COLUMBUS — Akron’s Ray Bliss wouldn’t recognize fellow Republican President Donald Trump’s emerging campaign for re-election.
As Republican national chairman, Bliss put the GOP back together after conservative Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss to Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Bliss, who died at 73 in 1981, did it by uniting the party’s warring factions — conservatives, moderates and a few liberals — around shared principles such as lower taxes, smaller government and reduced spending.
He believed in inclusiveness.
“We should be tolerant of the deeply held convictions of others,” Bliss, who owned an Akron insurance agency, once told me.
His rebuilding plan helped elect Republican Richard M. Nixon president in 1968. Until Trump came along, most Republican presidents and presidential candidates at least gave lip service to Bliss’ call for inclusiveness and toleration.
Trump took a different approach in his successful 2016 presidential campaign, and it looks like he’ll repeat it in 2020.
A recent New York Times story by Peter Baker concluded that Trump has abandoned “the old-fashioned idea that a president, once reaching office, should at least pretend to be the leader of all the people.”
“He is speaking to his people, not the people,” Baker wrote. “He has become, or so it often seems, the president of the United Base of America.”
Among other things, Trump has blasted his enemies as “treasonous” and threatened to dump migrants in Democrat-controlled cities, Baker wrote.
In fairness to Trump, his base now appears to include most Republicans. The GOP no longer seems to have liberal, moderate and conservative factions. Membership is defined by allegiance to Trump.
A few heretics such as former Ohio Gov. John Kasich oppose Trump’s scorched-earth approach, but their voices barely register against the president’s hyperbolic and often untruthful diatribes.
Interestingly, Trump’s us-against-them approach resembles the same way Goldwater campaigned in 1964. Unlike Trump, however, the Arizonan’s personal integrity and allegiance to the truth were seldom questioned.
Even before he won the nomination, Goldwater expressed his disdain for moderates and liberals concentrated in the East.
“Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it flow out to sea,” Goldwater said.
The Republican National Convention in San Francisco at which Goldwater won the nomination was a tension-filled public relations disaster, with Goldwater loyalists openly feuding with backers of moderates such as New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
Goldwater’s acceptance speech amplified his disdain for those who disagreed with him.
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Despite his landslide loss to Johnson — Goldwater won just six states, Arizona and five southern states — his conservatism gained support among Republicans, culminating in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 and his re-election four years later.
Reagan, however, was pragmatic as well as conservative. He wanted to unite the party. To help do that he picked as his running mate George H.W. Bush, who had been the moderate alternative to Reagan in the GOP primary.
There will be little talk at next year’s Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., of any alternative to Trump. The president, as presidents before him have done, has taken control of his party at the local, state and national levels.
The convention will be a Trump love-in.
Trump’s appeal to a base of devoted followers was enough to gain victory in the Electoral College in 2016, although he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
In the New York Times story, a spokesman for Trump’s re-election campaign said the strong economy and other issues will help the president expand his appeal next year. So far, however, Trump has not toned down his divide-and-conquer rhetoric, either on Twitter or in person.
Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He is the coauthor, with John C. Green, of "Mr. Chairman: The Life and Times of Ray C. Bliss." He can be reached at email@example.com.