Sam Tanenhaus: Is Trump the New Reagan?

Trump holds a meeting with the Senate Finance Committee members at the White House in Washington

Sam Tanenhaus, the former editor of the New York Times Book Review, and Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, discuss Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Pat Buchanan, Neoconservatives and the future of the Republican Party.

Editor's Note: In our latest Facebook Live interview (please like our Facebook page to see more of these events) Sam Tanenhaus, the former editor of the New York Times Book Review, and Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, discuss Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Pat Buchanan, Neoconservatives and the future of the Republican Party.

Sam Tanenhaus recently wrote an article on Karl Rove's Gilded Age. An excerpt of the article can be found below:

THESE ARE trying times for Karl Rove, and for the “big-government” Republicanism he did so much to create and promote. In November it will be ten years since his first major political defeat, the 2006 midterm disaster that gave the Democrats majorities in both the Senate and the House, halting the “rolling realignment” Rove had predicted two years before after the narrow reelection of his boss, George W. Bush. In August 2007, with the house of cards collapsing, Rove, its “architect,” slipped out the side exit, just ahead of Senate investigators looking at his part in the mass firing of U.S. Attorneys in what Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said were “apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud.” The freshman senator Barack Obama, asked to comment on Rove’s legacy, suggested that he had, after all, been a master builder—of “a political strategy that has left the country more divided, the special interests more powerful and the American people more shut out from their government than any time in memory.”

Released from the Beltway, Rove might have retreated to higher ground—like his boss, reborn as Churchillian painter and memoirist, or Dick Cheney, coming forth at intervals to recite new dark verses in his Book of Revelation. There is also the example of David Axelrod, every bit Rove’s equal as campaign maestro, now contentedly directing the mugwumpish Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, while also offering pastoral homilies on the harshening Clinton-Sanders contest via CNN and Twitter (“Man, this is what I DON’T miss about politics: Finger-pointing & post mortems before 1st game’s even been played!”)

A game? Not for Rove. He pledged himself long ago to “the fight,” whether waged on the high plains of battleground states or in knifethrusts in the back alleys of Fox News. His previous book, the memoir Courage and Consequence, relitigated every controversy in the Bush presidency, large and small, with a fanaticism that rekindled the suspicion that it really had been “the Rove presidency,” in Joshua Green’s phrase.

Now Rove is back, with The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters, its publication timed for the GOP nomination, its hero “a different kind of Republican who felt the GOP must broaden its base,” in proleptic rebuke of today’s party, intent on defying the facts of demographic change. McKinley as subject will not surprise seasoned Rove-watchers. “Karl Rove has a riff, which he gives to anybody who will listen, entitled ‘It’s 1896,’” Nicholas Lemann reported in January 2000, when Rove was steering Bush toward the nomination:

Every national political reporter has heard it, to the extent that it induces affectionate eyerolling when it comes up. ‘It’s 1896’ is based on Rove’s reading of the work of a small school of conservative revisionist historians of the Gilded Age (that is, historians who love the Gilded Age), one of whom, Lewis Gould, taught a graduate course that Rove took at the University of Texas.

Here’s the theory, delivered at Rove’s mile-a-minute clip: everything you know about William McKinley and Mark Hanna—the man elected president in 1896 and his political Svengali—is wrong. The country was in a period of change. McKinley’s the guy who figured it out. Politics were changing. The economy was changing. We’re at the same point now: weak allegiances to parties, a rising new economy.

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