One of Donald Trump’s adorable ways of showing how clueless he was about U.S. history was that he liked to point out the fact that Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican, always adding, “A lot of people don’t know that.”
Actually, the fact that the Republican Party, which for most of my life has liked to refer to itself as the “Party of Lincoln,” had been Lincoln’s party is not exactly obscure historical trivia. It was one of those efforts by Trump to look smart that made him look simultaneously clueless and conceited.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery. Trump was the most racist president in a century or more, and the most racist Republican president ever (the Republican Party didn’t exist back in the days presidents were often slaveholders). The Democratic Party, since at least the Kennedy-Johnson era, has been the party of civil rights, which eventually led to the Republican Party, despite its Lincoln legacy, becoming the party of opposition to civil rights legislation, and, under Trump, a party of fairly open racism.
Before Trump, there were still Republicans who identified with some elements of the Lincoln tradition, including Peter Wehner, a thoughtful and principled conservative who served in the three Republican administrations preceding Trump (Reagan and the two Bushes).
I rise today mostly to call attention to his most recent op-ed in the New York Times. Wehner’s piece was headlined “Why Are Republicans Still This Loyal to a Mar-a-Lago Exile?” and sub-headlined: “If they don’t disown Trump, he will continue to own them.”
In January of 2016, when it was still deemed highly possible that Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee for president (the race for the nomination was just getting going), Wehner took his stand, announcing in a New York Times op-ed that if the party nominated Trump, he would, for the first time, not be able to vote for the Republican ticket.
By April of 2016, around the Time Trump was winning most of the primaries, I covered Wehner when he spoke at the University of Minnesota. Here’s an excerpt of what Wehner said that day about Trump:
He is — in my estimation — nativist, xenophobic, cruel, vindictive, emotionally unstable, narcissistic, obsessive, and yet, he is without an economic agenda or a governing philosophy. He’s stunningly ignorant on issues and he seems to be a person who’s given over to profanity and demagogy. … So count me neutral on Trump.
That was five years ago, when the whole idea of Trump as the new leader of one America’s two major parties, was new, surprising, amazing and even a bit unbelievable. Here’s my full post on Wehner’s 2016 appearance at the U. Of course, it took no guts at all for me to write it then, while it apparently took some guts for Wehner, a lifelong Republican, to say it.
Now the amazing thing to me, looking back, is how few members of the Republican establishment were willing to say that then, and how many who did say it when Trump was relatively new on scene later changed their tune once it became clear that Trump was going to be their nominee, and then their president. And, in general, for most of those to whom I refer, their soul-sacrificing cowardice continues to this day.
Obviously, I agreed with Wehner’s view back then. It soon became clear that Trump would be the nominee of Wehner’s party in 2016, and then, of course, president.
Wehner, a lifelong Republican, kept denouncing Trump during his term and, I note (and that’s what set off this post) he’s out with another one, in a New York Times op-ed piece that was published Sunday, analyzing the mystery, which was the headline on the piece:
“Why Are Republicans Still This Loyal to a Mar-a-Lago Exile?”
And the sub-head warning:
“If they don’t disown Trump, he will continue to own them.”