President Donald Trump’s determination to launch a new series of campaign rallies across the American Heartland runs the enormous risk of further reviving COVID-19 and spreading it like wildfire in his core support areas. Such blow-black would prove fatal for his hopes of a reelection victory in November.
Trump has been both an ultra-conservative and nationalist president and an activist one: Until the COVID-19 virus hit, he was actually doing far better than his supercilious elitist critics on both Right and Left ever gave him credit for. But the onslaught of the pandemic has upended all his previous calculations.
What Trump needs to do to get reelected is follow the always overlooked but brilliantly successful example of America’s most underestimated president of the past century, Warren Gamaliel Harding.
The conditions under which Harding was elected a century ago are eerily familiar. The most deadly disease pandemic in U.S. history, the killer influenza, was still raging and ultimately took 600,000 lives – a comparable death toll to the U.S. Civil War and almost six times the death toll of World War I. Race riots were raging across America’s cities. Faith and trust in the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law had broken down. Scores of millions of people were out of work in the worst economic recession ever recorded to that point. It exploded in 1920 with terrifying rapidity. U.S. troops were also scattered all across the world on President Woodrow Wilson’s crazed efforts to police the entire world. They were even strung across vast regions of Siberia.
The Democrats promised a new golden age of international peace and understanding. They even had Franklin Roosevelt on their ticket as an exceptionally hard-working, charming and dynamic vice presidential candidate.
Against this supposedly formidable threat, Harding did – Nothing.
He stayed at home and ran a “front porch campaign” modeled on the last non-activist president William McKinley a quarter century before. He coined a new term “Normalcy” that the intellectuals from coast to coast sneered at. And he won, Harding’s margin of victory in 1920 was the greatest in modern American history to that point, He won a far greater mandate than any ever awarded to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt or Wilson.
Far from being a lazy, ignorant mindless rubber stamp buffoon of a president, as 100 years of lying liberal U.S. Mainstream Media propaganda has claimed since, Harding was an exceptionally hardworking and effective Chief Executive. He brought in the nation’s foremost financier Andrew Mellon as Secretary of the Treasury and Mellon proved a stand out success in the post. Business confidence was restored in record time and the economy boomed. He quickly brought government spending under control. His secretary of state Charles Evans Hughes negotiated the most successful and biggest arms control agreement in history to that time, negotiating the Washington Navy Treaty. It was a vastly superior economic and foreign policy performance than Franklin Roosevelt ever managed until World War II bailed him out.
Harding restored law and order, He restored due process to the Department of Justice and ended Wilson’s Red Terror. He freed America’s leading Socialist, the beloved Eugene Debs, from harsh incarceration in Leavenworth federal penitentiary where Wilson had consigned him. Harding instead invited him to the White House for Christmas.
Wilson’s shameful racist imposition of anti-black segregation on the federal government and he also ended the non-constitutional Red Terror which destroyed far more lives than Senator Joe McCarthy ever dreamed of after World War II.
Harding also was the most outspoken opponent of segregation and lynching to occupy the presidency in the 76 years between Ulysses S Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. So outspoken was he on behalf of basic civil rights for African Americans that racist Southerners claimed (falsely) that he must have back grandparents or other antecedents himself, since why else, they argued could he bother caring for black people at all?
Harding died of overwork in 1923, and over worry and shame over the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Like another great and shamefully underestimated Chief Executive, Grant after the Civil War, his one mortal weakness was that he was a good and honest man. who took people at their word and actually believed they would always tell him the truth. But he laid the foundation for a decade of the greatest economic boom in the history of the world bringing more prosperity to more ordinary human beings than had ever been thought possible before.
So great was Harding’s achievement that two more vastly inferior presidents – the ultra-passive Calvin Coolidge, who suffered debilitating depression throughout his presidency over the death of his son, and the humorless, catastrophically rigid Herbert Hoover were both elected on his legacy.
Today, Trump should embrace Harding as his last best hope. After all, Harding, like Trump maintained high tariff barriers to protect U.S. industry and agriculture. Like Trump, he stood for upholding law and order and fair play for African-Americans. And like Trump, he could boast of an outstanding business and finance record in office.
Also like Trump, Harding was wary of getting involved in any more endless overseas wars. He sought to bring home the U.S. armies from around the globe that his predecessor had manically scattered them. Just as Trump despises and distrusts the United Nations, Harding felt the same way towards its predecessor, the League of Nations.
However, Trump is likely still to lose in November because he is clearly incapable of learning wise, canny old Warren Harding’s most fundamental lesson: He does not know how to shut up.
To an America devastated by the great flu pandemic, disgusted by the horrors of World War I and sick and tired of Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and their endless speechifying, Harding came across as the embodiment of decency, restraint, kindness and good sense. When he died in 1923, the mourning for him was the greatest outpouring of grief for any sitting president since the death of Lincoln. It was vastly greater than for the passing of either Theodore Roosevelt in 1920 or Woodrow Wilson a few months later in 1924.
If former vice president Joe Biden wins in November, he is likely to prove a brief serving and catastrophic president – too old , too infirm and too wedded to reviving the catastrophic – and anti-Russian – policies of his old boss and friend Barack Obama.
But Biden, of all people, has learned the political, campaigning lessons of Warren Harding well. It is he, not Trump, who is staying at home as the COVID-19 pandemic still rages. It is he who is quietly building a solid, and probably eventually commanding lead in the polls. It is he who is projecting the image of decency, caring and fatherly reassurance. And it is he who offers the mirage of “normalcy” a return to (supposedly) better and more reassuring times.
If Trump can grab those brand recognition motifs from Biden he can still win, and even win big. But if he did that, he would have to abandon the lifelong persona of “Trump” that has served him so well for so long. And that he cannot do.
So, it will be Biden who wears the false sheepskin of reassuring wise and successful old Warren Harding. But his appalling policies will still be those of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to his own country and entire world’s eternal ruin.