Letter to the Editor

Would George Norris endorse Donald Trump?

Friday, March 11, 2016
Doug Clouatre

George Norris could never be accused of blind partisanship in his presidential choices. In thirty years, 1912-1942, Norris supported candidates other than the official Republican nominee. Norris endorsed Theodore Roosevelt running as a progressive in 1912, he endorsed Robert Lafollette as a progressive in 1924 and in four elections (1928-1940), Norris endorsed a Democrat for president. His dislike of traditional Republican politics and the Republican establishment raises a question in 2016 -- would Norris endorse the outsider Donald Trump for president.

Norris the small town Nebraska progressive and Trump the New York billionaire real estate developer might seem an odd couple except for Norris' endorsement of both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, New York millionaires with family names that dated back centuries. Much like the Roosevelts, Trump is not bound by ties to special interests and he reflects Norris' long time suspicion of concentrated power and close relations between politicians and special interests.

With American politics stagnant and old solutions to new problems offering little help, Trump's campaign challenges the political truths of the era and the establishment of each party. Media and party criticism of Trump has the opposite effect at intended, only enhancing his popularity with voters. In this Trump is close to Norris, who spent his career challenging Republican orthodoxy and allying with Democrats when he believed it aided his state. The more Norris was attacked by members of his party, the more his popularity grew.

Trump and Norris share another trait, their Jacksonian beliefs. President Andrew Jackson challenged the established interests of his era with a call for greater reliance on democracy. Norris's crusade against the two house Nebraska legislature, the Electoral College and the Lame Duck Congress challenged the traditions of the time. Trump has taken on the conventional wisdom in immigration, taxation and trade, refusing to accept that such issues have been decided.

Trump and Roosevelt have one thing in common, their party establishment opposed them. During his first term Roosevelt tangled with the Liberty League, an organization founded by John W. Davis and Al Smith, who had been the 1924 and 1928 Democratic nominees for president. Davis and Smith opposed much of the New Deal. Trump faces the same opposition from Mitt Romney and John McCain, both former Republican nominees. Norris was no hero of the Republican establishment either, making him a good fit for Roosevelt and possibly Trump.

A Norris endorsement of Trump would have been a challenge to the party leaders and the chattering classes in Washington. Whether Trump reflects Norris' nationalism and prairie populism is a question that may have no answer. What is most certain is that Norris would not endorse Hillary Clinton.

-- Doug Clouatre teaches history at McCook Community College. His book Presidential Upsets is available on Amazon.com and excerpts from his alternative history book, French Betrayal, can be read on www.Facebook.com/frenchbetrayal1939/

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