The tendency to attribute one’s own negative characteristics to others is called “projection” by psychologists. Most of us have observed it in certain individuals. It’s also a common tactic in politics. Democrats have used it very successfully with respect to racism. A 50-year campaign has succeeded in branding Republicans as racists. The mainstream media have ambitiously promoted a revisionist history that has convinced many people, age 60 and under, that Democrats have always been the party that “helped” racial minorities, while Republicans have oppressed them. The complete reverse is true, of course. Democrats were the long-time party of slavery, secession and segregation. Republicans fought the Civil War to end slavery, and did everything possible to help freed slaves to become independent citizens.
But Democrats’ most shameless use of projection has been the oft-repeated charge that Republicans are warmongers just itching to pull the Nuclear Trigger. (A tactic first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I believe.) Younger people – who clearly don’t know much about history – and some older amnesiacs now believe that the GOP is the party of war whose candidates always want to drop the Big One. Over the past 50 years, every popular Republican candidate who brings a fresh, vigorous message, and looks threatening to Democrats’ election prospects, is branded as deranged, unhinged, unpredictable, and “unfit” to be allowed anywhere near the N-button. And the media never fail to run with that story. This whopper is the more amazing because Democrats actually got us into four wars in the 20th century. A Democrat president ordered development of the atomic bomb, and his successor (also a Democrat) actually dropped the bomb on Japan – twice! (But why spoil a good story with facts?)
Ironically, the first Republican candidate who could realistically have been accused of considering the use of nuclear weapons was General Dwight Eisenhower, who was rumored to have threatened China and North Korea with nuclear attack unless they immediately agreed to end the Korean War. (These rumors were never confirmed, but many historians accept them. An armistice was signed 6 months after Ike’s inauguration.) But the general’s reputation and character were so impeccable, and his fame for winning WWII so untouchable, that Democrats dared not call him “dangerous” or “crazy” – even if they had been so inclined. Harry Truman’s a-bombing of Japan was still fresh in voters’ minds, so a charge that Ike couldn’t be trusted with the Bomb would have exceeded even Democrats’ hypocrisy limits. Besides, most of them liked Ike because his leadership of our victorious war-effort had made their guys, Frank and Harry, look good.
When John Kennedy and Richard Nixon contended for the office in 1960, the public was not yet spooked by the idea that a president might actually use nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union’s rocketry capability was much feared – largely due to their success in deploying the first satellite in history. Thus, the contest between Nixon and JFK pivoted on Democrats’ charge that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a “missile gap” to develop between us and the Russians. Nixon denied it, while JFK insisted on its truth. “We can do bettah” was his famous claim. The public was unsure about another Democrat in the White House, but JFK won by a narrow margin – possibly aided by election-shenanigans in Chicago and West Virginia.
The Soviet leader Khrushchev met JFK briefly in the summer of 1961. The president’s youthful persona made a lasting impression on Comrade Nikita, who had made his bones as Commissar of Stalingrad during the hellish days of the Nazi siege and occupation. His tenacity undoubtedly helped to defeat the Nazis’ Sixth Army. Those of us too young to remember the war didn’t know who this roly-poly, semi-comical guy in the ill-fitting suit was and had been. In fact, he was a real tough guy who evidently took the measure of the Playboy President and thought he could have him for breakfast.
The result was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, occasioned by our discovery that Russia was installing nuclear-armed ICBMs in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. My wife and I – then newlyweds listening to the news on the radio in our tiny apartment – thought there would be war, as did many Americans. In fact, the threat of nuclear war was very real, as Khrushchev’s memoirs later revealed. Mr. Kennedy was lionized by the media for ending the crisis by “staring down” the blustering Soviet leader and making him withdraw his missiles from Cuba. But this was just media-spin. Much later it was revealed that JFK had secretly agreed to remove our strategic missiles from Turkey as part of the Cuban missile-deal. The public – including Republicans – didn’t learn this until after JFK’s death. Historians generally agree that the deal could never have received the country’s approval, had it been publicized at the time.
