trump can’t possibly win.
After assuring everyone that 1) Trump was never going to run in the first place and 2) once he declared that he would run they insisted he would get nowhere, we now find that these whiz-bangs were wrong on both counts. Trump is in the race and he has surged to the top of the polls, drawing huge crowds. By chance, here in my home Central Pennsylvania county, a race to fill a vacancy in the state legislature in an August 4th election has Republican candidate Greg Rothman knocking on doors in this traditionally Republican district. Rothman tells me he has knocked on 3,100 doors thus far — and while he’s there to talk state issues residents in this area are volunteering to him that they support… Donald Trump.
Yet in spite of the reality of Trump’s candidacy and the support surging for his candidacy — and the startling reality that rank-and-file Republicans are spontaneously telling a Pennsylvania legislative candidate that they like Donald Trump — the Trump critics insist he can’t win.
Hmmm. Where have we heard this kind of thing before? To be specific? Right here when Ronald Reagan ran for president. Let’s start with the media first.
• New York Times: Reagan’s candidacy is “patently ridiculous.”
• New York Times: “The astonishing thing is that this amusing but frivolous Reagan fantasy is taken so seriously by the news media and particularly by the President (Gerald Ford). It makes a lot of news, but it makes no sense.”
• New Republic: “Ronald Reagan to me is still the posturing, essentially mindless and totally unconvincing candy man that he’s been in my opinion ever since I watched his first try for the Republican nomination evaporate in Miami in 1968.”
• New Republic: “Reagan is Goldwater revisited…He is a divisive factor in the party.”
• Harper’s magazine: “That he should be regarded as a serious candidate for President is a shame and an embarrassment for the country at large to swallow.”
• Chicago Daily News: “The trouble with Reagan, of course, is that his positions on the major issues are cunningly phrased nonsense — irrationality conceived and hair-raising in their potential mischief… Here comes Barry Goldwater again, only more so, and at this stage another such debacle could sink the GOP so deep it might never recover.”
• Time: “Republicans now must decide whether he represents a conservative wave of the future or is just another Barry Goldwater calling on the party to mount a hopeless crusade against the twentieth century.”
• Newsweek: Ronald Reagan is “a man whose mind and nerve and mediagenic style have never been tested in Presidential politics and may not be adequate to the trial.”
• National Review (a conservative magazine): “Reagan’s image remains inchoate.… At the outset of his campaign, his image is largely that of the role-playing actor — pleasant on stage, but ill-equipped for the real world beyond the footlights. Reagan does not yet project the presidential image. He is not seen as a serious man.”
• Manchester Union-Leader (a conservative New Hampshire paper): Reagan “lacks the charisma and conviction needed to win.”
• Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Union: Reagan is a “dinosaur from the ‘cold war.’… It is strange that there are still fish in the sea that are tempered by this putrid bait.”
And that’s just a sample from the media. Then there were the views of those stalwarts of the Republican Party Establishment:
• The Ripon Society: “The nomination of Ronald Reagan would McGovernize the Republican Party.”
• Vice President Nelson Rockefeller dismissed Reagan as “a minority of a minority” who “has been taking some extreme positions.”
• New York’s Republican Senator Jacob Javits: Reagan’s positions are “so extreme that they would alter our country’s very economic and social structure and our place in the world to such a degree as to make our country’s place at home and abroad, as we know it, a thing of the past.”
• Illinois Republican Senator Charles Percy said Reagan’s candidacy was “foolhardy” and would lead to a “crushing defeat” for the Republican Party. “It could signal the beginning of the end of our party as an effective force in American political life.”
• Former President Gerald Ford: “I hear more and more often that we don’t want, can’t afford to have a replay of 1964.” If the Republican Party nominates Ronald Reagan “it would be an impossible situation” because Reagan “is perceived as a most conservative Republican. A very conservative Republican can’t win in a national election.” Asked if that meant Ford thought Reagan can’t win, Ford replied to the New York Times: “That’s right.” The Times story went on to observe that Ford thought “Mr. Reagan would be a sure-loser in November” and that Reagan held “extreme and too-simple views.”
Much of this is recorded, it is ironic to note, in volume one of a massive two-volume history titled The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order 1964-1980 by historian Steven F. Hayward. Hayward’s second volume is titled: The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989.
