‘Party of Lincoln’ No More

One of the most prominent clichés that passes for wisdom among the GOP Establishment and conservative intellectual elite is that the Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln. But Donald Trump, as we are told ad nauseam, is doing his best to sever the electric cord that ties the Republican Party to Lincoln’s political principles. 

Former U.S. Senator John Danforth wrote recently in the Washington Post that the Republican Party is “the party of Abraham Lincoln.” “Now comes Trump,” Danforth argued, “who is exactly what Republicans are not, who is exactly what we have opposed in our 160-year history.” Mona Charen, a contributor to National Review who now apparently enjoys echoing the Left, claims, “The Republican party under Donald Trump has regressed from the party of Lincoln to the party of Lee.”

The glaring problem with this overheated analysis is that it has been quite some time since the GOP was, in any discernable way, the party of Lincoln. And Trump had nothing whatsoever to do with it. In fact, Trump is trying to drag the party back kicking and screaming to its Lincolnian roots.

An obvious example of the modern GOP’s dismissal of Lincoln’s politics is the free trade absolutism it has embraced. While theoretically sound, in practice this slavish devotion to free trade has hollowed out the middle class and benefited hedge fund managers and other professional elites who stand unequally to gain from our knowledge-based economy.

Lincoln, by contrast, was for high protective tariffs throughout his career. For instance, after his election to Congress in 1847, Lincoln noted that the

abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government, must result in the increase of both useless labour, and idleness; and so, in proportion, must produce want and ruin among our people.

In his support of tariffs and other measures designed to help Americans citizens over those of other countries, Lincoln was well within the mainstream of the American political tradition. From Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 “Report on Manufactures,” which outlined the nation’s first industrial policy to support America’s burgeoning manufacturing sector, to Ronald Reagan’s imposition of a 100 percent tariff on certain Japanese electronics in 1987, tariffs have served as a traditional tool of American statecraft.

Lincoln understood that an American isn’t simply what the philosopher Roger Scruton has termed a homo economicus—an individual “who acts always to maximize his own utility.” Instead, Americans are members of families, churches, communities, and their nation, whose good includes but ultimately transcends economic considerations.

Lincoln also wouldn’t recognize the Republican Party’s foreign policy of the past few decades. Republicans are largely beholden to a neoconservative foreign policy whereby the United States spends its blood and treasure on making the rest of the world safe for democracy, while very often neglecting our own. In practice, this has translated into nation building abroad. To overstate for the sake of clarity, the question before GOP hawks is which countries we should invade next—not whether it is just to think in such terms in the first place.

Lincoln would have been appalled at such a foreign policy. In early 1852, he helped draft a resolution praising Lajos Kossuth and the Hungarian revolutionaries of 1848, which contained principles diametrically opposite of those the modern Republican Party has adopted.

While the resolution states the right of the people of Hungary to “throw off” their “existing form of government,” it makes it clear that “it is the duty of our government to neither foment, nor assist, such revolutions in other governments.” Yet Lincoln and the drafting committee did not see any probable violation of our “own cherished principles of non-intervention” should the United States be called upon to help fend off an intervention of any other foreign power into Hungary’s affairs, should prudence allow for such a response.

Lincoln and his compatriots held true to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature and of nations”—principles of a social compact of a free and equal people who justly may determine their own nation’s course of affairs internally and externally.

The Republican Party’s general policy of arming “moderates” in nations such as Egypt, Libya, and Syria, for example, runs exactly counter to the traditional principle of non-interference that Lincoln followed. And such policies have predictably led to disastrous consequences for the United States abroad and have weakened our nation at home as well.

align=”left” Finally, the Republican Party has spurned Lincoln’s appeals to natural human equality in favor of the allure of the Rawlsian trinity of race, class, and gender—the same categories Democrats use to divide the American electorate.

Finally, the Republican Party has spurned Lincoln’s appeals to natural human equality in favor of the allure of the Rawlsian trinity of race, class, and gender—the same categories Democrats use to divide the American electorate.

After Mitt Romney’s ignominious defeat in 2012, the Republican Party issued its famed autopsy, which infamously put forward “comprehensive immigration reform” in order to win the “Hispanic” vote. The autopsy noted also that Republicans needed “to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.”

Clarence Thomas pointed out the problems inherent in this approach in a 1987 speech to the Heritage Foundation. He noted that such a pandering strategy utterly failed regarding blacks because it treated them as a priori off limits to conservatives.

