Mark Souder: The danger of holding your nose while voting
Friday, June 10, 2016 8:18 AM
FORT WAYNE – In some ways Trump’s campaign is mirroring James Blaine’s famous “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” campaign of 1884. Blaine didn’t actually say the phrase, Dr. Samuel D. Burchard did while addressing the Religious Bureau of the Republican National Committee. The actual quote was: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion. We are loyal to our flag.”
In other words, “Hold your nose, vote for Blaine, and let’s make America great again.”
It is fascinating that a “Religious Bureau” of the RNC even existed in 1884. “Rum” of course was part of the battle over prohibition, particularly about the immigrants from Germany and the Irish who drank too much. It was a “code word” with multiple signals.
“Romanism” was the hot-button word for the waves of Catholic immigrants. The immigrants were less educated, poorer, took their jobs at much lower wages, and wouldn’t speak English.
Grover Cleveland, the Democrat nominee of 1884, was the favorite of the gold-standard establishment Democrats. The populist Democrats, even Tammany Hall in New York City, felt that he was only acceptable because he was “not Blaine.” When the results were tallied there were more “Mugwumps” – Republicans who defected from Blaine – than Democrats who defected, so Grover Cleveland won the first of his terms.
The year 1884 is not a perfect mirror of 2016 by any means. That is not my point. It does illustrate why it is silly that commentators write about each election as if it was unique. The orators of the political parties always forecast “gloom and doom” for America if the other side wins.
Post-1964 after Barry Goldwater lost, a favorite expression of disgruntled Goldwaterites was this: “They told us if we voted for Goldwater, America would go to war. They were right. I voted for Goldwater and America went to war.”
When Andrew Jackson tore apart the financial system that Alexander Hamilton had so carefully crafted and brought “populism” to the White House (not to mention killing blacks, Native Americans and people who challenged his wife’s purity), he did decades of damage but, at least after a Civil War, America survived. Hopefully we’ll never have to repeat the “after a Civil War” qualifier.
America survived not only eight years of a Clinton, but also eight years of President Obama. Had there not been eight years of Bush in between, I think we’d be in a lot worse shape, but the point is that we have lots of checks and balances in this nation. Fewer than we used to have, and the government centralization marches on, but it is still hard for a president to single-handedly wreck this country.
While I think Hillary Clinton will likely be an awful resident who won’t get my support, I will not hold my nose and vote for Trump. He possibly could be better than she from a conservative perspective on some points, but also worse on others. While she is not exactly an example of a life to be emulated, his is nearly perfectly imperfect.
But Trump’s racially charged comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing the case about Trump’s fake college, illustrate how he threatens not just differences but the very underpinnings of our system of government. In other words, while this country will likely survive any president, Trump represents a threat far beyond what we faced even under Jackson or Obama.
When he said that a Hispanic judge could not give him a fair trial, what did he mean? He obviously didn’t like the preliminary rulings, but no one with a lousy legal case likes rulings that go against them. But Trump’s statement is a profound challenge to our entire legal system. Trump didn’t say that he disagreed with the judge’s current or past rulings, he said the rulings were race-based bias against Trump himself.
What he effectively said was this: If you are a Hispanic in America, and you don’t like the rulings in a case in which the judge is white, you can complain about being treated with discrimination. After all, the judge’s rulings illustrate his racial bias. This presumably is also true of white judges ruling on African-American cases and male judges ruling on cases involving females. After all, rulings that go against you prove de facto bias, according to Trump.
The Republicans, who earlier so quickly and appallingly united around this man, now don’t even have much leverage. They can just fume. The battle is for the Bernie vote. Can Hillary corral more of them than Trump?
Will Trump be able to outdo her in blaming Washington, including the Republicans who control the House and Senate? Will he attack the business interests more effectively than she can, appealing to the socialist views of the Bernie voters?
Will it work for Trump to remind Sanders voters that he, Trump, agreed with Sanders in opposing ObamaCare because it wasn’t centralized into a single-payer system, reminding them that Hillary favored a health care system that favored a compromise which included the drug and insurance private sector options?
Will it work for Trump to remind Sanders voters that he, Trump, agreed more with Sanders about the “Bush wars” than Hillary did, who supported going after the terrorists?
Will it work for Trump to remind Sanders voters that he, Trump, has made recent statements far more friendly to the Palestinian cause than Hillary ever has?
At the end of the day, I believe Hillary Clinton will win because the Sanders voters just won’t be able to stomach Trump’s racial and sexist views even if he is more like Sanders on policy. But with one-third of the Sanders voters saying they won’t for Clinton, and generally considering Trump an outsider who views Washington more like they do, it may at least keep Trump theoretically close for now.
As for my fellow Republicans still with Trump, if you hold your nose too long you might die of asphyxiation. He is endangering far more than just the presidential campaign.
Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.