A brash, rich New Yorker. Born to an affluent family, he received a first-class education and all the other advantages with which it came. With an eye for beautiful women, he married more than once. He was always at the center of the New York society set. He appreciated guns and staunchly defends the Second Amendment. An iconoclast to some, an egomaniac to others.
An unpredictable outsider with a strong populist streak. Derided by the Republican establishment and many on Wall Street. Dismissed by elites in the media, but beloved by many in the working class. He once observed that he really didn’t care what people thought, but he cared deeply about what they should think. Relying little on speechwriters, rather on his own communication instincts, he captivates large, raucous audiences. He believes that he can be elected president either as a Republican or as an Independent. He is the last man that any of his detractors could see as a president of the United States, but he is perhaps, just the right man for the times.
I refer of course, to Teddy Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was a complex man of many talents. But, above all he was a man of action. Whether organizing the Rough Riders and heading off to battle the Spanish (without orders from the War Department) or taking on the powerful Wall Street trusts, he charged ahead. Never looking back or waiting for the establishment’s approval.
He was fearless. He once delivered a 45-minute speech in Milwaukee with an assassin’s bullet lodged between his ribs. That assassin was called an anarchist. Today he might be called a terrorist. The text of his speech and a case for his glasses had slowed the projectile enough to only cause a “flesh wound.” So he shouldered on, giving that speech and sending a not so subtle message to anarchists around the world.
He deeply loved this country and he knew that America had a special role to play in global affairs. He built a world class navy and then sent it around the globe to demonstrate to other powers that the United States was not to be trifled with. He famously said, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Having tasted the sting of battle, he was also a man of peace. He won the Noble Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the peace accords between Russia and Japan.
He appreciated the role that immigrants played in turning the United States into an industrial giant. However, he believed there were limits to the numbers that we could absorb and assimilate. So, he helped launch the effort to dramatically limit legal immigration, starting first with anarchists and the nations from which they came. That led to 60 years of nearly closed borders. Ellis Island was ultimately moth-balled. He insisted that immigrants learn English and become Americans first. I doubt Roosevelt would approve of today’s casual usage of national hyphens as he spoke often about everyone being Americans. He would certainly bristle at any suggestion that he hated immigrants.
There are many reasons that the bust of Teddy Roosevelt is carved into Mount Rushmore. Principle among them is that he inspired America to become great.
And so today we have a brash, rich New Yorker running for President. There are differences to be sure. Teddy was pious and devoutly religious. He had political, military and business experience. But, the similarities to me are inescapable. The issues and the dangers we face are not so different. The contempt of the establishment and the media are nearly identical. These times call for someone who is fearless. Someone who will spit in the eye of the name-calling, politically correct thought police. Someone who understands the special role America plays in the world and that the president’s first job is to defend American interests. Someone who knows what it takes to create jobs, rekindle the American Dream and make America great again. Someone who understands the foolishness of an open borders policy. In short, we need someone who will stare down our adversaries, defend America first and who refused to buckle under the withering fire from the angry Left.
I am not saying that Donald Trump will have his likeness carved into Rushmore. Or that he is the next Teddy Roosevelt. We still don’t know if Trump can get through the maze and become our next president. He may yet implode as the experts continue to predict. Then again, maybe not.
But just like Teddy Roosevelt, he might be the right man for the times.
Gil Gutknecht is a former six-term Republican congressman from Minnesota. He lives in Rochester, Minn. with his wife, Mary.