Nearly ALL Republican Presidents Would Be Unacceptable to Today’s Republican Party
The Republican Party used to be the more liberal, pragmatic, and reformist of America’s political parties. It was created in the 1850s (the decade before the Civil War) out of the remains of the Whig Party, the Liberty Party (single-issue anti-slavery focus), the Free Soil Party (anti-slavery and supporter of free land for small farmers), and anti-slavery Northerners leaving the Democratic Party. During the Civil War (and even more in the aftermath of that war) a conservative element was introduced into the Republican Party in that it became associated with big business–but this conservative element was fought by other, more reformist, Republicans. Big business/anti-union interests did not dominate the Republican Party (especially its presidential candidates) until the Great Depression in reaction to the New Deal of the 1930s. The New Deal was the beginning of reform among Democrats, and the first time that significant numbers of African-Americans voted Democratic (at least in the North). But the New Deal coalition for Democrats was a strange mix of Northern liberals, blue collar labor folks whom the New Deal kept from “going Socialist” (in the late 19th C. and the pre-Cold War 20th C., Socialist Parties were popular in the U.S.), and Southern segregationists who kept the New Deal Democrats from doing much on Civil Rights. In the 1960s, the Democrats repudiated their Dixiecrat, segregationist wing. Beginning with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” the Republicans embraced racists and the reversal of the two parties was complete–but until recently there was still plenty of middle ground: conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans. The disappearance of this middle ground (especially among Republicans–conservative Democrats are still around) has led to Independents becoming the largest class of voters (40%) while the percentage of voters identifying with the Democratic Party (33%) and the Republican Party (27%) is rapidly dwindling. With the likes of Grover Norquist and his “no tax” pledge, the Conservative Political Action Committee, the Chambers of Commerce, and the Religious Right, the GOP’s presidential nominating process is now a long “purity test,” which almost every Republican president before this (including Ronald Reagan, who is now mythologized and nearly worshipped) would have failed miserably. Below is a case-by-case list of disqualifying factors:
- Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president of any party (FDR comes in a close 2nd, in my view) would clearly never be nominated by today’s Republicans: He believed that the federal government trumped “states rights” in many areas and did not believe in the theory of “popular sovereignty” which Southerners used to justify slavery (and, later, segregation) or for nullifying federal laws. Lincoln supported organized labor in terms that sound like quotes from Karl Marx. He thought monopolies were dangerous and that corporate interests in politics were corrupting. He believed in free immigration, too. Can you imagine Lincoln getting anywhere in today’s Republican primaries? [Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s 2nd VP who inherited the presidency after his assassination, was a Democrat from TN who didn’t believe in secession. He was elected with Lincoln on a unity ticket, so I’ll omit him from consideration.]
- Ulysses. S. Grant: Opposed “wars of extermination” (his words) against Native Americans and insisted on honoring treaties with them. Greatly increased federal enforcement of Reconstruction in order to protect the rights of black citizens, especially in the South. The newly readmitted Southern states protested African Americans owning property and voting, so Grant increased the use of federal troops to enforce this in the South. No “states rights” crap out of him. CPAC and the Tea Party “patriots” would have derided this man who won the Civil War as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and a traitor.
- Rutherford B. Hayes: The Hayes-Tilden compromise shows why we should have abolished the electoral college by Constitutional Amendment long before Bush v. Gore. An electoral college tie threw the election into the House of Representatives. In order to get enough votes to seat Hayes, who won the popular vote, federal troops had to be removed from the South and a blind eye turned to Southern efforts to undo Reconstruction and impose segregation. But Hayes himself would not have been acceptable to today’s GOP: He vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1879–designed to end Chinese immigration into the American West and “keep America for Americans”–which did not mean Indians. He also tried to redress wrongs done to Native Americans–which today’s Republicans would surely have called “bribery” and a shameful “apology tour.”
- James Garfield: Assassinated after 200 days in office, so we can tell little about what kind of president Garfield would have become. But we do know that Garfield was worried that the erosion of the rights of African-Americans, especially in the South, would create a permanent underclass. As a partial solution, he proposed a system of universal education–regardless of race–that would be funded by the federal government, which would also ensure uniform educational standards. He was killed before ever bringing this bill before Congress, but it clearly would have kept him from being nominated by today’s GOP. With today’s Republicans wanting to abolish the Department of Education (and some wanting to end public education altogether), I can’t see them nominating Garfield for president.
