- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2016


With swing-state polls reportedly driving some nervous Hillary Clinton supporters to check out housing prices in Canada, attention is turning to what many in both parties thought the impossible — a Donald Trump presidency and what it might look like.

Though the temperament and personality hardly match, there are enough parallels between the high-energy business tycoon and Dwight D. Eisenhower to make the avuncular Ike’s Oval Office tenure six decades ago a predictor of a Trump presidency’s features.

The World War II hero and five-star Army general credited with winning the war in Europe wasn’t rigidly ideological any more than Mr. Trump. Neither man had dipped a toe in the choppy water of U.S. politics before running for president. Both were highly successful at their chosen lines of work.

“Trump has staked out positions that do not allow him to be pigeonholed ideologically — that makes him more akin to an Ike figure certainly,” said Eric Hargan, who was Health and Human Services Department COO under President George W. Bush.

John R. Bolton, a Trump foreign policy adviser and former United Nations ambassador, agreed, saying that “Ike’s presidency is the one Trump’s will most resemble.”

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Mr. Trump and Eisenhower share a budget-cutting penchant and a skepticism about how business sells to government and how government buys from business.

“I’m going build a military that’s going be much stronger than it is right now,” Mr. Trump has said. “It’s going be so strong, nobody’s going to mess with us. But you know what? We can do it for a lot less.”

When he left office almost 56 years ago, Eisenhower had managed to do just that, building up a military he said President Truman had depleted. He did it on the cheap by ending the Korean war and by relying on nuclear weapons rather than massive new spending on personnel and masses of Army divisions.

Through his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower treated the Soviet Union with massive nuclear retaliation for even minor aggression.

Robert Schadler, senior fellow in public diplomacy at the American Foreign Policy Council, said “there is some reason to think [Mr. Trump] will be more like Ike than a Reagan or a George W. Bush.”

“Ike seemed little interested in much of government, he preferred bluffing the Soviets with nuclear weapons to force the back from the brink rather than actually going to war,” said Mr. Schadler, a foreign policy official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

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At the end of his second term, Mr. Eisenhower warned fellow Americans about what he called a self-serving U.S. military-industrial complex. A skin-flint in conducting his own businesses, The Donald has sounded like a follower of Eisenhower’s procurement skepticism.

“A lot of the equipment that we get in the military is not the equipment that the generals want,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s forced down their throat by a company that is politically good but doesn’t make the equipment that is good.”

By imposing on military contractors and procurement officers the kind of fiscal discipline Mr. Trump has embraced, a strong defense can be achieved with less spending, Mr. Trump has claimed.

America’s defenses also can be strengthened through the kinds of spending cuts that military and foreign policy experts have been arguing over since the fall of the Soviet Union, which Mr. Trump and others have maintained made NATO an anachronism.

“Trump says he’ll build up the military but he wants to reduce overseas commitments, deployment and alliances. So he might not need so much more money,” Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon observed.

Steve Yates, a former national security adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, said that this “is one of the areas to which people voting for Trump believe he will bring a different approach.”

“If so, the money for infrastructure and military improvement will actually come from ending wasteful spending that he so often mentioned,” said Mr. Yates, chairman of the Idaho GOP.

Can he do it with zero experience in dealing in the art of governance? “Remember what Truman said about Eisenhower,” said Mr. Bolton.

Truman had said ”Eisenhower doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday,” adding “Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.”

U.S. presidency scholar Charles Keckler sees parallels with another GOP president as well — Richard M. Nixon.

“Nixon was a populist, law-and-order moderate conservative comfortable with a powerful executive and dominant federal government,” said Mr. Keckler, of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

“Nixon’s chief aim was to take the apparatus of the state away from leftist intellectual elitists and put it in the hands of sensible business-like people — realists and patriots who would then make federal power work for ‘the Silent Majority’ and indeed make it work better for minorities and the poor,” said Mr. Keckler.

“Nixon wanted to strip from the apparatus government the Ivy League utopianism that he saw as wreaking expensive chaos on the cities,” said Mr. Keckler. “Trump, whose convention speech echoed Nixon’s in 1968, sees himself as an heir to a Silent Majority constituency.”

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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