Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Comparing and Contrasting Willkie and Trump

Wendell Willkie was the first Presidential candidate who never held a political office (and was not a military general). Willkie, like Trump, was an astute businessman. Willkie was a lawyer who garnered some corporate experience representing Firestone Tire and Rubber Company early in his career. Harvey Firestone provided Willkie some interesting advice when he told him “he would never amount to anything because he was a Democrat.” Like Trump, Willkie originally identified as being a Democrat. In the 1924 Democratic National Convention Willkie was a delegate for Al Smith. During that convention Willkie was famous for trying to change the Democratic platform to condemn the Ku Klux Klan (it failed, the KKK had lots of support in the Democratic Party back in the 1920s and 1930s and it divided the Party).

Willkie became a corporate executive for a utility company: Commonwealth and Southern Corporation (C&S). After the election of FDR as President in 1932, Willkie and FDR did not see eye to eye on his plan to create the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which was to provide cheap electricity to the region. The TVA was in direct competition with C&S subsidiaries in the region. Willkie did not believe that the government should be involved in national utilities or at best the government role should be limited. After many setbacks including losing before the Supreme Court, in 1939, C&S sold its assets to the TVA for nearly 80 million dollars (Making the TVA the government monopoly power company in the region). This is what led Willkie to consider changing political parties. It is unclear as to what specifically led Donald Trump to change political affiliation other than maybe an opportunity to win the White House as a Republican.

If FDR did not run for a third term in 1940, many thought Willkie would be a favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Of course, FDR ran and Willkie became the surprise winner of the Republican nomination. Willkie wanted to stop a third FDR term, now Trump wants to stop what essentially amounts to a third term for Obama if Clinton wins. FDR defeated Willkie handily winning 38 of 48 states (55% to 45%, 449 – 82 in the Electoral College).

Initially, Willkie’s political philosophy was as a WWII interventionist – he wanted the US to be more involved to stop Hitler – FDR wanted to remain neutral. Willkie would soon flip flop and become an isolationist on WWII policy. This sounds a lot like Trump’s ISIS policy. He declares isolationism in foreign affairs but says he will defeat ISIS. It is impossible to be an isolationist and still defeat ISIS.

Like Trump, Willkie’s rise was a grassroots uprising throughout the country. Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter called Willkie’s rise “The grassroots of ten thousand country clubs”. Both Trump and Willkie received favorable press from major magazines such as Fortune and Time in their rise to prominence in business and politics.

After FDR became the first Democratic president in history to win the African-American vote (1932 and 1936), Willkie strongly pushed for civil rights changes (as he did in the 1924 Democratic Convention). Although it did not work to win him a majority of the black vote in 1940, the NAACP named its headquarters after Willkie when he died in 1944. Trump may be the first Republican president to truly reach out for the African-American vote since Willkie. In recent years, Democrats have taken the black vote for granted and Republicans see any outreach as a losing proposition.

Like Trump, Willkie has many liberal ideas and philosophies. For instance, Willkie said if elected he would “keep intact New Deal Social Programs and expand Social Security.” Trump recently released a policy plan for childcare which is essentially an expensive welfare entitlement expansion similar to ObamaCare. After his defeat, Willkie helped Roosevelt’s war effort by leading two wartime envoys to visit allies. In fact, Willkie was considered for many FDR cabinet positions and even the vice presidency for the 1944 ticket (Harry Truman was on the ticket). FDR was very fond of Willkie because he was one of the few Republicans that supported his New Deal. Although FDR liked Willkie, the same cannot be said of the Trump / Obama relationship. Although they may have more in common than most may think – Trump’s birther conspiracy and campaign fever has divided the two immensely.

Willkie and Trump have a lot in common. But Trump is trying to prevent Willkie’s result in the 1940 election. If Trump can develop a temperament and humility anything near that of Willkie, then he just may pull out the 2016 Presidential election. Consider this, in 1942, in Schneiderman v. United States, Willkie defended a Communist whose U.S. citizenship was renounced. Although it was highly unpopular, Willkie won the case and Scheiderman’s citizenship was restored. Remember, this was during a time when internment of Japanese Americans was implemented in the American West. John Adams did a similar thing when he defended the British soldiers charged with murder during the Boston Massacre in the 1770s (it was unpopular but it did not stop him from gaining the Presidency). Would Trump do anything to protect a highly productive illegal alien or would he deport this person?

Willkie had a legacy better than many Presidents. Willkie refused to play politics with WWII preparations made by FDR. He did not criticize the highly unpopular draft or aid to Britain. Willkie’s decisions may have saved Britain from falling to Germany and possibly changing the outcome of history in favor of Hitler. Willkie said he would rather lose the election than play politics especially over war issues. Very much unlike Trump, Willkie was a very unselfish politician (maybe because he was truly an outsider). Willkie was certainly more of a political outsider than Trump since Trump has used campaign donations as a lobbying tool with politicians.

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