“The political Right . . . concedes that blacks are monolithic, picks up a few dissidents, and wistfully shrugs at the seemingly unbreakable hold of the liberal left on black Americans,” Thomas said. “Everyone was treated as part of an interest group. Blacks just happened to represent an interest group not worth going after.”

Blacks, just as other races or groups, were being assessed solely upon the basis skin color or some other perceived distinguishing feature of victimhood, an obvious break with the colorblind principles of the American Founding. And this was during the halcyon days of the Reagan Revolution!

Lincoln, by contrast, appealed to Americans as citizens who had “the father of all moral principle in them”—namely the belief in the equality of men in their natural rights and the concomitant principle that just government can only spring forth from the consent of the governed. The principle of liberty born of equality before God—the “central idea” from which all “minor thoughts radiate” in America—is the philosophical grounding of American citizenship rather than accidents of birth such as race or ethnicity.  

align=”right” Trump has harkened to Lincoln’s teachings in his appeal to American citizens who are bound together by a patriotic friendship instead of the false idol of identity politics.

“America was a land for individuals,” Ken Masugi has written, “not of, by, and for castes, whether of class or race, and thus it was a land of opportunity for those who cherished work, character, and faith.”

Lincoln’s statesmanship provides a way forward for the GOP if they are willing to listen. Donald Trump has harkened to Lincoln’s teachings in his appeal to American citizens who are bound together by a patriotic friendship instead of the false idol of identity politics. As Trump stated in his first inaugural address and again soon after the Charlottesville unrest, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

In order to become the Republican Party Lincoln would recognize, the GOP would do well to strongly condemn the scourge of identity politics, reassess its foreign policy in light of our national interests, and put forward trade policies that do not put abstractions above the common good of the American people. A party that is defined by these principles—principles that Donald Trump has championed—will once again deserve to carry the mantle of the party of Lincoln.


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20 responses to “‘Party of Lincoln’ No More”

  1. Historically the Democrat party was the party of racism and slavery. The modern Democrat party sees itself as farmers and treats its voter base as their crop. The voter base is there to justify the growth of government and therefore the party seeks the lowest, most incompetent people it can to form their base crop.

    The Republican party historically was the party of Liberty, but as government grew and politics became a profession the Republicans had a major problem. The professional part of the modern Republican party wants to be the pimp for corporate america providing whatever whenever the corporate johns want. Their liberty loving base is a deal killing problem for the professional Republican political class. Pimps do not have ethics or morals beyond getting the money up front. Ryan, McConnell, Rove and the rest want conservatives gone. They cannot do what the base demands and keep the money coming.

  2. As if there were any doubt, Trump has exposed the GOP as corporatist and cowardly. As a result, we see the latest deal with his new bestie Chuck U. Schumer.

  3. Just a point: Almost nobody who has ever referred to “the party of Lincoln” had trade policy in mind. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they really are exceptions.

    They did, however, have in mind the president who led the way to helping the nation’s African-Americans out from the deepest levels of oppression. This is not a man who would’ve asserted that people walking with the KKK are “very fine people.”

    It’d be lovely if President Trump was the colorblind patriot you claim he is. That might make him eligible to claim the Lincolnian mantle. But that’s not really what he’s shown us.

    • He’s certainly more colorblind than you. Less of a bigot too. It’s typical of the anti-Trumpians to lie about what Trump says. It’s disingenuous to put quotes around a partial comment to distort the whole sentence. It’s also disingenuous to pretend anyone who was a Charlottesville in the UTR were KKK or white supremacists.You out yourself as a hater.

      • “It’s also disingenuous to pretend anyone who was a Charlottesville in the UTR were KKK or white supremacists.”

        I think it’s possible not all were. I do think it’s inarguable, however, that those folks who weren’t KKK or white supremacists felt comfortable marching alongside people who were chanting “Jews will not replace us.” That’s a choice, and it’s the wrong one in most moral codes.

        “Hater” is such a silly word.

      • As usual, the anti-Trumpians want to decide that hater is silly when applied to them. You conflate two different protest. The one where neo-Nazis were chanting was peaceful. Why do you ignore that fact?
        It was the illegal presence of antifa on the next day that fomented the violence. How about all the counter protestors who felt comfortable marching with the dem’s brown shirts? Why did the police allow the illegal antifa to show up with masks and arms? Why did the police herd the UTR protestors into the arms of antifa? Why did the Mayor approve a permit in the first place? And why did the Governor rescind that permit?