- Chester A. Arthur: Prior to the 16th Amendment’s authorization of income taxes, the 2 major sources of federal revenue were tariffs on imported goods (often quite high, which led most people to buy American goods, but also led to equally high tariffs on American exports which reduced international trade) and excise taxes or “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. During the Civil War, emergency taxes had been levied to support the war and these were not quickly repealed. Thus, by the time of Garfield’s assassination, the govt. had a surplus of $145 million (which would be trillions in today’s inflated currency). Arthur opposed lowering tariffs (which he believed would hurt U. S. manufacturing), so he cut excise taxes and used the surplus for a series of internal federal improvements. He vetoed a bill that would have suspended Chinese immigration for 20 years. Oh, and to all those folk who said Pres. Obama should not have called out the Supreme Court for their horrible Citizens United decision in his State of the Union address in 2010, Pres. Arthur rebuked the Supreme Court in his 1883 State of the Union for striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Clearly, Arthur, would not be nominated by today’s GOP.
- Benjamin Harrison: Would be hated by today’s Republicans. He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which is still the basis of most anti-trust law in the U.S.–used for breaking up monopolies. He also signed the McKinley Act which raised tariffs on imported goods to 50% in order to protect American manufacturing jobs and wages. He campaigned for, but was unsuccessful in getting, full federal funding of universal education and protection of the voting rights of African Americans.
- William McKinley: 3rd of the 4 American presidents (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat–all liberals) to be assassinated, although there were attempts on many more (including FDR, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama–though, so far, thank God, the Secret Service has intercepted the attacks on the current president well in advance). McKinley was the author of the McKinley Act which raised tariffs. On many other issues, he might have been acceptable to today’s GOP, since he was very business-friendly. Except for one thing: McKinley was a staunch supporter of civil rights for African-Americans. He did not try to reverse Jim Crow laws in the Southern States (adhering to “states rights” federalism), but he used the office of the presidency (which Theodore Roosevelt would later call the “bully pulpit) to speak out against Jim Crow segregation laws constantly. And he appointed more African Americans to federal positions than any president before him–including to federal judgeships in the South. During the Spanish-American War (which today’s GOP would have loved because of its imperialist nature), McKinley struck down a U.S. Army rule against recruiting black people and insisted they serve at all levels. It’s barely possible that McKinley could have been nominated by today’s GOP (by keeping his more progressive views secret until after election), but once in office, today’s GOP would have deserted him as fast as they did George H. W. Bush (see below) so that he became a one-term president.
- Theodore Roosevelt: Although I hate his big game hunting (almost to extinction in many cases) and his imperialism in South America and Central America, there are many things about TR which I love. He took on the monopolies and waged a constant war against the undue political and economic power of large corporations which harmed both citizens and small businesses. TR created the U.S. Park System as the first step in adopting an environmental policy. He introduced, passed, and signed the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act (Horrors! Federal regulation! Socialism!). He formed a commission to investigate the claims of the United Mine Workers–and the results of that commission led to higher wages and shorter working hours. He helped negotiate peace between Russian and Japan (for which this man who loved war and military service won the Nobel Peace Prize). And, in 1911, he first proposed a system of universal healthcare for this nation. Sure, I hate his “gunboat diplomacy,” and his support for eugenics. But TR was the most liberal Republican president between Lincoln and Eisenhower and there’s a reason that NO Republican candidate today invokes his memory.
- William Howard Taft: Taft was a much more conservative GOP President–and even more conservative as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a job he enjoyed far more. Business interests of his day loved Taft over TR. But Taft could not have been nominated by today’s Republicans for 2 reasons: 1) He initiated income taxes for corporations, with the initial rate being 1% of all profits over $5000. 2) Taft strongly supported the 16th Amendment which initiated personal income taxes, initially imposed ONLY on the very rich. (BTW, Republicans dominated both houses of Congress when the 16th Amendment came up and it passed in the House 318 Aye to 14 Nay and passed unanimously in the Senate. It was easily ratified by the states, too. Republicans had not yet become the “anti-tax party.” In those days, the rich feared budget deficits far more than they feared paying taxes.) Also, Taft believed in free immigration and open borders. Imagine what the anti-immigration forces of today’s GOP would do to a Taft presidential campaign! And Grover Norquist would have made him a target for his tax policies alone!
- Warren G. Harding: First of the “conservative” Republican presidents. But he still released Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs from prison and granted general amnesty to 23 alleged socialists and communists who were arrested during the Red Scare of 1919-1920. He also signed the Shepherd-Towney Maternity Act which funded health centers for pregnant women and children throughout the nation and mandated that doctors give pregnant women pre-natal care (which Rick Santorum now thinks is an excuse for abortion!) and preventive care for children. This act is often considered a trailblazer for New Deal programs enacted under FDR.
