You’ll notice a striking difference between election news coverage now and the leadup to the 2016 presidential primaries: The mainstream media have hardly breathed a word about Donald Trump (except to say that he’s not doing well in their “polls” and so obviously voters must want him out of the race). Back when Trump was making his run for the nomination in 2015, the newspapers couldn’t keep him off their front pages. He got hours of coverage on every news network every day.
But that was back when most Republicans (myself included) didn’t consider Trump a serious candidate. The media decided he would be a wonderful candidate from the Democrats’ perspective and selected him as most likely to lose to Hillary Clinton. So they gave him all the free coverage he could handle. Once the establishment realized that Trump was connecting with and inspiring millions of Americans (myself included), it was too late to stop him.
But the papers and TV shows and social sites have learned their lesson this time around: People love hearing about Trump, and he loves talking. Media attention is his oxygen. So now they won’t give him any. Prepare yourselves to hear hardly a whisper about Trump for the next year or two—except for portentous statements offered by pompous talking heads who will say he needs to drop out now “for the good of the party.” Whose party do you suppose they mean?
At their convention in 1900, the Republicans renominated William McKinley for president. They also had a problem on their hands: a boisterous trouble-maker with an exceptional ability to inspire crowds. His name was Teddy Roosevelt, a man more than one contemporary would describe as “the most remarkable man I ever met.” But the Republican Party had never liked Roosevelt, principally because he was impossible to control. He had a penchant for saying exactly what he thought and doing exactly what he wanted, no matter whether it was in line with the approved party platform.
In 1900, Roosevelt had been making a huge nuisance of himself as governor of New York, a position of massive importance in which, as he grew more and more popular, he became harder and harder to control. The Republicans, led by Thomas C. Platt (“Boss Platt”), wanted him out—out of New York, and out of power, period. So they hatched the perfect plan, nominating him for vice president, where he couldn’t do anything.
Roosevelt took the bait. The temptation of being a top man in Washington, D.C., was too great for him to resist, even though he knew he’d have no real power. And when McKinley won the election, the political bosses were doubly delighted: They had the White House, and they had managed to move TR from the vital role of New York governor to the totally impotent role of vice president.
The vice presidency at the turn of the century was a political graveyard, where politicians were sent to be gently eased out of power forever. We had not yet arrived at the modern tradition of having vice presidents generally rise to the presidency, or at least to the nomination. A vice president wasn’t even guaranteed to be nominated as the running mate for the second term of the president he had served. (McKinley’s first vice president was Garret Hobart, although he had a particularly good reason for not getting a second term—he died in office of a heart attack.)
Teddy Roosevelt’s political career was considered over when he went to Washington as vice president after the Republican victory of 1900. And it would have stayed that way if not for a freak twist of fate: In September 1901, McKinley became the third American president to be assassinated. Roosevelt was elevated from obscurity to the office he most desired and was best-suited to fill. The political bosses realized they had made a mistake, but it was too late: Their mistake haunted them through three presidential terms (two of TR’s and one of Taft’s). And then, after Taft’s first term, things got really bad.
TR wanted to be president again. He thought Taft was doing a mediocre job. And he argued (with a certain logic) that he’d never really had the two terms to which an American president was traditionally entitled because he’d only been elected president once—his first term, remember, had merely been the completion of McKinley’s.
But the Republican Party hated TR even more by 1912, even if the voters adored him. So they renominated Taft against the popular consensus. In response, TR founded a third party, the infamous “Bull Moose” party. This split the Republican vote, though in the process, TR got more votes than Taft, the only time in history that one of the two main parties finished in third place. This handed the presidency to Woodrow Wilson, one of the most destructive men of the 20th century (and the first academic to be elected president). Wilson never would have stood a chance had the Republican nomination gone to TR—he was elected with a mere 41 percent of the vote, an historic low.
But from the Republican perspective, it was better to lose the presidential race and have a Democrat in power with whom they could work—one who could play the game and be part of the machine—than it was to have someone who couldn’t be controlled. They never again made the mistake of nominating a man who wasn’t under their thumb. At least, not until 2016.
So remember: The GOP isn’t really our party. It never was. That is the central truth that the Trump phenomenon has exposed—or exposed anew. It’s a political machine, just like the Democratic Party, and it wants to run itself, not be run by “ordinary” people like you and me. Trump’s nomination the first time around, from the GOP’s perspective, was a huge mistake, just as TR’s had been. And they have no intention of repeating that kind of mistake.
The GOP and the Democrats and the media are all agreed on one, central point: Trump cannot become president again. All these power groups’ motivations are different, but their interests are aligned, and the stakes are practically existential.
Keep the story of the 1900 Republican Convention in mind, too, when you think of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: He’s a huge success in Florida, and is the only governor standing up to the federal government in any meaningful way. What could be better than to seduce him away from that role with the promise of the presidency? Kill two birds with one stone, and kill America, too, while you’re at it.
Trump was a huge mistake: He was the biggest mistake machine politicians had made in over a century. The success of Trump’s presidency dealt establishment politicians a heavy blow. A second Trump term might kill them, and they know it.
So, be prepared to hear nothing about Trump’s candidacy, nothing about his massive rallies, nothing about the unwavering enthusiasm of his supporters. Be prepared to hear only one thing: That the “people” don’t want him. But don’t believe it. Remember which people are doing the talking.