Blog No. 91. Donald, Sarah and the Weimar Republic

PIC Trump and Palin 2 cards v3The news of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump seemed quite unsurprising, almost inevitable.  It immediately brought to mind an expression I heard long ago from a fellow soldier at Fort Benning. From time to time, Tom would remark with mild derision, “What a pair to draw to.” I have no recollection of the particular persons or things that inspired the comment, but a quick look on Google renewed my understanding of what he meant. As one writer put it:

One memory I have of my father is a saying he would use whenever we would encounter two people–usually two men, but sometimes a couple–who looked as if they were up to no good. My father, an inveterate poker player, would indicate with a nod and say, “There’s a pair to draw to.”

In the metaphor of poker, of course, the pair to which he was referring would have to be seen as a low pair, deuces or treys. Fours, fives. So in fact they were not a pair to draw to at all. It would be best just to fold before the draw and sit this hand out. But also there was the implication that trouble was just around the corner and was being drawn to the energy of the pair even at the moment, and if we wanted to wait around we probably could see it arrive.

Palin’s endorsement was delivered in remarks that were rambling and only marginally coherent, but that’s our Sarah. (For those who savor the genre, her remarks can be found here.)

Palin’s endorsement of Trump does not necessarily suggest that he would select her as a running mate. The Donald is sufficiently brand conscious that he might well conclude that Sarah had passed her sell-by date some time ago. On the other hand, if her support should appear helpful in Iowa (as some observers predict), and perhaps even elsewhere, who knows? And, come to think of it, who could Trump recruit as a running mate? In fact, we invite readers of to suggest names of any recognizable political figures who might be induced to serve as Vice-President under either Trump or Cruz.

Meanwhile, there have been interesting observations about the Trump phenomenon from varied sources. Trump’s attacks on Cruz have earned him criticism from right wing talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  Moving to the center, our last blog quoted David Brooks’s comments on the PBS NewsHour, and Brooks has now renewed and expanded those thoughts in his New York Times column. He called for a grass roots movement to spare the Republican Party from the likes of both Trump and Cruz:

Very few presidents are so terrible that they genuinely endanger their own nation, but Trump and Cruz would go there and beyond. Trump is a solipsistic branding genius whose “policies” have no contact with Planet Earth and who would be incapable of organizing a coalition, domestic or foreign.

Cruz would be as universally off-putting as he has been in all his workplaces. He’s always been good at tearing things down but incompetent when it comes to putting things together.

A similar view came from Michael Gerson, a Republican columnist in The Washington Post:

For Republicans, the only good outcome of Trump vs. Cruz is for both to lose. The future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.

George Will saw the election of Donald Trump as an event that would mean end of a conservative party in American politics:

Certainly conservatives consider it crucial to deny the Democratic Party a third consecutive term controlling the executive branch. Extending from eight to 12 years its use of unbridled executive power would further emancipate the administrative state from control by either a withering legislative branch or a supine judiciary. But first things first. Conservatives’ highest priority now must be to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in this, the GOP’s third epochal intraparty struggle in 104 years.

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In 2016, a Trump nomination would not just mean another Democratic presidency. It would also mean the loss of what Taft and then Goldwater made possible — a conservative party as a constant presence in U.S. politics.         

Disdain for Trump has even crossed the Atlantic. The British House of Commons rejected a motion to bar Trump from Britain, but the debate gave the members an opportunity to vent their views. As columnist Dana Milbank wrote in the Post, “it was useful proof that Trump is a reviled and preposterous figure to our most important ally and that America would be the laughingstock of the world if we elect him.Among the quotes reported by Milbank were:

“Daft and offensive.”

“Ridiculous xenophobe.”

“Impulsive, not well informed.”

“Objectionable and hateful.”


“The orange prince of American self-publicity.”

“What is under his hair?”

As Milbank summed it up:

But while there was no defense of Trump in the House of Commons, most in the debate thought it counterproductive to ban him from Britain, rather than employing, as one put it, “a classic British response of ridicule.”

That British natural resource was in abundant supply in Parliament on Monday.

Perhaps a good dose of ridicule is just what is needed here. In 1940, Charlie Chaplin wrote produced, directed and starred in The Great Dictator.  The film was a huge success and Chaplin’s portrayal of Adenoid Hynkel, a devastating parody of Adolf Hitler, made a significant contribution to the growing sentiment against Hitler’s regime. Ah, Charlie, where are you when we need you?

We do not intend to compare Trump to Hitler or even to claim, as some have, that he is a fascist. Writing in the The New Yorker on December 28, John Cassidy persuasively dismissed those claims, tying Trump instead to the Know-Nothing movement from an earlier period in American history. (“Donald Trump Isn’t a Fascist; He’s a Media-Savvy Know-Nothing”). But if Trump is no Hitler, or even a fascist, there may be disturbing parallels  between the mood of his supporters and the discontents in the Weimar Republic that spawned Hitler. That was the argument of Roger Cohen writing in The International New York Times in December:

Welcome to Weimar America: It’s getting restive in the beer halls. People are sick of politics as usual. They want blunt talk. They want answers.