        “If an armada of left-wing anarchists marched on Fifth Avenue, chanting
        “Whites must go.”, no right-minded person would say that there were
        “many fine people” among them. We would condemn the protesters for
        their ugly, racist message. Rightly so.”

        You are such a hypocrite. How about the antifa and BLM marching and shouting “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon”? No one on the left condemned that. How about the antifa violence in Berkeley? The Mayor claimed to be in the antifa and that the peaceful people who showed up to listen to Milo and Ann and to attend an anti-Marxist protest were attacked by antifa. How about Portland where the city government allowed antifa to riot, destroy property, and menace commuters because Trump won the election? How about Seattle, Baltimore, Ferguson? Where was the left in condemning those incidents of violence? How about antifa who claim they’re justified in attacking people who don’t agree with them?
        You want to use one incident that the left engineer to smear our President while ignoring all the violence being committed on the left. President Trump’s statements were correct, but nothing he says or does will be good enough for the globalists.

      • What Trump actually said is no lie. I quote in full:

        “You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”

        Sentence #1 is absolutely true and Trump gets too little credit for that part of his statement.

        Sentence #2 is where the president went awry. “Fine people” do not march with those who carry Nazi flags and who chant “Jews will not replace us.”

        If an armada of left-wing anarchists marched on Fifth Avenue, chanting “Whites must go.”, no right-minded person would say that there were “many fine people” among them. We would condemn the protesters for their ugly, racist message. Rightly so.

    • You conveniently forget that Lincoln wanted to resettle the newly freed black men to Africa and Panama.

    • “Wilson himself was quoted in “Birth of a Nation,” the controversial 1915 D.W. Griffith silent film. The then-president even screened the film at the White House that year. It was the first film to be screened at the White House.”

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1f6fb2a0694756ea1b5e6022c1ba675c7e1d739e5dd5aeffb35415192349a8f2.jpg A caption quoting Woodrow Wilson in the film “The Birth of a Nation.” Credit Wikimedia Commons

      “Woodrow Wilson Statue Removal Prompts a Closer Look at His History with Race Relations ”

      By Ben Philpott & Andrew Weber • Aug 31, 2015
      KUT is Austin, Texas’s NPR Station

      “…Thomas Dixon, Jr., author of The Birth of a Nation’s source play and novel The Clansman, was a former classmate of then-president Woodrow Wilson at Johns Hopkins University. Dixon managed to arrange a screening of The Birth of a Nation at the White House for Wilson, members of his cabinet, and their families, in what was at the time one of the first ever screenings at the White House. …

      History.com similarly states that “There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance” for the KKK, and that throughout the film “African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous.”[112] As late as the 1970s, the Ku Klux Klan continued to use the film as a recruitment tool. …

      In letter to President Wilson sent on 5 September 1915, Dixon boasted: “This play is transforming the entire population of the North and the West into sympathetic Southern voters. There will never be an issue of your segregation policy”.[67] Dixon was alluding to the fact that Wilson upon becoming president in 1913 had tried as many black federal civil servants as possible and imposed segregation on Washington D.C., which at the time was run by the federal government. …”

      “The Wilson Center, chartered by Congress as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, is the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for the policy community.

      Research: Who We Are

      The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the official memorial to our nation’s 28th president. More than just a collection of marble pillars and famous quotes, the Center is “a living memorial,” …”

      SUPPORT the Wilson Center with every Amazon purchase.

  4. Mr. Sabo correctly argue that the Republican Party has drifted away from Lincoln, but preposterously argues that “Trump is trying to drag the party back kicking and screaming to its Lincoln roots”.

    President Trump has of course heard of Abraham Lincoln, but he’s made it clear that the former American president he admires most is not Lincoln but Andrew Jackson, so much so that he famously lamented that Jackson could have averted a civil war that Lincoln was unable, or possibly unwilling, to prevent. I quote in full:

    “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

    The absurdity of this statement cannot be overstated. The future of slavery, the overriding cause which compelled most of the slaveholding states to secede from the Union, could not “have been worked out”. Lincoln did offer the slaveholders “a deal”, as Trump might put it, but they refused Lincoln’s offer to keep their slaves. They refused because they were convinced in their own minds that if they were not allowed to expand their slave empire into the western states that the slavery would eventually die. The Party of Lincoln was anti-slavery party whose elements ranged from the radical abolitionists to moderates such as Lincoln.

    The Party of Jackson was in fact the pro-slavery party that Trump oddly honors today, even to the point of laying a wreath at Jackson’s own slave plantation at Hermitage. Reader comments below here appropriately note that the Democrat Party was the party of racism and slavery, yet here we are with a nominally Republican president who pays homage to the intellectual and ethical leader of the Democrat Party and all he stood for: Andrew Jackson.

