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Jon Meacham: “The biggest distinction is experience. Jackson came to the presidency as a former judge, general, senator and presidential candidate. Despite his rabble-rousing image — opponents worried Jackson would become an ‘American Bonaparte’ — Jackson was in fact at home in the precincts of power because he’d been around the capital a good deal before becoming president.”
“The other key difference is that Jackson knew how to manage his own weaknesses. He wasn’t always successful at it, but a Jacksonian temper tantrum or threat was often calculated, not unhinged. We don’t yet know whether Trump can pull off the same feat of compensating for — and even leveraging — his hypersensitivity, for instance, and his weakness for hyperbole and chaos. I hope he can do what Jackson did and turn these vices into means for virtuous ends. To me, that’s perhaps the greatest question about Trump and temperament.”
Meacham’s book, American Lion: Andrew Jackon in the White House, is highly recommended.
“There hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson? What year was Andrew Jackson? That was a long time ago.”
— President-elect Donald Trump, quoted by the New York Times, comparing his success to the popular movement that put Andrew Jackson in the White House.
James Hohmann notes that every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt “has left behind a swath of disillusioned lefties when he left office – only to see his image markedly improve among the base after a Republican subsequently took office.”
Bill Clinton is now remembered fondly by Democrats for presiding over a pre-9/11 period of peace and prosperity, but so many liberals were despondent during his tenure about everything from throwing Zoe Baird under the bus at the beginning to pardoning Marc Rich at the end – as well as shepherding through NAFTA, jacking up mandatory minimums, embracing welfare reform and elevating Dick Morris in between.
Jimmy Carter is remembered now for his post-presidency embrace of humanitarian causes. But he almost got defeated by Ted Kennedy, running at him from the left, in the 1980 Democratic primaries. He never pushed comprehensive health care reform, but he did cut capital gains taxes and deregulate the airline and trucking industries.
Obama was often compared negatively by liberals during the last few years to Lyndon Johnson, a wheeler-dealer who successfully cajoled a Congress dominated by segregationists to pass civil rights and voting rights acts. Most seem to forget that he dropped out of contention for the Democratic nomination in 1968 after liberal opposition, driven mainly by Vietnam, metastasized. He also hardly got anything done in his final two years because of Republican gains in the 1966 midterms.
Harry Truman, now venerated as a liberal fighter who gave ‘em hell, watched as more than a million progressives defected to Henry Wallace in 1948 because they were mad about his record on labor and his failure to expand the New Deal.
Nathaniel Rakich: “From 1977 to 2013, the last six incoming presidents — Jimmy Carter through Barack Obama — made 109 appointments to Cabinet-level positions. Just six failed: Five nominees withdrew, and one was voted down by the Senate. The Senate confirmed 103 during the same span, 93 of whom were unanimously approved or not seriously contested. Ten were confirmed in contested votes. (I’m defining “contested” as more than six nay votes — admittedly a somewhat arbitrary cutoff.) Including the one rejection, that means that, whenever there was genuine dissent over a floor vote, the nominee was confirmed anyway 10 times out of 11.”
James Hohmann: “Trump is not just the most emotionally fragile president since Nixon: He’s literally planning to hang a framed letter from R.N. in the Oval Office. He modeled his RNC speech last summer off Nixon’s from 48 years earlier. Repudiating Reaganism, which won the Cold War, he’s embracing Nixon’s ‘madman theory’ of foreign policy. He’s consulting with the disgraced former president’s advisers. He’s stocking his West Wing with his protégés – including one whom he has decided to stand by despite egregious plagiarism that no other White House would tolerate.”
New York Times: “Vietnam changed us as a country. In many ways, for the worse: It made us cynical and distrustful of our institutions, especially of government. For many people, it eroded the notion, once nearly universal, that part of being an American was serving your country.”
Tom Eblen: “When politicians want to settle scores these days, they often pick up their phones and tweet insults at each other. Things were more dangerous in Henry Clay’s time.”
“The Lexington resident, who was one of America’s most prominent statesmen in the early 19th century, fought two duels with pistols against political opponents, and he suffered a wound that left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life.”
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Gallup: “As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidential oath on Jan. 20, less than half of Americans are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (46%), to use military force wisely (47%) or to prevent major scandals in his administration (44%). At least seven in 10 Americans were confident in Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in these areas before they took office.”
“Americans express somewhat more confidence in Trump to work effectively with Congress (60%), to handle the economy effectively (59%), to defend U.S. interests abroad as president (55%), and to manage the executive branch effectively (53%). But even in these areas, Americans are far less confident in Trump than they were in his predecessors, when comparisons are available.”
“Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. ‘My God. I would never do anything to encourage’ South Vietnam ‘not to come to the table,’ Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system,” the New York Times reports.
“Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to ‘monkey wrench’ the initiative.”