Republican political consultant Karl Rove said politicians are most honest today than they were back in the 1896 election between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan.
Rove’s comments were made during a discussion about his new book, The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. During the event, he also described the 2016 Republican primary race as depressing.
“Yeah, we are but we are forced to be. One of the amazing things about it is the cast of characters running around in this era. Michael de Young – sort of a favorite of mine,” Rove said of the McKinley race at the American Enterprise Institute.
De Young was an entrepreneur who donated his art collection to the city of San Francisco, which led to the creation of the de Young Art Museum.
“He owned the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s also the Republican National Committeeman and a McKinley guy. So I am reading through the notes of the first meeting of the National Committee after the convention and they obviously elect Hanna the chairman of the RNC and I’m looking down there,” Rove explained.
Rove learned that Adolph B. Spreckels defeated de Young as Republican National Committeeman the opening day of the convention.
“Shocking, because he’s a McKinley man and it’s a McKinley convention and it’s a McKinley delegation, so how’s he get defeated? Well, it’s even weirder than that because Adolf B. Spreckels turns out to be enormously wealthy himself – his family founded the Hawaii Sugar Company,” he said.
Rove said Spreckels shot de Young twice in 1884. Spreckels was apparently angry over an article that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle alleging that Spreckels’ company defrauded its shareholders. Spreckels was acquitted after pleading temporary insanity.
“Spreckels beats the guy he tried to kill – now how weird is that? But the entire thing is populated with people like this,” he said.
Rove also mentioned the story of Rep. Daniel E. Sickles (D-N.Y.), who reportedly had many affairs. Even though he was a Democrat, he campaigned for McKinley during the 1896 election cycle. In 1859, Sickles shot and killed his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem. Sickles was acquitted in a controversial trial by pleading temporary insanity.
“Yes, we’re more honest than they were back then,” Rove said.
Rove, senior adviser to President George W. Bush from 2000 to 2007, said the winning candidate in the 2016 election must make voters feel like they are included in an economic “vision for prosperity” and move the country forward.
“Let’s not pay too much attention to economic inequality. Let’s pay attention to economic insecurity. The Democrats want to make this about ‘Wall Street is screwing you.’ We’ve got to make this about ‘we’ve got to rise,’” he said. “As a people, we have to do the things that are necessary to grow our economy at a stronger pace so that everybody has a piece of the action.”
He asked the audience, “Let’s not ask anything more about the depressing 2016 Republican race.”