Speed Reads

History Lesson

Is Donald Trump the Zachary Taylor of 2016? Republicans better hope not.

The 2016 Democratic presidential race has been compared with 2008, 2000, 1980, and 1968. But on the Republican side, "many have called Donald Trump's unexpected takeover of a major political party unprecedented," says McGill University history professor Gil Troy at Politico Magazine. "It's not." Troy finds eerie similarities in the 1848 election of Zachary Taylor, whom he describes as "an inexperienced, unqualified, loutish, wealthy outsider with ambiguous party loyalties."

A war hero, Taylor was wooed by the Whigs, and while "some party luminaries thought he would help them win the general election," Troy says, "many of the faithful were furious and mystified: How could their party compromise its ideals to such a degree?" Here's Troy's thesis on the relevance of 1848:

A look back at what happened that year is eye-opening — and offers warnings for those on both sides of the aisle. Democrats quick to dismiss Trump should beware: Taylor parlayed his outsider appeal to defeat Lewis Cass, an experienced former Cabinet secretary and senator. But Republicans should beware, too: Taylor is often ranked as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history — and, more seriously, the Whig Party never recovered from his victory. In fact, just a few years after Taylor was elected under the Whig banner, the party dissolved — undermined by the divisions that caused Taylor's nomination in the first place, and also by the loss of faith that followed it. [Politico]

There are other echoes of 1848 in Trump's rise, including that he rose to fame battling Mexicans (in the Mexican-American War). It's hard to judge the effectiveness of his presidency — Taylor died after a little over a year in office, apparently due to a foodborne illness. But it's very clear he was the last Whig ever elected president. The Republican Party grew out of the Whig Party's ashes four years after Taylor's death. Read more about Taylor and the Whigs, including Troy's thoughts on what a Trump presidency might to do the GOP, at Politico Magazine.