Ralph Bristol | Guest columnist
Trump asks CPAC crowd in Florida, ‘Miss me yet?’
Former President Trump speaks to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, promises not to start a new political party.
Staff Video, USA TODAY
- Ralph Bristol is a retired conservative broadcaster living in Nashville.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump was involuntarily inducted into the least envied of all former presidents’ clubs.
Trump is one of nine U.S. presidents to seek and fail to get a second term. Twenty-one Presidents won election to a second term. Others didn’t seek a second term for various reasons, including death.
The other eight members of the club are John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.
You can’t judge Trump’s presidency or his potential to continue to lead the GOP solely by his membership in that least envied of all political clubs. For that, you must examine other evidence.
Party splits and economic disasters of Republicans past
Three 20th-century Republican presidents were involuntary inductees. Trump is the first in the 21st Century.
In the 20th century, William Howard Taft was felled by a split in the Republican Party when his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, broke with the GOP and ran on a third-party ticket, paving the way for Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s victory.
Herbert Hoover was seven months into his administration when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. His loss gave us Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to serve more than two terms, who presided over both the Great Depression and World War II.
George H.W. Bush took hits from both a strong third-party candidate, Ross Perot, and the 1992 recession. He also suffered self-inflicted wounds by reneging on a now infamous “read my lips” promise not to raise taxes. Democrat Bill Clinton collected the spoils, which included some of the most irresponsible Oval Office behavior of any U.S. president, but also one of the most robust and sustained market rebounds in history and, coupled with spending restrained by a Republican congress, the last responsible, balanced budget the U.S. will likely ever see.
An upswing squandered
Trump won the presidency at the end of the so-called “Great Recession” after modest growth had returned and the largest deficit in history to that point, $1.4 trillion under President Barack Obama, had dropped to $700 billion, still outrageous but trending in the right direction. The country had practically forgotten the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that dominated the eight years of the George W. Bush administration and still plagued the eight years of the Obama administration. Trump inherited and reined over a period of relative peace and prosperity. His reelection jeopardy was two-fold.
The first was self-imposed. Trump made a lot of domestic enemies in high and low places with the way he conducted political business. He constantly and publicly fought with people almost indiscriminately, in both parties, in business, in the media, in the street, berating and punishing anyone who crossed him and many who didn’t.
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Since he occupied the most powerful office in the world, he could and did command a lot of fear, but not nearly as much respect. That works up to a point, until the privacy of the ballot box unveils a previously undetected vein of opposition.
Trump’s self-imposed problem was joined by the challenge to manage a deadly coronavirus pandemic in a way that would save the most lives without wrecking the economy, a challenge that presented itself nine months before the election. Trump can’t be blamed for COVID-19 or for all of the government decisions that made it worse, but the buck stops with the president, especially in an election year.
The virus and government reaction on all levels to it permanently destroyed millions of businesses and jobs, despite Trump and Congress trying to save them with a federal government spending spree that knows no historic equal, and people continued to die by the thousands every day.
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Will Republicans want Trump again?
For reasons having nothing to do with alleged election fraud, Trump lost the 2020 election by a margin he described as a “landslide” when he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Four months after the election, Republicans are still circling the wagons around Trump. Most House and Senate Republicans voted to protect him from impeachment charges that he incited the Jan. 6 riot and “insurrection” at the Capitol. State Republican parties in Louisiana, North Carolina,, Pennsylvania, Alaska and Nebraska censured their U.S. senators who voted to convict Trump of the impeachment charges. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina insisted after the Senate vote that the path to future Republican victories is “Trump plus.”
The next two election cycles should reveal whether Graham is right – that the newest inductee into the infamous club, who lost the entire government to Democrats, will continue to lead the GOP. Democrats insist they hope Graham is right, as do Independents and third party candidates eager to challenge both parties in the next two election cycles.
More likely, most Republicans are simply stuck in the first stage of grief – denial — but will advance to bargaining by the midterm elections and will be ready for acceptance and eager to put Trump in the rear view mirror well before the next presidential election.
Ralph Bristol is a retired conservative broadcaster living in Nashville.