How President Trump Is Succeeding Where FDR Failed

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tags: FDR, Trump



David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, "No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War." He lives in Watertown, Mass.

Although Donald Trump’s Republican Party controls both houses of Congress, the centerpiece of his legislative program, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, has failed to pass the Senate. Other plans for tax cuts and infrastructure may be threatened by party splits. But the President has another arrow in his quiver when it comes to legislative accomplishments, as he tweets his anger against specific Republican Senators, including John McCain, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The tactic has worked, as this week Flake joined Corker in deciding to give up his Senate seat.

Incumbent Republicans generally fared well against far-right opponents in the 2016 Republican primaries, but the President has introduced a new element into the situation. Though Corker and Flake gave their own reasons for deciding not to run again — the former citing his belief that Senators should not serve more than two terms, the latter pointing to the declining level of discourse in Congress — they evidently did not want to face an angry Republican electorate, which can be goaded to fury by almost daily presidential tweets in the midst of a campaign.

Trump’s conflict with Senators from his own party has an important historical precedent: the purge that Franklin Roosevelt unleashed against half a dozen conservative Democrats in 1938. As the New York Times noted earlier this week, FDR failed. Now, however, it seems that Trump has succeeded.

In 1936, after four extraordinarily productive years in office, Franklin Roosevelt won re-election by one of the largest margins in history, carrying every state but two, Maine and Vermont. His coattails also left the Democratic Party with its biggest Congressional majorities in more than a century, 334 to 88 in the House of Representatives and 74-17 in the Senate. (These figures do not include a few minor-party members in each house.) Roosevelt seemed to dispose of nearly absolute power, but dangers loomed beneath the surface. ...





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