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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 11/10/20

Good morning!


It has become something of a parlor game for election watchers to find a previous election that serves as an antecedent of our current election. Of course, this is impossible. The current situation is sui generis.

  • Yet as unique as this time may be, there are parallels to other periods. One of these is the election of 1800, hotly contested, the first bitterly fought election:

  • It was a close race. 1788 and 1792 belonged to George Washington. 1796 was won by John Adams. But Jefferson returned in 1800 with a vengeance. Politics had bared its ugly teeth in a bitter contest.

  • The press was a factor. Newspapers in early America made little pretense of non-partisanship. Many were practically tabloids and/or spokespersons for various political factions. Jefferson was first to realize the power of rumor and innuendo, serving as a “leak” to the press that Adams really didn’t fully appreciate. For a great read on this phenomenon, check out the great historical novel, Scandalmonger, by William Safire.

  • It had its “Never Trump” moment. Until the 12th amendment was adopted in 1804, electors cast two votes. The candidate with the most votes became president and second highest number became the vice-president. Jefferson’s “running mate” was Aaron Burr. When the electors voting for them not surprisingly voted for them both, the result was a tie. For those who saw the musical Hamilton, you may remember that Hamilton, a “high Federalist” was called upon by his colleagues to weigh in on what should be done. Notwithstanding his rejection of Jefferson and the platform of the Democratic Republicans (so named in the day), he urged a vote for Jefferson over the scurrilous Burr. Think John Kasich, Mitt Romney or Bill Kristol. They were the “Never-Burrs” with honor.

  • It was the first party realignment in American history. The Federalists continued for a time, but never mounted a decent threat to the Democratic Republicans on the national stage. The five ensuing elections were won by Democratic Republicans. Monroe’s eight years in the White House were referred to as the “Era of Good Feelings.” Then came the election of 1824 and 24 years of rule by the Virginia dynasty came to an end. The Second Party System emerged and was intact until the 1850s, with the emergence of the Republican Party and the Third Party System. I won’t belabor this point, except to point out that every 40’ish years, a new voting coalition emerges. It’s been 50 years since the last realignment so, to use a Vegas maxim, “we’re due…” Things will change over the next decade in ways hard to predict.

  • The party with waning influence—the Federalists—were able to make themselves and their policies relevant well beyond when they were politically relevant. The Federalists never won an election after 1800 (their “successor” party, the Whigs, finally were victorious in the election of 1840). But their influence was felt for years due to their presence in the federal judiciary. Most notably, John Marshall was Chief Justice for 34 years, dying shortly before Harrison’s victory in 1840. The brilliance of Mitch McConnell and his cronies is that they were willing to go “all in” to populate the federal judiciary with like-minded conservatives. People want to believe that McConnell’s thwarting of President Obama’s legislative agenda was McConnell’s greatest accomplishment. In fact, it was thwarting Democratic judicial appointments and fast tracking those of the Republican president. Mr. Trump’s greatest gift to his political supporters was a court solidly leaning the direction of the Republican Party for the next 20 years, notwithstanding what may be long-term minority party status during the same period.


Mr. Cohen is the talk of the town. Sure he is well known for his over-the-top characters, Ali G and Borat, and the humiliations of the great and not-so-great in these and other characters (he once had a bar in Arizona chant “throw the Jews down the well” and had a state legislator bare his butt to ward off Muslim extremists). But he also is a serious actor in his own right, with a star turn in Spy, the true story of an Israeli spy who infiltrated the highest levels of power in Syria. He also has become an outspoken critic of antisemitism in America.

Today, Mr. Cohen is starring as Abbie Hoffman in the Aaron Sorkin-written Trial of the Chicago Seven. Here is a New York Times story: The indictment was of conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. This topic seems of particular relevance these days, extremists of all types seem to be gathering throughout the country.

Cohen is the subject of a great Maureen Dowd article in the NYT a couple of weeks ago. He said one of the most surprising things about the Chicago Seven is that Tom Hayden ended up with Jane Fonda… (if only for a short while). It’s a good movie.

More true life TV adaptations next week. Have a great post-election hangover week!


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