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A near perfect storm for his rabble-rousing is upon the United States. China is rising. American power is ebbing. The tectonic plates of global security are shifting. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the graveyards of glory. There is fear, after the killing in California inspired by the Islamic State, of an enemy within.

Over more than a decade, American blood and treasure have been expended, to little avail. President Obama claims his strategy against Islamist jihadist terrorism, which he often sugarcoats as “violent extremism,” is working. There is little or no evidence of that.

A lot of Americans struggle to get by, their pay no match for prices.

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The Weimar Republic ended with a clown’s ascent to power, a high-energy buffoon who shouted loudest, a bully from the beer halls, a racist and a bigot. He was an outsider given to theatrics and pageantry. He seduced the nation of Beethoven. He took the world down with him.

Cohen’s argument appeared to gain support from a recent poll reported in Politico. The poll was conducted by Mathew MacWilliams who described an interesting finding:

I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

Possibly that is why, after watching Donald Trump for only a few moments, we tend to find ourselves humming:

Trumpland, Trumpland uber alles

Uber alles in der Welt

In the end, exploring the psyches of Trump and Cruz and their supporters is interesting but it is of secondary importance. No one is going to change their political views by being told that they are throwbacks to the citizens of the Weimar Republic. And the dangers of Trump and Cruz are apparent enough on their face without relying on historical analogies. What is needed, as David Brooks urged, is a grass roots campaign spurred by elected Republicans across the country and bolstered by engagement of the donor class. is in the fight and we hope for more company.

8 thoughts on “Blog No. 91. Donald, Sarah and the Weimar Republic

  • Bill Hessell certainly makes a good point regarding his “reality show” perception.
    Kind of reminds me of an old Bible caption; “We came as strangers and were taken in.”
    Sadly, a large percentage of the hoi polloi (the many) have been taken in.

  • It’s a sad reflection of the political state of a significant number of citizens that they are reduced to supporting candidates who are treating the election as a grotesque reality show, replete with insults, empty promises, megalomaniac outbursts, and void of substantive plans and policies. Has our political process been reduced to just another reality show, not unlike The Apprentice, The Kardashians, or the latest survival show, with contestants using any means to struggle for survival in some remote jungle, all while the cameras roll? The media is fixated on the evolving drama, much more entertaining than candidates trying to gain attention through talking in depth of the serious issues the nation faces. The task for everyone, regardless of party, wanting something better for the nation than what is being offered by Trump and Cruz, is to become as energized and committed to furthering their political causes as those backing these media hounds, in order to recapture the momentum in responsible, substantive ways prior to the election.

  • Doug: I am no longer amused and entertained by the antics of Trump, Cruz, Sarah. I am now concerned and worried that many of my fellow citizens are feeding at the trough of bigotry, misinformation, anti-intellectualism and paranoia.
    It took many years for Hitler to go from street thug (1924) to Chancellor (1933) to a reviled suicide (1945). If it takes the American people that long to recognize the true nature of Trump and Cruz, we are in a heap of trouble.
    As to your humorous question about who would accept the vice presidential nomination, I can think of several prominent politicians who would gladly run on a ticket with either Trump or Cruz: Steven King, Raul Labrador, Louie Gohmert, etc.
    There will no shortage of volunteers, sadly.

  • Neither Thrump nor Palin are or were my first choice for President but either one would have made a better Preident than Obama has been. I think we Republicans should spend more time promoting our choice than snipping at the heels of those we dislike. It would do the party better. This election is ours to close and constantly critizing other Republicans is a good way to lose it, our target should be Hillary’s and Obama’s record not cheap shots at Thrump, Palin or Cruz.

  • I waited in pleasant anticipation for your observations on the Trump-Palin alliance. I applaud your call for grass roots campaign to obtain an alternative to the Trump-Cruz conundrum. I am, however, not certain that I would characterize exploring the psyches of the Trump-Cruz supporters of secondary importance. I surmise that these citizens are profoundly angry and feel disenfranchised. We should be wary of explaining this dissatisfaction solely in light of partisan preference(s). The matter needs to be analyzed with greater rigor. Having so many angry people susceptible to demagoguery is not healthy for the country.

  • Mr. Trump, laugh if you will, has touched the raw nerves of dissatification bubbling
    beneath and now on the surface of many Americans.
    It is always unwise to not feel the pulse or to ignore the clamor of vocal citizens.
    To ignore this clamor is a fools errand.
    There must be an element of distain for all the other political candidates.
    I find it interesting that the pundits continuously create publicity
    for Mr. Trump and the competitors fall further behind.
    A fractured quotation……” I don’t care what you say, just spell the name right.”
    Bob Curry

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