Blog No. 99. Donald Trump as Aaron Burr: Where Is Alexander Hamilton When We Need Him?

The meeting last week between Donald Trump and Paul Ryan was something of a milestone in Donald Trump’s march to the nomination and perhaps the White House. While the meeting did not yield an endorsement by the Speaker, it produced a widespread expectation that one would be forthcoming in due course. Despite the media attention the meeting drew, the indication of a detente between Trump and Ryan was a relatively minor development, disappointing but not surprising. There are, of course, abundant grounds on which Ryan could withhold his support from Trump. Apart from issues of character and temperament, Trump’s expressed positions are at odds with Ryan’s on a variety of issues—immigration, free trade, banning of Muslims, entitlement reform, to name a few. But while we would have applauded a Ryan rejection of Trump and his candidacy, any hope for  Ryan’s doing so was unrealistic. Such an action would have seriously jeopardized Ryan’s own position as Speaker with little or no likelihood of its having a serious impact on the Trump bandwagon.

The dismal fact is that Trump has enjoyed growing support among Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.  For example, the day after meeting with Ryan, Trump received the endorsement of nine House Committee Chairmen. Even his most outspoken critics, such as Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Peter King have expressed their support for the party’s presumptive nominee. Groups traditionally supporting Republicans but initially cool to Trump, evangelicals and other social conservatives, are now reported to be warming to his candidacy.

As a veteran Republican, Michael Gerson aptly put it in The Washington Post:

In the category of credit where credit is due, Donald Trump has been exactly right in one important respect. He attacked the Republican establishment as low-energy, cowering weaklings. Now Republican leaders are lining up to surrender to him — like low-energy, cowering weaklings. The capitulation has justified the accusation.

In the prevailing atmosphere, it appears unlikely that Trump will be harmed by the latest round of bizarre stories concerning his past. One such story was a lengthy review of Trump’s relationships with various women over many years, published on the front page of the The New York Times. The story, which was said to be based on fifty interviews conducted over six weeks, can best be described as a considerable waste of journalistic resources. It told readers very little about Trump that they did not already know, imagine or assume. In addition, whatever impact the story might have had was quickly undermined when the leading example of Trump’s treatment of women spoke up to challenge the article’s depiction of her experience at Mar-a-Lago: while the Times’s reporters found it “debasing,” she had not. The second story concerned the unearthing of a recording of a 1991 interview in which Trump apparently posed as one “John Miller,” the better to expound on his own talents. The Times article and the 1991 tape tend to reinforce conclusions that many of us reached long ago as to Trump’s fitness for office, but they are not likely to cost him many votes.

There are, of course, still some holdouts.  Conservative leaders, such as Eric Ericson of Red State, and others are reportedly working on a plan to get delegates who are pledged to Trump to ignore that obligation at the convention. It is doubtful whether that tactic could be implemented legally, but even if it could, there is no evidence that there would be many takers. At the same time, Bill Kristol and Mitt Romney are reported to be continuing to search for someone who might be willing to take on the daunting task of an independent campaign. The names mentioned most often are Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, John Kasich and Romney himself.  For readers not familiar with Sasse, Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Post, provided a tantalizing excerpt from a recent Sasse speech:    

Both parties are only interested in punching each other in the face. I think we face a crisis of political vision that flows from the fact that we have two exhausted parties in Washington right now. Democrats pretend like we can make America Europe again by expanding 1960s entitlement programs, and too many Republicans believe that we can solve the problem by making America 1950 again. When you talk to 18-to-22-year-old kids, they’re pretty dispirited. They know that Republicans have largely left the field, and Democrats have a terrible product. My party isn’t selling an optimistic vision, and the other party is trying to sell centralization in the age of Uber.  

That is only a brief glimpse, but to us it was an attractive one. Rubin also described Sasse’s impressive background and suggested that the odds were 50-50 that he might run. That, however, strikes us as wishful thinking. Sasse is, at 44, a young man with a very promising career ahead of him and sacrificing it, in what must seem a quixotic venture, is a much longer shot.

The title of this blog is borrowed from a column in the Dallas Morning News brought to our attention by a subscriber. The column, “If Trump is today’s Aaron Burr, who will be our Alexander Hamilton?” was written by a Professor at the University of Texas Law School, Sanford Levinson, Professor Levinson pointed out that Burr’s character and lack of principle led Hamilton to support his own bitter political enemy, Thomas Jefferson, in the election of 1800. Levinson quoted Hamilton’s writings at the time:

Hamilton set out a full bill of particulars against Burr in a letter the next week to John Rutledge. Burr is “one of the most unprincipled men in the United States.” He is, “in every sense a profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme … His very friends do not insist upon his integrity.”