After JFK’s assassination, it was a foregone conclusion that his successor, Lyndon Johnson, would be elected in 1964 for what would have been the murdered president’s second term. The sympathy-factor put LBJ far ahead of Republican Barry Goldwater – a largely unknown conservative who advocated dismantling FDR’s New Deal and pointing the country in a new direction of national strength and economic freedom.
Despite the near-certainty of LBJ’s election, Democrats thought it necessary to brand Senator Goldwater as a dangerous nut who would get us into war. (They hoped the public wouldn’t recall Democrats’ own recent war-history.) To emphasize the danger Mr. Goldwater supposedly posed, they ran the infamous “Daisy Girl” TV-spot. In it a young girl is happily picking daisies in a field, as a sonorous voice counts down: ten, nine, eight, seven… At “zero,” the girl looks up with alarm, and the screen is filled with the horrific image of a nuclear blast. As the fireball roils and the dreaded mushroom cloud rises, the voice concludes: “Johnson – now more than ever…” Although politicos differ on the ad’s true effect, it clearly helped LBJ to a huge popular vote win (61% to 39%).
The ad’s success convinced Democrats that scaring the public into believing Republicans are madmen who will blow up the country (and probably the world) is a winning strategy. It doesn’t always work, however. They tried it against Ronald Reagan, after the “dumb actor reading lines” and the “senile old fool” ploys failed. But Mr. Reagan had an actor’s thick skin, unfailing good humor, and a natural comedian’s gift for turning nearly every jab into a joke that made even his opponents laugh. The clip of Walter Mondale cracking up as Mr. Reagan delivered his famous line about refusing to make his opponent’s “obvious youth and inexperience” an issue says it all about his legendary wit. The “crazed nut with his finger on the nuclear trigger” story simply would not stick. Reporters loved the guy, and so did the public.
To add insult to injury, Mr. Reagan went beyond merely avoiding the nuclear trigger. His much-ridiculed Strategic Defense Initiative – directing the Department of Defense to build an anti-missile system to protect the country – caused great consternation among Soviet ruling elites. They knew their crippled, centrally controlled economy could never finance development of such a system. But they knew America could do it. It was a back-breaker in the USA-USSR arms race. Ultimately, Mr. Reagan’s ambitious vision of a strong and secure America brought down the Soviet Union. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous assessment: they finally ran out of other people’s money.
In subsequent elections Democrats used other weapons against GOP candidates. They denied George H. W. Bush a second term by bashing him with “the worst economy since the Great Depression” – an absurd charge that Mr. Bush thought too ridiculous to answer. But millions of young Americans who had no memory of the Great Depression believed it and gave Bill Clinton the win – with the copious help of zillionaire Ross Perot, who drew off 19% of the popular vote.
Dems tried to hang the “hard-drinking, rich playboy” tag on George W. Bush in 2000, but it wasn’t enough. Mr. Bush won Florida by 535 votes, and the election by an electoral whisker, after the U. S. Supreme Court stopped Democrats’ “selective recounts” in Florida. After the 9-11 terrorist attacks made Mr. Bush a wartime president, not even a fake letter (courtesy of newsman Dan Rather) claiming that young George W. had dodged military service could deny him a second term. The nuclear trigger strategy wasn’t used, since most Democrats had favored going to war against Iraq, too.
In 2008 and 2012, the Nuclear Trigger gathered more dust in the Democrats’ campaign-closet. It wasn’t needed against John McCain. Wary of being called a racist, the Senator didn’t dare criticize or question the background of his “clean, articulate” opponent (in Joe Biden’s famous words), who dazzled the country with his soaring promises of Hope, Change, and racial healing. Fawning reporters and pundits ruthlessly attacked anyone who pressed the young “messiah” on his plans for the country. (C.f. “Joe the Plumber,” who got greater scrutiny than Mr. Obama after the candidate admitted – in an unguarded moment – that he wanted to “share” Joe’s wealth with those less fortunate.)