    The Republican Party is hopelessly adrift, but Donald Trump is in no way the captain to steer the ship back its historic course. We have been defeated within our party by those who scorn Abraham Lincoln and honor Andrew Jackson. For those who are familiar with the writings of Leo Strauss and Harry Jaffa, Thrasymachus has had the last laugh.

    • The argument was that he’s trying to drag it back to Lincoln on the issue of tariffs, while pointing out that the GOP has run far afield of him on tariffs–your comment has no bearing on the soundness of the author’s thesis.

      • Trump has no tariff plan. Can you describe his plan in detail? Where is the legislation?

    • You’re incorrect thinking the Civil war wasn’t avoidable. Many have made the argument asking whether the 300K Union soldiers was worth while. That also applies to the 300K Confederate soldiers. The premise is that slavery was not sustainable. History points to other instances where slavery collapse on its own. So if you accept that slavery would have collapsed, was the Civil war worth it? President Lincoln wanted to heal the divisions between North and South after the war. But he was assassinated and the repubs went out of their way to exploit the vanquished. I think you can make the argument that the exploitation made the lot of the freed slaves worse off. They became the scapegoats for the carpetbaggers who swarmed over the South.
      What we can see for ourselves today is that alternative views cannot be discussed, past history cannot be agreed upon.
      Lincoln tried to unite the Country. But it takes two to tango. Something Trump is finding out today.

      • Reply to Derek

        There was no avoiding the civil war, apart from allowing secession. The confederate states seceded from the Union, despite Lincoln pledging to them that they keep their slaves. Lincoln offered “a deal” that would have made Trump proud, but the deal he offered wasn’t enough for the confederate states. What they demanded was something Lincoln could not, and rightly did not, accept: allowing slavery to extend into the territories and the new states formed from those territories.

        Yes, slavery would have eventually “collapsed on its own” but when at and what price? A Confederate States of America, had it defeated the North, would have been a geopolitical and moral disaster for Americans, but one which Jackson would have praised. And the point here is what the Republican Party stood for upon its founding, which stood in direct opposition to Jackson, and by extension, Trump. Lincoln was no abolitionist the day the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter but eventually became an abolitionist. For Trump to suggest, more than 150 years later, that the civil war was avoidable betrays a profound miscomprehension of Lincoln’s statesmanship.

        What we remember Lincoln for today wasn’t his policies in tariffs and the like, but that he understood our nation’s founding principles, the significance of those principles and the sacrifices required to defend those principles. Political leaders who praise the Democrat Andrew Jackson today, lay wreaths at his slave plantation and admire his portrait in the Oval Office have no use for our founding principles.

  5. We’re in the midst of an unCivil war with many parallel to our first Civil war. Back in the early 1800’s we had a unibrow party that included the dems and whigs. They had more in common with each other than they did with their constituents. The Abolitionist movement was the forerunner to the party of Lincoln as the Tea party was the precursor to the party of Trump. Trump is fighting on four fronts. The GOPe, the dems, the administrative state, and their media poodles. One big difference today is that the administrative state and media poodles are exponentially more powerful today. The GOPe was repudiated in the repub primaries and they decided to double down by supporting hillary in the general. This is really about globalists vs nationalists with the GOPe siding with the globalists. They oppose Trump’s America first agenda. The GOPe has already destroyed the repub party. They believe bringing Trump down will allow them to pick up the pieces and carry on as they did before. But if Trump fails the GOPe will never win another Presidency and without the Presidency they will lose their majority in both Houses. There is no way for the GOPe to put Humpty Dumpty back together. They will never attract the dems, indies, or first time voters Trump did.
    The GOPe hate Trump more than they love our Country.

  6. This is a great article. I want to read more like these. Thanks for writing it. Lincoln and our founding fathers are right. People are not special interests. We are Americans, nothing more and nothing less. We need protection so we can be successful. Our success should always be governments goal. For a person of high moral character, this shouldn’t be very hard.

  7. An excellent article but Abraham Lincoln was also a Whig committed to the development of infrastructure. In Illinois and in Congress Lincoln urged the development of roads, canals and railroads. As President Lincoln authorized the start of the Transcontinental railroad and the Northern Pacific. President Trump also is pushing for infrastructure improvement. Another similarity is that both Lincoln and Trump favor the development of America’s resources. President Trump is a fitting president for the Party of Lincoln.