- Calvin Coolidge: Silent Cal may have been the first “supply side” Republican president. He worked to deregulate much and big business loved him. But he was an “accidental president” who became president only when Warren Harding died unexpectedly. Could Silent Cal have been NOMINATED by today’s GOP? I doubt it because the laissez faire approach to business that Coolidge took as president was NOT reflected in his approach as Gov. of Mass. where he opposed child labor (Newt Gingrich would have ridiculed him in GOP debates), supported wage and hour laws, favored safety measures in factories, and even supported worker representation on corporate boards! And his views on civil rights would have completely disqualified him.
- Herbert Hoover: Was a good man who was just completely out of his depth when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. Yes, Republicans have a Hoover Institute at Stanford (where Condi Rice teaches), and, yes, after the New Deal, conservatives looked to Hoover as a model. But he was NOT a laissez faire capitalist and could not have been nominated by today’s GOP for several reasons: 1) He was a Quaker with a strong belief in religious liberty and church/state separation and a strong opposition to war. He affirmed rather than swore the oath of office since Quakers do not swear oaths and would not place his hand on the Bible at the inauguration because he believed the Bible should be read and not used as a talisman or good luck charm. Hoover, a self-made millionaire, spent much of the post-WWI years organizing famine relief for post-War Europe. 2)Not an isolationist, Hoover believed the U.S. should join the League of Nations, but his views got nowhere. 3) He denounced laissez-faire capitalism, believing that many large enterprises for the public good should be accomplished by public-private partnerships. 4) Although Hoover made his fortune in Western mining ventures, he canceled private oil leases on public lands. 5) He instructed the Justice Department to vigorously pursue tax evaders–thereby leading to the break up of many organized crime gangs. 6) He oversaw a public commission to set aside 5 million acres of federal land to remain pristine rather than “developed” privately. 7) In direct opposition to today’s Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, Hoover pushed for lower taxes on low-income Americans and higher taxes on the rich, closing tax loopholes, too. 8) Though it was not enacted until the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover was the first president to advocate expanding the federal government to include a cabinet-level Department of Education. Had the Great Depression not drowned his presidency (at first he did nothing, believing that the banks were reaping the rewards of their own stupidity, then his actions were either too small, or, made things worse), Hoover would probably be remembered today as a very liberal, progressive icon. Because the Depression ended 3/4 of a century in which Republicans dominated the presidency (broken up only by Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson–all conservative “Bourbon” Democrats), Hoover was the last Republican in the White House for a generation. Many first time voters in 1952 could not remember a time when the President was not a Democrat (FDR & Truman).
- Dwight David Eisenhower: Ike was the 1st Republican president of the modern, post-WWII era. He was a very progressive president by modern standards. Inheriting post-War deficits, he shrank the size of the military to save money (after ending the Korean War). The top marginal tax bracket was 91% and Ike angered business tycoons by refusing to lower it “because there was still too much inequality” between the rich and the poor.(Can you imagine what Fox “News” would have said about Ike’s “class warfare” language?) He expanded Social Security (including making sure more African-Americans were covered), created the interstate highway system (a huge federal infrastructure project which created numerous jobs), and, although he generally wished the issue of civil rights would just leave him alone, when federal courts ordered public school desegregation, Ike sent in federal troops to enforce this in Little Rock, AR. During the Suez Crisis, Ike forced the UK, France, and Israel to end their invasion of Egypt–an action that today would be denounced as “betraying Israel” in every GOP primary debate. It was Harry Truman who ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military, but he did so on his way out of the White House. Ike implemented that order and did so in 2 years time. As he left the WH, Ike warned America of the growing dangers of the military-industrial complex. I’d love to see Eisenhower-style Republicans make a comeback, but I don’t see any evidence of them in the current Republican Party.
- Richard M. Nixon: I never could stand Nixon. He was the inventor of the “Southern Strategy” which turned the GOP into the racist stronghold it is today. He was a warmonger and more paranoid than Glenn Beck. He spied on everyone and broke law after law. But even Nixon would be considered a flaming communist by today’s GOP. Look at his record: He created the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act into law–and enforced all of them. Saying “we’re all Keynesians now,” Nixon used wage and price controls to curb inflation. JFK had lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% under the Eisenhower years to 71%–and Nixon refused to lower it further. Although he expanded the Vietnam War, he also ended it (and the draft), against the wishes of many in his own party–something that no self-respecting NeoCon would allow, today. Nixon sent in Kissinger to negotiate peace in the Middle East–something that today would be called “betraying Israel.” Nixon negotiated arms deals with the evil empire of the USSR. He supported Roe v. Wade although Watergate overshadowed it’s importance, at first. Nixon also initiated full diplomacy with China–which would today be the equivalent of negotiating with the Taliban or lifting the trade embargo on Cuba.
