LONDON – In Britain these days, one can’t avoid hearing and seeing more and more about the wretched campaign to spit in the face of the world (and of reality) and quit the European Union. Visiting the United States, as I recently did, provides some relief. But it comes at a price: wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential primaries.
The Republican contest is almost egregiously distasteful, with the exception of the performance of Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Unfortunately, he is not going to win. His problem is simple: He is recognizably a normal human being. Watching the incendiary, invective-filled campaigns of his opponents – Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz – makes one mourn for the Grand Old Party.
The first election campaign that I got involved in was some 50 years ago, in New York, where all of today’s candidates – Republican and Democrat – recently traded blows, with Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton emerging triumphant. In the mid-1960s, the leaders of the state and city, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay, were Republicans, as were New York’s two senators, Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits. These political moderates, and many other Republicans in the 1960s, still reflected the party of Abraham Lincoln in readily defined ways.
For one thing, they were internationalists. For another, they believed in a partnership between government and the private sector (think of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s record, say, in building the US interstate highway system). Above all, they understood and identified with the integrationist project that remains the country’s continuing civilizing mission (reflected in the words – E Pluribus Unum – on America’s seal).