11 October 2016

On the Record | Trump’s Churchill Moment

Please see my latest post for the Quarterly Review, ‘Trump’s Churchill Moment’:

Donald Trump ‘explained’ Churchill to me. And, after the first Trump-Clinton presidential debate, Churchill reciprocated the favour.

The fame of Sir Winston Churchill, who served in several Cabinet offices and was twice prime minister, left me cold, for which I harboured feelings of shame and regret. His life and times certainly fascinated, but I was by no means a Churchill aficionado. Why did I not revere this Conservative hero as so many others did? Why did I not honour him as the greatest statesman of the twentieth century?

Definitely the man had a flair with words — his political speeches are highly quotable and his numerous biographies and histories written with a compelling simplicity. Indeed, Churchill was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature for his multi-volume histories of the Second World War and of the ‘English-Speaking Peoples’.

Yet his political record was chequered. In 1900, Churchill entered Parliament as a Conservative representative, crossing the floor four years later to join the pro-free-trade Liberals. Not to be outdone, he re-crossed — and re-joined the Conservatives in 1924, saying famously: ‘Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.’

Fluid party identity was the least of Churchill’s sins. His achievements in government were blemished by failure: inept tactical planning during World War I; returning post-war sterling to the gold standard at unrealistic convertibility; helping to precipitate the General Strike; opposing independence for India; and even losing the 1945 election after denouncing Clement Attlee’s Labour platform for requiring ‘Gestapo-like’ measures. Oxford historian and sometime Tory MP, the late Robert Rhodes James, in his Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900–1939, chronicled the general public’s ambivalent assessment of Sir Winston’s early career. Why, I wondered still, the universal acclaim?

Read more . . .

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The wire above was written before the release of Trump’s ‘locker room’ comments Friday (eleven years after they were caught on a ‘hot mic’) and before his stupendous second debate Sunday night against Hillary Clinton. Public support remains firm.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted after the remarks were leaked ‘found that 74 percent of Republican voters said GOP leaders should stick by Mr. Trump’, The Washington Times recounts, while ‘about 41 percent told the pollsters that they would be more likely to support a candidate who continued to back Mr. Trump.’

Meanwhile, following Sunday’s debate, a ‘stunning’ new poll ‘showed Donald Trump has reclaimed the lead from Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton,’ The Times reports, ‘becoming the latest survey to suggest the GOP presidential nominee has put a bad month behind him.’ This latest CNN/ORC tally shows Trump enjoying a ‘2-percentage point lead in a national four-way race among likely voters’, with Republicans ‘likeliest to vote’ supporting Trump by 90 percent.

The ‘movement’ rolls on . . .

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My thanks to editor Dr Leslie Jones of the Quarterly Review.