- Gerald R. Ford: Like Coolidge and Truman, another “accidental president.” Ford, a Congressman from Michigan, never wanted to be president. His dream was to become Speaker of the House if the GOP ever gained the majority. (Democrats held the majority in the House of Reps. from 1933 to 1995.) But Nixon’s race-baiting VP, Spirow Agnew, was indicted and forced to resign for tax evasion and fraud. Ford was made VP. Then Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal before he could be impeached. So, Ford became president. He barely got the nomination of the GOP in 1976, fending off a challenge from the right by Ronald Reagan. But Ford supported higher taxes on corporations as a way to fight inflation. And he granted clemency to draft evaders. He was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. (The ERA had been official GOP platform policy until Reagan.) It’s true that initially Ford opposed Roe v. Wade and supported a Constitutional Amendment which would allow abortion policy to be decided by individual states, though he later admitted that he was “personally pro-choice.” However, presidential candidates are also judged by their spouses and Ford’s wife, Betty, called Roe v. Wade a “great decision.” All these things would have doomed Ford by today’s Republican standards.
- Ronald Reagan: “Saint Ronnie,” whose mythical image is worshipped by today’s GOP. NO Republican candidate for president can win today without invoking Reagan’s legacy and claiming it as his or her own. But the real Reagan was far more liberal than today’s GOP: As California governor, he legalized abortion 2 years before Roe v. Wade, though he later opposed abortion and wanted an amendment to leave it up to the states. But he didn’t really work hard on it-and, in fact, put the mildly pro-choice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court over objections from the Religious Right. Reagan did give the largest tax cuts in history before GWB, but then, when his huge military buildup led to massive deficits, he raised taxes to pay for them. At the end of his presidency, the top marginal tax rate was 50% and he was satisfied with that–thinking it was dangerous to cut further. (The top marginal tax rate is now 33% and Republicans are pushing for even lower rates.) Reagan did some massive damage that today’s Republicans would love, but he also spent his entire second term negotiating with the USSR in order to eliminate nuclear weapons. He granted amnesty–real amnesty, not a “path to citizenship,”– to over 3 million undocumented immigrants. Twice. Even though he broke the air traffic controllers union, this former union president (the Screen Actor’s Guild) told the world that free unions were vital for democracy. And he had one very good idea for combatting poverty–the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families–a tax credit that today’s Republicans are trying to eliminate so that they can give more tax giveaways to the rich. Reagan was also against tax cheats and the use of loopholes and offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. All of this is absolute heresy to today’s Republicans–so most of them won’t believe Reagan did it. But look it up. He did. (I could link to documentation but if you are reading this, you know how to search the internet and I won’t do your homework for you.) I’m not listing the many, many things Reagan did which I despise, because I am a liberal Democrat. I’m just listing the things which would keep him from being nominated in today’s GOP.
- George H. W. Bush: I end with the first Bush presidency because I dislike the son so much I cannot be objective. But first of all Poppy Bush the candidate who ran against Reagan in the 1980 primary would be in trouble for (correctly) calling Reagan’s supply side economics “voodoo economics.” He was right. They were and are. Tax cuts seldom create jobs and wealth does not trickle down–it has to be redirected by federal programs. The Right was so angry at Ronnie Raygun’s tax increases in 1988 that they forced Poppy Bush to make a promise, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” But Bush I broke that promise when faced with increasing deficits–and the country was better off. He was the last Republican president to have the courage to raise taxes when the country needed it. He also ended the Cold War, took our nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert (and stopped aiming them at the former USSR) and closed numerous military bases as part of an attempt to shrink the military in a post-Cold War world. He needlessly began Gulf War I, but he wisely refused to topple Saddam Hussein because, as he correctly predicted but his son ignored, this would mean at least a decade of occupying and rebuilding Iraq. Today’s Republicans are angry when any war or occupation ends for any reason at all, it seems. And let’s not forget Poppy Bush’s support for free birth control for poor women–He introduced legislation demanding that contraceptives be covered by Medicaid in 1970. It passed.
And there you have it. 16 of the 17 Republican presidents above could not be nominated or elected if they were running in the current, ultra-far-right, Republican Party. It shows a political party that is far removed from the mainstream of the nation (as the McGovern-era Democrats were) and even far from their own history as a party. Unless corrected, that’s a recipe for disaster and eventual party self-destruction, whatever happens this November.
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