No one could think him qualified to be president “based on his public service.” Most tellingly, “No mortal can tell what his principles are. He has talked all round the compass … The truth seems to be that he has no plan but that of getting power by any means and keeping it by all means.” He possesses “an irregular and inordinate ambition … He knows well the weak sides of human nature,” and he skillfully manipulates “the passions of all with whom he has intercourse.”

Levinson concluded that “All Republicans upset about Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of their party and, more ominously, the prospect of his becoming president, should be asking themselves “what would Hamilton do?” The answer, he suggested is clear. Alas, however, the Republican Party is painfully short of Hamiltons or anyone who might demonstrate similar courage (even without threat of a duel with Donald). 

If a third party candidate does not materialize, we agree with Bret Stephens, who wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Hillary: the Conservative Hope.” As Stephens explained:

For conservatives, a Democratic victory in November means the loss of another election, with all the policy reversals that entails. That may be dispiriting, but elections will come again. A Trump presidency means losing the Republican Party. Conservatives need to accept that most conservative of wisdoms—sometimes, losing is winning, especially when it offers an education in the importance of political hygiene.

George Will had written in a similar vein on April 29:

If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power. Six times since 1945 a party has tried, and five times failed, to secure a third consecutive presidential term. The one success — the Republicans’ 1988 election of George H.W. Bush — produced a one-term president. If Clinton gives her party its first 12 consecutive White House years since 1945, Republicans can help Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, or someone else who has honorably recoiled from Trump, confine her to a single term.

The question remains as to whether Clinton will rescue the Republican Party by defeating its candidate. If, as we suggested, the contest between Trump and Cruz meant attempting to choose the lesser of two weevils, the match up between Trump and Clinton may be seen as the World Series of Weevils. But who will win? Most analysts appear to believe that Clinton is a clear favorite to be elected in November, perhaps decisively enough to give Democrats control of the Senate and conceivably even the House. In this peculiar year, however, it would take someone of uncommon bravado to make confident predictions. As we have observed, Clinton has many vulnerabilities both personal and political. Her unfavorability rating is less than Trump’s, but still remarkably high, and it is not clear how much support she will have from the followers of Bernie Sanders.  In short, Republicans who seek to avoid the debacle of a Trump presidency may not enjoy the luxury of “staying home” or leaving blank the presidential line on their ballots. The survival of their party may require them to cast the most painful vote of their lives–for Clinton.

17 thoughts on “Blog No. 99. Donald Trump as Aaron Burr: Where Is Alexander Hamilton When We Need Him?

  • Hay, Bill, thanks for your kind words on Louisiana. Residents of New Orleans for going on 35 years, we love it more and more. The food and music can’t be beat and the people are as nice as can be. But, yes, as the saying goes, “vote early and often.” Hope to see you in the Big Easy one of these days. Best,
    PS Trump will carry Louisiana but
    never New Orleans.

  • Thanks Bill. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Doug Parker for helping us think clearly about the 2016 presidential election. It is disheatening that Donald Trump, a complete jerk, has emerged as the GOP presumtive nominee, and that Hillary Clinton has yet to convince voters that she would be a good president. But, at the end of the day, we must make a choice and it seems to me that she might be okay. Trump, on the other hand, would likely be a terrible president and rip the Republican party to shreds and do incalculable harm to our country.

    Reminds me of our govvernor’s election in Louisiana about ten years ago when Edwin Edwards (a/k/a “Fast Eddy”) ran against former KKK clansman David Duke. The bumper stickers read: “Vote for the Crook, It’s Important.” Edwards ended up in the federal penitentiary for a river boat gambling scam but at least did no lasting harm to Louisiana.

    • I do hope, Roger, the choice between the lesser of two less than desirable candidates doesn’t become the usual instead of the exception. With the world as it is, not sure how many ineffectual or dangerous presidents we could well survive. I have great confidence in the resilience and wisdom of the American people, as long as its public education system is properly funded and well managed. That’s become a serious problem in many states, California among them. Hope Louisiana is doing ok, I love that state, for its music, culture, food, if not for its politics.

  • As one who has become a political pessimist based on disenchantment with the establishments of both major parties, it is refreshing and reassuring to read the well-considered deliberations that RINO readers are expressing in deciding how to deal with a choice between two far from ideal candidates. With so many primary voters drawn to an egocentric, unprepared candidate seemingly willing to return our nation to the Dark Ages, and dragging the bulk of his party’s establishment along with him, I can only hope that a majority of voters will give similar thought and discretion as RINO followers in the process of deciding how to cast their vote.

  • Sorry, Bob, but I think you may be underestimating the damage Trump could do to our country were he elected president. The man is hopelessly ignorant of world affairs and we live in perilous times. His picks for the Supreme Court are extreme right-wing ideologues who could take away our civil liberties and further poison our campain finance system, putting the Koch brothers and other billionaires in charge of federal and state elections.

