Next Tuesday, thanks to the New York State Federation of Republican Women, a grassroots group based in Nassau, folks can listen to Dick Morris, the triangulating political mastermind and Fox News Channel commentator, promote the latest book he’s written with his wife Eileen McGann.
Packed with provocative buzzwords, the title is “Revolt!—How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Agenda—A Patriot’s Guide.” Even though his presentation is called “Winning the Presidential Election,” it’s safe to say that Morris is not peddling free advice so Hillary Clinton can occupy the White House again, although he doesn’t mind getting credit for providing the strategy that engineered President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996 when it looked a little hopeless.
Morris must know his audience pretty well, because it takes a lot of balls to profit from calling President Obama’s agenda socialist with a straight face. But for this crowd, they’ll probably buy it. They certainly aren’t paying any mind to a real Democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who could only wish that Obama and, for that matter, his party’s leading rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, really were more to the left, especially about reining in Wall Street power and the cancerous concentration of wealth in this country.
There’s a lot going on in the months leading up to the next election, and it’s neither enlightening nor encouraging—at least if you care about facts. The reality is that the extremists in the GOP base eat this stuff up. According to the polls, Donald “Something Terrific” Trump is still the front-leader of the GOP field, and that’s got a growing number of people concerned, and some of them are even Republicans.
A recent cartoon by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Toles in the Washington Post, featuring a conversation between a pair of elephants in business suits, spells out the conundrum facing the party of Lincoln: “We’ve got a Trump problem,” says one. “He’s appealing to voters who are responding to racism bordering on fascism. It’s a real dilemma. How do we get rid of Trump but keep those voters?”
Conservative Michael Gerson, President George W. Bush’s speechwriter and policy advisor, spelled it out much further in a recent column about the 2016 race: “The presidential candidate who has consistently led the Republican field for four months, Donald Trump, has proposed: to forcibly expel 11 million people from the country, requiring a massive apparatus of enforcement, courts and concentration camps; to rewrite or reinterpret the 14th Amendment to end the Civil War-era Republican principle of birthright citizenship; to build a 2,000-mile wall on our southern border while forcing Mexico to pay the cost. He has characterized undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and opposed the speaking of Spanish in the United States.”
Most of Trump’s appeal is “reactionary,” writes Gerson, before quoting the billionaire himself: “‘We’re going to have to do things,’ says Trump with menacing vagueness, ‘that we never did before.’ And if disrespect for institutions is common, Trump is its perfect vehicle — combining the snark of Twitter with the staged anger and grudges of reality television… Is it possible and morally permissible, for economic and foreign policy conservatives, and for Republicans motivated by their faith, to share a coalition with the advocates of an increasingly raw and repugnant nativism?”
He’s right, but his words probably fall on the deaf ears of those who get their views from Fox News. After all, Trump has just lied that the U.S. is going to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees, that African-Americans are responsible for most white homicides (total falsehood), and, most outrageous, that on Sept. 11, 2001 he saw on television “thousands and thousands” of people in some unnamed “Arab” neighborhood of New Jersey “cheering as that building was coming down.” Not even Gov. Chris Christie, who knows a thing or two about New Jersey, could back him up on that big whopper. But it didn’t matter, because he just doubled-down and his supporters ate it up.
Recently a front-page photo taken at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, showed a group of haggard-looking white people sitting in the front row, holding placards proclaiming “the silent majority stands with Trump.” Take away their red, white and blue signs and they could have passed for hard-luck people in the Depression, perhaps gathered to hear the Louisiana Sen. Huey “Kingfish” Long, on the stump for his “Share Our Wealth” campaign.
A populist Democrat with a demagogic streak, Long was a constant thorn in the left side of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom the Kingfish called a mama’s boy. He dubbed Congress “the Rich Men’s Club” when he gave a speech in 1932 on the Senate floor he titled “the Doom of the American Dream.” At one point he says, “There is a mere candle flicker here and yonder to take the place of what the great dream of America was supposed to be.” His plan would have imposed a $5 million tax cap on a family’s wealth, a $1 million a year salary cap, and a reliance on “men with the smartest minds” in America to flesh out the details.
“Unless we provide for the redistribution of wealth in this country, the country is doomed,” he said, citing a study by the Federal Trade Commission that “1 percent” owned “59 percent” of the wealth. His figures almost sound quaint today, but he was deadly serious. He railed against both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, saying that “nothing can be squeezed through these party organizations that goes far enough to bring the American people to a condition where they have such a thing as a liveable country.”
On the stump, Trump boasts about his business ability that has made him, the son of a millionaire, a purported billionaire. Nothing he’s proposed so far will actually improve the lives of the poor middle class men and women flocking to hear him. Behind him lurk Charles and David Koch, petrochemical billionaires (in Long’s day he railed against Standard Oil executives), who have pledged to spend almost a billion dollars on the 2016 elections to bring the Republican Party to the White House, and cement their hold on the Senate and the House of Representatives—as the brothers have already done with helping to put a majority of the state houses across the land in Republican hands.
By 1935, Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth organization was collecting tens of thousands of letters a week from people all across the country who didn’t believe that FDR and the Democrats were doing enough to save them from despair, let alone improve their daily lives. As the 1936 election approached, FDR’s supporters feared that Long would challenge him for the nomination.
But Long was playing a different game. He told his closest advisors that he was going to sit it out, perhaps put up a third party candidate who’d siphon enough votes from Roosevelt so that the Republican candidate would win. It was a cynical strategy, as T. Harry Williams noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Kingfish, because Long knew that a Republican president would only make the Depression worse—but that would pave the way in 1940 for a savior to come along like Huey Long, who’d promised to “make every man a king.”
Today, when you look at the forlorn faces of Trump’s Republican supporters beyond the beltway, you wonder what they think when they listen to their candidate speak. In his mind, he’s already on the throne. But he’ll never share the crown.
(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)