In other words Hayward’s massive two-book history is about the man all those fancy media people of the day, not to mention those Establishment Republicans, named above — and they were far from alone — insisted could never, ever win the presidency. A Reagan presidency was a “fantasy” of a “simple-minded” too “extreme” man who was a “minority of a minority.” If Reagan were ever nominated it would “signal the beginning of the end” of the Republican Party not to mention he was “ill-equipped for the real world beyond the footlights” and was not a “serious man.”
Now? Now every Republican candidate out there kneels at the altar of Ronald Reagan, mumbling his name like a version of a conservative rosary — yet once done with that they move on in the fashion of what Reagan himself disdained as “fraternal order” Republicans.
And now once again a candidate has appeared that is drawing the same reaction that Reagan once drew. That would be, of course, Donald Trump.
Here’s Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal:
The response of GOP candidates to Mr. Trump should be guided by the June 23 Fox News Poll showing that 64% of Republicans, 69% of conservatives and 55% of tea party members consider his candidacy a sideshow. An analyst at the FiveThirtyEight website pointed out that Mr. Trump has the worst favorable/unfavorable ratings of 106 presidential candidates since 1980, worse than even Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Mr. Trump is disliked by 57% of his own party.…
Mr. Trump could become the 2016 version of Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who tarnished the GOP brand in 2012 with an offensive statement about rape. Republican leaders from Mitt Romney on down immediately condemned his words, but swing voters were persuaded that every Republican believed what Mr. Akin said.
Over at NBC Perry Bacon, Jr. asks Can Donald Trump Win? and quickly says no. Writes Bacon:
Donald Trump is almost certainly not going to be the Republican presidential nominee, and his candidacy puts the Republican Party in a quandary over its rules for which candidates to include in debates.
Trump has obvious disadvantages. He has never run for another office or held another government post, as nearly all modern presidents have. The Republican Party has at least a dozen candidates with stronger credentials than Trump.…
He is unlikely to win a single primary.
Over at the Wall Street Journal again ex-Reagan aide Peggy Noonan seemingly unknowingly repeats exactly of Trump the criticism of National Review columnist James J. Kilpatrick on Reagan. Of Reagan Kilpatrick said: “He’s not a serious man.” Of Trump Noonan writes: “Mr. Trump is not a serious man.”
At the Washington Post, Chris Cilizza writes:
There’s a tendency when someone like Donald Trump announces that he is running for president to view — and analyze — him through the same lens that we do for the other men and women actively seeking the presidency. What’s his policy vision? Who’s in his political inner circle? What would a Trump presidency look like?
Asking any of these questions gives Trump a benefit of the doubt that he simply doesn’t deserve: That a path exists for him to be president.
It doesn’t. Not even close.
And like an eerie replay of those above listed attacks by Establishment Republicans on Reagan, like clockwork various Republicans of today are following the footsteps of Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller and the rest.
Compare them this way:
• Here’s Rick Perry on Trump: “Your remarks might make for good reality TV, but they are way out of touch with reality.” Ronald Reagan was assailed as “a minority of a minority” (Rockefeller) who was too “conservative” to win (Ford) and whose views were “foolhardy” (Percy).
• Lindsey Graham insists Donald Trump is a “wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party…” as Charles Percy insisted that Reagan’s nomination would “signal the beginning of the end of our party as an effective force in American political life.”
• Marco Rubio says Trump is “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive.” He is a divisive factor in the party”, echoing the liberal columnist of the New Republic who proclaimed Reagan to be “a divisive factor in the party.”
• Jeb Bush says Trump “doesn’t represent the Republican Party or its values,” and what he says is “extraordinarily ugly” and “wrong.” Which sounds perilously close to the old apparatchiks of the Soviet Union’s party-line Pravda saying of Reagan’s views that they were “putrid bait.”
But there is one Republican presidential candidate who has made it a point not to join the anti-Trump mob. That would be fellow candidate and serious Reagan-admirer Ted Cruz, the Senator from Texas who has had the chops to stand up and say he’s “proud to stand with Donald Trump.”
So. Here we are again.
Is Donald Trump Ronald Reagan? Unless the Almighty has changed His ways and started duplicating human souls, no. All of God’s children are unique etc., etc., etc. Both men were and are uniquely talented with their own set of gifts and flaws.
But while Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan, without doubt the rationale of their respective political opponents in the media and the Establishment wing of the Republican Party is almost literally identical. In some cases right down to a literal word or phrase.
The real question here? Why, exactly, is that?
The answer to that question is, in fact, very simple.
Ronald Reagan was, and Donald Trump is, a threat. A threat to the power of the “Ruling Class” Establishment, of the status quo and most of all to that Establishment’s Old World Order.