    I agree we are a very resilient country but we’ve never had a shameless huckster or circus barker for prez. Trump would sell the Golden Gate Bridge or the Statue of Liberty to the highest bidder if he could “make a deal” and enrich himself in the process. Best wishes, Roger

  • To the Doom and Gloomers, Panic Predictors, Nay Sayers, Above the Frayers,
    The End Has Comers,
    Do you have such little faith in the strength and wisdom of our people albeit left or right, or centrist?Do you really believe this is the end of our Democracy?
    Whether Hillary, Donald, Bernie, or if some other candidate emerges and becomes Our President…We will survive and thrive
    We will continue to be the freedom leader of the world.
    The glory of America has always rested in the many contrarian factions that coalesce when our freedom is challenged.
    This too shall pass and we will learn, adapt, thrive and survive.
    The sky is not falling.
    Bob Curry

    • On that I will agree. Angst no more!
      Walter Winchell once said; “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
      And that folks is not gossip.
      We take all of our elected politicians down to the river, baptize them by submersion and pray like hell for the fish.

  • Thanks Monica. Guess I’m
    just an optomist at heart. Trumpism is worrisome to be sure. We’re thinking Vancouver, a besutiful city with a moderate climate. But would love to hear more about your ex-pat plans down the road if Darth Vader becomes prez. Best wishes, Roger

  • Add Tasmania to the list of possible ex-pat communities. I understand it’s a good choice. ps

  • All bets are off and history predicts nothing with this election. Donald Trump is a Black Swan event that has gone unchecked as the parade passes by and onlookers stare in disbelief. Maybe the best out come we’re going to get is a Hollywood movie that doesn’t require creating fiction. Perhaps I’ll start selling henna to support my move to Tasmania.

  • As someone who attended the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (as the guest of the VIP mother of a college friend…I was 18, not even old enough to vote back-then), I see alarming ugliness on both sides this year, especially in the wake of the “Bernie-Bro” violence at the recent Nevada Democratic Convention, which evoked some scary memories. I fear that Hillary cannot prevail over thugs coming at her from both sides (tinged with considerable misogyny, if you will forgive me), and that Trump will be elected…because more Bernie-Bros will no-vote than responsible Republicans will cast “the most painful vote of their lives” for her. I doubt that even Alexander Hamilton could forestall the looming catastrophe of a Trump presidency, but apart from Ben Sasse and the other few GOP gentlemen you mentioned, no one seems to be trying very hard. Hope I’m wrong.

    • No worries Monica. Demagogues on the left or the right have never been elected president. Sanders is a nuisance but will likely support Hillary in the general. Trump has alienated huge voting blocks with his attacks on women and Hispanics, his thinly disguised racism, his plans to weaken the safety net for seniors, to relegate the poor to soup kitchens and the sick to emergency rooms. Trump’s foreign policy prescriptions, including a break with our NATO allies and praise for Russian dictator Putin, are anathema to vitrually all forein policy experts in both major parties.

      I also remember the 1968 DNC in Chicago and the police riot outside the convention hall that propelled Niixon — perhaps our most mentally unbalanced president — to the White House. But the ruckus by some Bernie supporters in Nevada has already disappeared from the evening news and will not help Trump become prez.

      The only way he wins is if, God forbid, Hillary becomes incapacitated before election day. (In that event, my wife and I are moving to Canada.) Let’s get out the vote to ensure that Hillary crushes Trump in November.

      • Dear Roger, Thanks very much for taking the time to share your comforting words, but I am not an optimistic person by nature, and less so every day as this sickening campaign continues. But Canada??? The Canadians are the nicest people on the planet, but the weather is COLD. I’m thinking of establishing an ex-pat colony in a warmer clime…Mexico (at least before the wall is built), Panama and the Bahamas have been suggested by some of my friends; your/your wife’s ideas are most welcome! Monica

  • It’s amazing and disheartening that many in the Republican party so quickly abdicated to their fear and stepped up to support the elephant in the room; the elephant with the orange hair. What happened to ethics? Is there nothing left that shames them? Is Trump now the only one who speaks his mind without looking over his shoulder?

    • Bravo! Neither the Republican Party nor the USA could suffer a president Trump. He would, as you say, destroy the Party and wreck our country’s standing in the world.

      As for Hamilton, he did our country a great service by helping Jefferson win the presidency in the House of Representatives. It’s a pity Jefferson could never return the favor after Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.

      While I agree that mud-slinging will not help Trump or Clinton in the general election, his agenda is anathema to so many voters that he cannot possibly win the presidency absent extraordinary unforseen events beyond the control of either candidate.

    • The craven politicians who now support Trump — the monster they warned against last month — are signing their own political death warrants. Paul Ryan can never become president after allying himself with Trump. He will also lose his speakership in the House after Trump crashes and burns in November.

      As for ethics, H.L. Mencken once aptly wrote that all politicians are liars and crooks. Some, much more than others, however, have brains and know how to advance the public good.

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