Lots of photos and phone videos have emerged in the days since supporters of President Trump sacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, many of them horrific, some bizarre, and some merely pathetic.
One image that stands out for us shows a man standing on a pedestal of a statue of Gerald Ford located in the Capitol Rotunda. Less than a year before Ford ascended to the presidency following Richard Nixon’s resignation, he’d been the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, where he had been serving since 1948, so Ford is more than deserving of a statue in the building where he spent so many years serving his constituents in the western part of Michigan.
The beefy, bearded man standing on the pedestal of the Ford statue has his arm around the likeness of the 38th president, and has placed a red MAGA hat on the statue’s head. He also positions a Trump campaign flag to make it appear that the bronze Ford is holding it.
The rioter and his buddies undoubtedly thought they were being clever. The smart money is that they and a good many of their fellow insurrectionists had no idea who Ford was, having been born after his time in the White House or having snoozed through history class. Ford represented a certain kind of calm, comforting, Main Street, Midwestern Republicanism. Conservative, to be sure, but not a culture warrior, not an ideologue, not someone who would be swayed by the latest conspiracy theory, not someone who would have viewed wearing a mask during a deadly pandemic as an abridgment of his freedom or an insult to his manhood, and not someone who viewed his political opponents as mortal enemies whose elections needed to be overturned at all costs.
Upon becoming president, Ford said, “Our long national nightmare is over. ... Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”
Ford respected democracy. When he lost his bid to win the White House in his own right in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter, he gracefully conceded and pledged a smooth transition. Heck, he and Carter later became friends and Carter delivered a heartfelt eulogy at Ford’s funeral in 2007.
Boy, America could use a man like Gerald Ford again.
To be more precise, the Republican Party could use a man like Gerald Ford again.
Last week’s riot on Capitol Hill was the end of a long process that has seen some in the Republican Party turn away from the kind of sober conservatism represented by the likes of Ford, George H.W. Bush, and the recently departed Pennsylvania Gov. Richard Thornburgh. Now, it seems like talk radio, cable news outlets, and whatever rises out of the online fever swamps sets the party’s agenda. While the current GOP has its fervent followers across America, it has trouble winning over a majority of Americans – the party has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, and there’s no reason to believe that streak will change as older voters leave the scene and younger, more progressive voters take their place.
A 2019 study found that the Republican Party had moved further to the right than its conservative counterparts in other Western democracies like Canada or Germany, and had come to resemble the right-wing, authoritarian parties found in places like Hungary and Poland.
That’s not good for the Republican Party; more to the point, that’s not good for America.