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Our Armchair Revolutionaries

Trump & Lincoln: History Repeating Itself

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Let’s not risk the rightful wrath of legions of historians by comparing Donald Trump to Abraham Lincoln, but it is undeniable the campaigns of 1860 and 2016 share some eerie similarities.


The Republican convention was held in Chicago that year, and on its eve, Harper’s Weekly, the standard of the day, published a huge, double page illustration of the eleven “prominent candidates” for the party’s nomination (see Ronald C. White’s A.Lincoln, p321 and following). Centered on the page was the presumed choice that year, the curmudgeonly William H. Seward, US Senator from New York. His picture was three times the size of nearly all the others, including that of the beardless outsider from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s friend, James Conkling, advised him Seward could not be nominated because of so much opposition to him, and because Seward did not have all the delegates he needed, there would be a convention fight on the floor. Many insiders that May considered Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Lincoln to be the frontrunners.

Much to the surprise of some and delight of others, Seward could not convince many to join his cause, and on the first ballot, taken May 18th, Seward had 173½ to Lincoln’s 102, both far from the 233 needed for nomination. Next was Simon Cameron with 50½, then Chase with 49, and Bates with 48, followed by the lesser-known, John McLean with 12. On the second ballot, Lincoln still trailed Seward, but only by 3½, but he garnered more than he needed for nomination on the third ballot, and the rest, as they say, is history. That Seward served as Secretary of State and purchased Alaska for us, that Salmon P. Chase went on to the US Supreme Court, that Edward Bates became Attorney General, was not a coincidence, as they formed the start of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.


Listening to today’s chattering class, stalwarts for Trump, Cruz, or Kasich, one might conclude the GOP’s rules were written yesterday and in such a way as to frustrate the will of the voters. Far from it. Yet, to hear some talk, because Trump has the most delegates, right now just over half of the number of delegates needed for nomination (which means about 25% of the total), he’ll be entitled to the whole enchilada in Cleveland, and cannot be denied, even if he doesn’t have the requisite 1237. Tell that to the NCAA Basketball folks, the NFL, or Major League Baseball—whoever gets crowned is the team that wins the final contest, not who wins most of the games beforehand. Trump of all people knows that to close a business deal, you have to have the right amount of cash, stock, or other leverage, or it’s no deal at all.

It is also a gross misconception—at least, not yet—to claim that Trump or anyone else represents the will of the voters and it’s the voters who decide the nominee of the Republican Party. Because Trump has chosen to run as a Republican—and he was not denied that opportunity by the RNC—he may well be the representative of the GOP if he is nominated by the delegates chosen under well-published rules in caucuses and primary elections. If he—or Cruz or anyone else—accepts the nomination of the GOP, he or she is responsible to the RNC and the platform voted upon by the delegates.


A ballot fight is neither unusual nor unfair, and if a candidate cannot win a majority of duly elected party delegates, he or she cannot reasonably expect to win a general election. It’s that simple. As an aging mobster said in a famous film: “Michael, this is the business we chose.” So, Donald and Ted, and you, too, John, those are the rules under which you chose to run, and those rules are not going to be changed now just to suit the noisiest political bullies on the block, whoever they may be.

At the moment, however, the party establishment seems prepared to commit politicide this November by continuing its attempt to manage a nomination for a candidate they hope to manage. In that respect, their machinations are most certainly frustrating the will of voters who have likewise chosen the GOP to be its standard bearer in its battle against the status quo, in its quest for border security, decent jobs, and good wages. Not only is establishment “plan” shortsighted in terms of the nomination, it will be catastrophic in terms of the national election and for the decades to come when a free people exist under the economic slavery of progressive pluralism. Those will be decades of Clintonesque cronyism when the likes of Merrick Garland will look rosy, indeed.

Indeed, Mr. Trump would not be the first choice of many to represent the Party of Lincoln, but it seems clear that Senator Cruz—a la William H. Seward—cannot be elected at the head of the ticket, and neither can the highly-regarded, Governor John Kasich. Yet, to consider a brokered candidate or a third party, given the certain outcomes for such stratagems is the craziest sort of pro-Hillary plan one could ever conceive.  


Now is the time for all good men and women to support the same sorts of arrangements Lincoln made to win his party’s nomination in 1860—whether on the first ballot or afterward—and then, to take the White House and all its levers of power, before it is too late. The real change to come can come none too soon.

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