Donald Trump has dropped a number of hints about his favourite US president, and it says a lot about what he means by his campaign slogan “make America great again.”
Although Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for presidents such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan — all must-names for preferred presidents as a Republican candidate — it’s his inclusion of a fourth name that helps clear up any debate over his favourite: Dwight Eisenhower.
Trump professed his admiration for Eisenhower in a Reddit AMA last month when he was asked about his favourite president — making sure to name Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan as well.
Eisenhower, who served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II, was the last president to have been voted to the presidency without holding prior elected office, a streak Trump is attempting to break. Only four presidents have ever held the position without holding prior elected office, and the other three — Herbert Hoover, Ulysses S. Grant, and Zachary Taylor — all did so long before Trump was born.
With the Manhattan billionaire being born in 1946, Eisenhower would have been the president that represented Trump’s most formative years, having served in office from 1953-1961. The current Republican nominee once lined up with fellow students in the late 1950s to wave at Eisenhower as he passed by in a limousine on his way to deliver the first pitch of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, as reported in the recently released “Trump Revealed,” which also noted that Trump, whose father was a Republican, wore “I like Ike” pins during Eisenhower’s re-election year.
Multiple sources told Business Insider that it’s this time period, the 1950s, that Trump is really referencing when he says he will “make America great again.”
“There was almost unparalleled American power and self-confidence after World War II,” said Alex Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, when asked about why Trump might be most drawn to the 34th president. “The 1950s is what he, in his mind, had as his normal and what we should get back to.”
Eisenhower was at one-time recruited by both the Democratic and Republican parties to run for the presidency, and Keyssar called him a “quasi-consensus candidate.”
“Eisenhower himself was the opposite in terms of the controversy provoking,” he continued, comparing the two. “You know, he was almost bland in a lot of ways. To me, it may be less about Eisenhower per say than it is about what the 50s symbolized to him.”
The real-estate magnate has intermittently tweeted about Eisenhower in recent years, cited him as the standard-bearer for earning the most votes in Republican primary history [“Dwight D. Eisenhower — great guy…I beat him,] and used a past Eisenhower plan to defend his immigration positions.
“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him,” he said in a November primary debate. ‘I like Ike,’ right?”
“Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border,” he continued, speaking of the highly controversial “Operation Wetback” program [Trump’s numbers weren’t completely accurate]. “They came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back.”
Trump is also promising a massive infrastructure package — double what Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will spend, he recently said, which would end up falling around $800 billion to $1 trillion. The Republican president most famous for his infrastructure program is Eisenhower, under who the interstate highway system was completed.
“He wants to go back to the 50s,” Republican strategist and founder of the Potomac Strategy Group Matt Mackowiak told Business Insider. “He had something of a privileged upbringing and he did like the world as it existed when he was a kid. A lot of us are developed based on our childhood.”
Mackowiak said the thought of Trump comparing himself to Eisenhower is “interesting.”
“I think if you sat him down and said “tell me one thing Eisenhower did as president” he couldn’t tell you,” Mackowiak said. “I truly don’t think that. He might say ‘well, he was the supreme allied commander and he was elected president. That’s probably the extent of what he can tell you. But there’s no question, he might know that Eisenhower led a real eight years of peace and prosperity. And so, he may have some knowledge of that.”
Mackowiak added that Trump’s references to Eisenhower are likely a byproduct of Trump’s want to compare himself to historical figures.
“He wants to compare himself to Eisenhower by saying he won more votes than Eisenhower did as if beating someone 60 years ago when the country’s population was half or a third of what it is today is an impressive accomplishment,” he said. “So he does like sort of dropping names from the past as a way to elevate his status as a peer of significant historical figures.”
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