Opinion

Lessons For Trump From John Tyler's Presidency

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Posted: Jul 31, 2017 12:35 PM
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On September 13, 1841, more than fifty members of the Whig Party gathered on the steps of the United States Capitol building and publicly expelled President John Tyler from “their” party. This move had been in the works for weeks. Tyler had the audacity to butt heads with nationalist Henry Clay over several issues, most notably the chartering of a Bank of the United States. The Whigs issued a statement blasting Tyler as a president “accidentally invested” with the powers of the office.

Just days earlier, Clay led a supper meeting of Tyler’s cabinet where every member—save Daniel Webster who excused himself from the conversation—decided to resign. Clay hoped this would push Tyler out of office. On September 11, 1841, Tyler gladly accepted the resignations of almost every member of his cabinet. Webster stayed on as Secretary of State, but he eventually tendered his resignation as well.

President Tyler, “His Accidency” as the Whigs called him, was finally his own man. It took five months to get there, but Tyler could freely appoint anyone he wanted to the executive branch. He did so with vigor. Out went men whom he fervently disagreed with on a host of policy issues and in came his “state’s rights” buddies. Tyler could count on them for support, unlike the crop that saw themselves out of the executive mansion in 1841.

No president since has wanted to be associated with John Tyler. He is generally regarded as one of the worst in American history. Tyler was faced with constant calls for impeachment, and Clay once traveled to the White House in an attempt to bully Tyler into accepting his legislative agenda. Tyler told him to get lost. The modern narrative describes Tyler as a man who lost the support of his party and served a painful and unproductive four years in exile, so much so that he renamed his plantation “Sherwood Forest.” 

Except it wasn’t that painful or unproductive.

Tyler never seemed to despair that the Whig Party abandoned him. He saw it the other way around. Expulsion was freedom. Tyler went about his business vetoing legislation he believed to be unconstitutional—it was—and later acquired Texas. He managed to avoid potential quarrels with European powers and redefined the role of the president as a true defender of the Constitution. He did, after all, take a solemn oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” that document. 

This should be instructive for Donald Trump.

The Republican Party has openly unsheathed its knives in an attempt to destroy his administration. The leaks, the disruption, and the Congressional obstruction have all been coming from those who should support a man in “their Party.” Except like John Tyler, Donald Trump was never a man in “their Party.” He was elected precisely for that reason. Even some Republicans believe he was the wrong man for the job, and while they stop short of calling his administration “illegitimate” like the sore losers in the Democratic Party, their actions make it clear they think Trump should not be in the White House. 

By the way, what do John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Grover Cleveland, George W. Bush, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy have in common with Donald Trump?

They were all elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Does anyone claim their administrations were illegitimate?

Trump should take a page from Tyler’s playbook and boot every establishment stooge from his administration. Reince Priebus should never have sniffed 1600 Pennsylvania Ave unless it was on a public tour.

Trump doesn’t need to play nice with the Republican Party. It’s clear they are not playing nice with him. This “civil war” as some pundits are calling it has been brewing since Ronald Reagan made waves during the 1976 Republican primaries. Reagan decided to stay in the Party even when the more conservative wing of his core supporters got out or were forced out by the neo-conservatives whom Reagan entrenched in Washington D.C.

Pat Buchanan challenged the neo-conservative establishment in 1992 and 1996. They just proved to be savvier in the 1990s than in 2016. 

Trump is not, as Charlie Sykes has claimed, a “pyromaniac” intent on burning down the presidency. We can question his public lambasting of Jeff Sessions, which to date is his only serious misstep, but not his insistence that those in his cabinet should be on board with his agenda. 

Trump, however, is burning down the neo-conservative establishment. That is a good thing. Men like John McCain and Lindsey Graham would be smitten with progressives Woodrow Wilson or Theodore Roosevelt as president. Those presidents drafted the blueprints for the modern “warfare” state, something McCain and Graham heartily endorse. McCain’s vote against the Obamacare “repeal” was not heroic. It was a cowardly display of establishment vanity. McCain just wants to be liked. It has always been his modus operandi

The real problem in Washington is not Trump, but the poseurs in Congress who speak out of both sides of their mouths, particularly during campaign season. They need to go as well.

And while we’re at it, perhaps this needed dust up in the Republican Party can remind real conservatives that 1) Republicans have never been their friends and that 2) the states can and should serve as a hedge between the people and unconstitutional government. Washington D.C. will never reform itself. It is only through the states that we can hope to achieve some type of sanity in American government. That is why the Constitution maintained the “federal republic” the founding generation established in 1781. The general government is granted enumerated powers. Anything else is unconstitutional. That is what President Tyler believed in 1841 and what President Trump should work towards in 2017.

The first step is draining the swamp, but Trump cannot do that alone. If the American public firmly believes that an outsider was necessary to reform Washington, they have their man in the White House. Now is the time to get rid of the establishment jokers in Congress, starting with the leadership in both houses.

Trump still has nearly four years left in office. These early battles can certainly set the stage for either future success or failure. Toeing the establishment line has already proven disastrous. A Tyler-like purge is the best medicine for the establishment disease in D.C. Hopefully, the ouster of Priebus is only the beginning of a larger effort to undermine and ultimately remove these cancerous cells.

Of course, Tyler was unable to serve another term. Neither the Democrats nor the Whigs nominated him in 1844. This is a possible outcome for Trump as well, even if he doesn’t go for broke and yank the establishment out by their roots. But it is certain at this point that like Tyler, Trump is more concerned with “making America great” than “making his Party great.” 

That is refreshing. Isn’t that what most Americans really wanted when they pulled the lever from Trump in 2016?