Mitt Romney didn’t get the Nuclear Trigger-treatment, either. A “warmonger” charge would have seemed absurd, as the milquetoast candidate seemed unable to punch his way out of a paper bag. Democrats joyously threw stink-bombs and ruthlessly smeared him as a cruel rich guy who hurt animals, made gazillions by putting people out of work, and let a poor woman die by denying her medical insurance. They relentlessly hammered Republicans for waging a “war on women.” Mr. Romney left these spurious charges unanswered – evidently believing them unworthy of response. His willingness to let himself and his party be kicked and vilified without any combative response discouraged voters in his base. Many failed to vote in an election which the GOP should have won easily over an extremely vulnerable president.
In the current campaign, however, the Nuclear Trigger “projection” has triumphantly returned. The bombastic Donald Trump – who tends to pop off when he should keep quiet – is an ideal target for charges of being “temperamentally unsuited” for the office. He is too “dangerous” to be allowed near the “nuclear codes” (as Dems now put it, in an effort to look militarily hip). The president says Mr. Trump is totally “unfit.” And Joe Biden – who wouldn’t know a nuclear code from a neutered cat – warns voters to keep this nut away from “the codes.” Hillary Clinton added her two farthings worth, but she hardly needed to. The internet is awash with faux-psychiatry reports questioning Donald Trump’s “sanity.” (E’s barmy, is wot ‘e is!) The Mainstream Media have hammered the message for weeks to ensure that the country gets it. It’s surprising that Daisy Girl hasn’t reappeared, but it’s still early days.
In recent days, Donald Trump has returned fire. He says Mrs. Clinton “lacks the judgment” a president needs – citing her carelessness with national secrets as Exhibit A. He might have added that she also lacks the truthfulness required in a chief executive, as more evidence emerges, showing how dishonest she has been about her e-mail fiasco. A collage of her conflicting public statements could be grist for new Trump ads, as the campaign reaches its peak intensity. Democrat partisans claim that Mr. Trump is a “liar,” but the charge lacks traction. Whatever minor untruths they might try to pin on Mr. Trump, he is clearly not in Mrs. Clinton’s league on that score. And the public knows it.
With respect to the Nuclear Trigger, is it credible that Mr. Trump would unleash a nuclear holocaust because he “flipped out” over some insult or slight? Does he really operate that way? Look at the man’s business record. He has worked at the highest levels in the corporate world – interacting with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people of many dispositions and moralities without gaining a reputation for being unbalanced or unreliable. Check out his family of mature, well-turned-out children. Is there the slightest hint that he is abusive, mercurial or vindictive? Have reports emerged that he has thrown lamps in fits of rage? (As Hillary Clinton is reported to have done when she learned that her husband was fooling around with an intern in the Oval Office.) No doubt Mr. Trump can be forceful and extremely bossy. Most executives at his level are. But unbalanced? Temperamentally unfit for high office? Give me a break here.
The “finger on the nuclear trigger” definitely figures in this election. But it won’t be President Trump’s finger, should he gain the office. And the trigger probably wouldn’t be pulled by Madam President, either, should we be unlucky enough to have her in charge. I doubt if she would do it, even if terrorists nuked Baltimore or New York with a container-ship bomb. But her policies could be so feckless, so delusional – so “Obamanian” – that terrorists might be tempted to take the plunge. They always say they want to destroy America. Do we really want to gamble that it’s all just “talk?”
Russia and China have posed nuclear threats to America for a long time. The threat from North Korea is newer – just 20 years old, thanks to Bill Clinton’s careful oversight. And now Islamist Terrorism is shaping up as our newest clear and present danger. Mr. Obama has guaranteed that Iran will get the bomb. When it does, we can be sure that the murderous swine shooting up nightclubs and blowing up restaurants and marketplaces will get it too. And one of those idiots – the real nut-cakes in the nuclear “community” – will be just crazy enough to set one off. If you want that future, by all means vote for Mrs. Clinton. She might be the original Daisy Girl – all grown up now.