When Donald Trump announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination a year ago, many thought the famous New York businessman faced long odds. Though few expected Trump to win, his outcome is not without historical precedent in the opinion of state Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick.
The former Lorain County Community College history professor said striking comparisons exist between Trump’s path to nomination and the presidential bid made by Ohioan William McKinley in the 1896 election.
“I look at that (election) as somewhat as a model,” Hambley said Wednesday in an interview with The Gazette.
Trump has never held a public office, but McKinley had served as governor of Ohio and several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives by the time he made his presidential bid.
However, like Trump, McKinley was a political outsider, Hambley said.
“He was not part of the political bosses,” he said. “He was not of that ilk. He didn’t cut deals.”
Many of the politicians in power initially did not support McKinley as a candidate, Hambley said.
“McKinley wasn’t their choice, but became their choice,” he said.
Hambley said McKinley resonated with the people and “played it smart” with the nomination system then in place to secure his party’s support.
Like the 1896 convention, the 2016 Republican National Convention being held this week in Cleveland is unusual in the sense that the party was not unified behind the nominated candidate prior to the event.
“I think what you’re seeing at the (2016) convention is a unification,” he said.
Similar to Trump, McKinley made trade issues and employment the center of his platform as well as immigration.
McKinley was a protectionist, meaning he subscribed to the economic policy of limiting trade between countries. He also involved the country in international affairs during his presidency, including the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Though McKinley was assassinated in 1901 during his second term, the mark he made on the Republican Party resonated for years, Hambley said.
“He helped modify the agenda of the Republican Party,” he said. “It diminished the influence of a lot of the state bosses.”
Entering the 1896 convention, McKinley was not expected to receive the nomination, according to Hambley, but he used the selection system to his advantage.
“I think (Gov. John) Kasich was kind of hoping to replicate that,” Hambley said.
Another of Trump’s primary opponents, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, spoke Wednesday night. Prior to Cruz’s speech, Hambley said there were some similarities between Cruz’s scheduled speech and that of Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican Party convention.
Reagan opposed incumbent President Gerald Ford in primary elections that year. Ford secured the Republican nomination, but lost the general election. Four years later, Reagan went on to win the presidency.
Hambley said Cruz may be positioning himself for another bid in 2020. However, Cruz, unlike Reagan, likely will have to “swallow his pride” to speak at the convention following sharp exchanges, such as being labeled by Trump as “Lyin’ Ted,” during the primary campaign.
“(Trump) treats everything like a street fight, a political street fight. … (Reagan) was one of great style and elegance. He really never got down in the gutter,” Hambley said. “That lack of civility wasn’t there.”
This likely will be viewed as a historic election, Hambley said, but some parts may not make the history books.
The similarities between Melania Trump’s speech Monday night and Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech have generated national headlines this week, but are insignificant in the long run and unlikely to influence votes in Hambley’s view.
“It seems (like) a distraction,” he said.
Hambley, who supported Kasich during the primary, is not attending this week’s Republican National Convention. He said he instead will attend events in his district this week and promote local races in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.