The Green Stars Project

The Best Republican Presidents versus Trump

This post is dedicated to Republican voters who are undecided about whether or not to vote for Donald Trump in November. There’s probably a desire to vote for him purely because he’s the representative of the Republican Party and that’s how you’ve always voted. It’s hard to overcome the deep resistance to change that we all feel – there’s no doubt about that. For Republicans deciding on which way to vote, the key question is this: Does Donald Trump represent Republican Party values? To provide some food for thought, I’m going to run a quick comparison between Donald Trump and the three best Republican US presidents.

Who are the three best Republican US presidents?

After each new US president is elected, historians and biographers are polled by C-SPAN on the greatest US presidents of all time. Here are the results of the last three polls in 2000, 2009 and 2017 – you can see that the rankings are fairly consistent with just some minor shuffling (and of course, inclusion of the new presidents). For a meta-analysis of the best US Presidents, check out this table from Wikipedia – again, the rankings are fairly consistent. Cross-checking against this nice list of all US presidents and their political party affiliations, we can pull out the most highly ranked Republican presidents. They are:

  1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1864)
  2. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1908)
  3. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1960)

It’s interesting to see that they’re spaced about 40-50 years apart – there’s so much history in between Lincoln and Eisenhower that you would think they are separated by more than a mere century. This spacing works out well for this analysis as the candidates span the early, pre-war and post-war periods of the Republican Party. So, let’s take a look at the accomplishments of the top three US Republican Presidents to see whether President Donald Trump fits the mold.

Abraham Lincoln

No surprise here – Abraham Lincoln is the highest-ranked Republican president and also generally ranks first overall among all US presidents (in some surveys he ranks second to George Washington, who was non-partisan). Lincoln was also the first ever Republican president, being elected in 1860, just six years after the Republican Party was formed. Note that the Republican Party (aka the GOP, or “Grand Old Party”) was formed in large part to address the expansion of slavery in the US. Lincoln, of course, is best known for the accomplishment of abolishing slavery in the US. He also led the nation through the US Civil War and was an advocate for democracy and equality. He was born into poverty in a log cabin.

How does Donald Trump compare to Abraham Lincoln?

Donald Trump was born into riches, inheriting his father’s real estate business at 25. While Lincoln used his training in law to fight for the enslaved, Trump uses his training in business to fight for more personal wealth. Lincoln is considered a great president because of how he dealt with slavery and the civil war. Trump will be judged based on how he dealt with the Coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and social injustice. But I won’t try to convince you that he’s doing a bad job, or even that climate change is real. Instead, I want to convince you that Trump does not care about you.  

Unlike Lincoln, Trump cares little about minorities – there’s a growing list of quotes from the president that strongly suggest that he is a white supremacist. There are also many quotes from President Trump indicating that he has no respect for women. And, more recently, we learned that he thought of soldiers who died in World War I as “suckers and losers.” Who’s left?

He has turned his back on the people around him and even on entire cities and organizations (including Fox News!) when he feels that they are not with him. But where does he actually plan to go in the next four years?

Abraham Lincoln brought the country through a civil war that erupted from a need to correct the wrong of slavery. Many are starting to talk about the real danger that President Trump will bring the country to civil war if we let him. Donald Trump is pretty much the opposite of Abraham Lincoln, the first and best US Republican president.

Theodore Roosevelt

The second-highest ranked Republican US president is Theodore Roosevelt – he ranks fourth, on average, when counting presidents from all parties. He took over as the industrial 20th century was just getting started and his mission was to protect both the people and the landscape of America from corporate harm. He summed up his ethos as the Square Deal, with its three goals of consumer protection, corporate regulation, and the conservation of natural resources.

Roosevelt protected consumers from bogus goods through the Pure Food and Drug Act and introduced many measures to improve labor conditions. He tackled corporate misbehavior with 44 antitrust suits, breaking up monopolies in finance, railroads and the oil industry. But the legacy that he was most proud of was protecting habitats – he established the US Forest Service, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 51 bird preserves, and over 150 National Forests. In total he placed over 230 million acres under national protection (over twice the area of California).

How does Donald Trump compare to Theodore Roosevelt?

As Donald Trump set off fireworks beside Mount Rushmore in July, when much of the nation was under a high fire risk alert, he already seemed at odds with Teddy Roosevelt, who looked down from the mountain along with Abe Lincoln. President Trump has shown a consistent lack of respect for the natural world, including National Parks and Monuments, by undoing environmental protections. In August, Trump did sign a bipartisan measure to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (dubbed the Great American Outdoors Act) to protect funding for National Parks and other sensitive areas. In a speech following his signing of this act, Trump compared himself to Theodore Roosevelt, indicating that he really does want to be compared to the best Republican presidents.

The truth behind the Great American Outdoors Act

The problem with politics (and why so many people tire of it) is that getting to the bottom of a story always takes a little digging. Here are some established facts about the Land and Water Conservation Fund:

  1. Every year, Trump has proposed to cut that same fund by as much as 97%.
  2. Republicans senators Steve Daines (Montana) and Cory Gardner (Colorado), who helped champion the bill, had previously also voted in favor of cutting the fund’s budget.
  3. The bill was actually bipartisan but Trump invited no democrats to the signing, to make it look like a Republican effort.

It was clearly an attempt to alter public perception that Trump doesn’t care about public land. But the perception has a solid basis – it’s estimated that Trump has undone protection of over 35 million acres (about the area of Florida) and that’s about 1000-times greater than land that’s newly protected under his administration. You may not have a problem with this, or that Trump downsized two National Monuments in Utah to allow the land to be developed by oil companies and ranchers, but just know these are the opposite values to those of Roosevelt, the second best Republican president.

Dwight Eisenhower

Ranking as the third best Republican president, Eisenhower was instrumental in ending World War II (leading North Africa and Normandy) before becoming president in 1953. He contributed to ending McCarthyism and then signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, established NASA, and promoted science education.

How does Donald Trump compare to Dwight Eisenhower?

McCarthyism sounds to me like one of the darkest times in recent US history. Seeking out and intimidating “commies” without evidence, censoring everyone who disagreed with the establishment. Trump’s rule by Twitter and intimidation is not far off this and it’s only going to get worse – it creeps closer to a dictatorship with every passing month. In contrast to Eisenhower’s signing of the Civil Rights Act, Trump has endangered civil rights for many, and his egging on of alt-right paramilitary groups is one of the scariest things about his Presidency. We’ve already touched on President Trump’s comments on soldiers who died in World Wars and, as for valuing science, Trump’s refusal to wear a mask says it all.

Does Donald Trump represent Republican Party values?

Having taken the three best Republican presidents and looked at their values, it becomes pretty clear that Donald Trump’s values don’t align with them. Don’t think that voting for him is normal and that you are just voting for Republican values as usual – Trump’s values are very different, and not in a good way. Biden may not represent all of your values but he’s a whole lot closer to being a decent, honorable human being. The world at large will appreciate it if you break from the norms to do the right thing. You can take solace from this quote (referring to Joe Biden) from a Republican who has joined the growing band who will not vote for Trump:

This guy has one term written all over him. Let him win. We’ll have four years to rebuild the base, re-educate the party, bleach out the Trump cult stain and then come back.

The Green Stars Project will be dedicated to the US election for the month of October. Thanks for reading & please share this with your Republican friends and relatives.

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