Washington, DC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/10/2016 --DAWN BENNETT: Brion McClanahan is a historian and author of the just released "9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America: and Four Who Tried to Save Her". In Brion's opinion, the nine presidents who screwed up America were Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Barack Obama. The four who tried to save her? Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge. Brion, welcome to Financial Myth Busting.
BRION MCCLANAHAN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
BENNETT: Before we get into your book, you're a historian of U.S. presidents, and obviously this is an election year. I'd like to get your thoughts on what I think is probably the most unusual election of my lifetime. Is there any kind of historical precedent for a populist like Trump?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, I think certainly there is. Trump is unique, in that there's not a whole lot of substance to Trump. I mean, I think what's happening here is this anti-establishment wave has picked up Trump and they're running with him. Now, there are some positive things I can say about that lack of substance for Trump, but I think he's riding that wave right now. Now, in terms of past elections when we've had something like this, I think you can look at 1980 in that way. Reagan had more substance to him, of course, but he was also putting together this kind of coalition that Trump is, as well; you know, a lot of blue collar Democrats, very populist campaign. Even 1976, Jimmy Carter was anti-establishment. So Reagan and Carter were kind of on that path as well. And then you'd have to go back really to, say, someone like George Wallace, who did the same thing. And then going back even further into 19th Century, I know a lot of people have compared him to Jackson, kind of this anti-establishment wave. But, I mean, that's what we're looking at here. And certainly it is an interesting election, the most interesting election, I would say, since around 1980.
BENNETT: Do you think Republicans out there, real Republicans, believe that if Trump secures the Republican nomination, which I think is becoming increasingly possible, that the party is likely to implode? They're almost getting bullied out of their party.
MCCLANAHAN: Well, there are people that would say this would actually be pretty good for the Republican party. You know, if you look at what's happening with the Republican party, and particularly in the last few elections, really since 1988, we have had an establishment candidate every single election cycle, and they haven't done well. Bush won twice, of course, but it was very, very close in 2000, and he was closer against Kerry than he should've been in 2004. So we've had these establishment candidates, so I think this has been brewing for a very long time. And people were talking about this type of thing happening back in 1988 when Pat Buchanan ran against George H. W. Bush and won New Hampshire and was looking good there for a while, and then, of course, Bush took the lead. There's two real factions in the Republican party, the establishment group and then this kind of more populist, what they often call paleo-conservative group that's always out there, and is kind of forced to hold their nose and vote for the establishment. And I think they're getting tired of it, because they see what's happened in the last two election cycles, in particular, where they haven't really been able to do much because an establishment candidate has been there, and it just doesn't seem like that's very effective anymore.
BENNETT: I don't think Trumpism actually requires a party. And the two-party system that we know of that has long defined, I think, the landscapes of American politics. If he gets elected, will that be gone for good?
MCCLANAHAN: It's hard to say. I don't think, because of the structure of our system, that more than two parties will really be effective for a very long period of time. Now, if you look at what the founding generation wanted, they didn't want parties, really. You look at how in many early elections you had multiple candidates, and that was okay. So to say they're going to be gone, I don't think so. Back in the '90s, when you had the Reform Party and they had a little bit of momentum; you might have that, but the way the system's set up, particularly since the Republican Party and the Democratic Party control the system, I just don't see it lasting if to get out of the two-party system. Even if Bernie Sanders ran, say, as another party, and he said, 'Look, I'm not going to support Hilary,' and we've got a Trump splinter, and so we have a Republican establishment, a Democratic establishment and all the fringes, I just don't think that would last, because, again, of the way that people look at parties in America; 'Well, if I vote for this guy, then I'm going to get the worst, and so I just might as well hold my nose and vote for this person and hope for the best.' So it's interesting how American politics works. We're not in a system, like in Europe, where you can have multiple parties and proportional representation and all this kind of thing. So we're set up for the two-party system.
BENNETT: You have a new book out, 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America. What is your criteria for determining who screwed up? For example, you would say FDR screwed up America by overreacting to the Great Depression and creating a host of new programs that slowed the economy. Others would say those programs actually saved America. How did you play referee; what are your rules?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, sure, my rule is very simple; how did they uphold their oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution? So FDR was awful because of his policies, but he was also awful because he ran over the constitution all the time. And so that's really the way I was measuring these presidents. I could care less, at the end of the day, about the outcomes of the policies in this particular book, but I was looking at what they were doing, were they constitutional to begin with? And so the New Deal was completely unconstitutional, and Roosevelt was very open about that. He said, 'Look, if congress won't act, then I'll do it myself.' And he did it himself a lot of the time, which, if you look at the original constitution, the president never has any legislative authority. So that's how I was measuring the presidents, and there are actually more than nine in the book, but they only let me put nine on the cover. I could've put even more in there, because when you look at the executive branch, really in the last hundred years, none of the presidents have followed the original constitution very well. And I made a statement when I was marketing my book before this, The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution, that nearly every president in the last hundred years should have been impeached. And people picked up on that, saying, 'My gosh, how can you say that?' Well, I wanted to write this book to explain what I meant when I said that. And it's very clear that we have an executive branch that the founding generation would recognize, but they wouldn't want. They'd recognize it, because George III had this kind of power too.
BENNETT: One name that popped out which really surprised me, was Abraham Lincoln; he was in your screwed up category. Obviously he's a beloved American. And my understanding is that he was a proponent of the American constitution, equal rights, and so on. That's what he was fighting for. Why is he on that list?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, because he didn't follow the original constitution. A lot of the things he did were unconstitutional, and there were very perceptive people at the time pointing this out, even people who were in his party, that said, 'Look, what you're doing here is completely unconstitutional.' And other people have started to come to this conclusion as well, even people that would be, I think, pro-Lincoln. If you look at, for example, suspension of habeas corpus, Lincoln suspended that unilaterally, and the president can't do that, according to the constitution. And if you look at the history of habeas corpus, that whole rift came about during a time when the English king had a tremendous amount of authority. So the British people wanted to limit the power of the king through this route of habeas corpus. And the only people that could suspend it was the parliament. And, of course, carrying that forward into American history, then the congress, within the constitution, has that authority, but Lincoln did it by himself. And there were people at the time who said, 'Look, this is completely disastrous. This is a very dangerous thing to do. The president can't do that; only the congress can.' So the other things he did, of course, which I pointed out, he signed several bills that were completely unconstitutional. The president has an obligation to veto unconstitutional legislation, but he did it anyway. And then the one that I think is very interesting was his emancipation proclamation. Now, we all agree that's great, because it ultimately put slavery on the path to extinction.
BENNETT: That's right.
MCCLANAHAN: You can debate how that was going to happen with that, but the way he did it-- there was actually an abolitionist former Supreme Court Justice at the time from Massachusetts who called Lincoln out on it. He said, 'Look, I agree with your position. I agree that we need to abolish slavery, but the way you're doing it now is unconstitutional, and this is going to open up a Pandora's Box in the future. And essentially,' he said, 'what's going to happen is that the president will have unlimited power in times of war at that point.' And Lincoln's response was, 'Well, nobody cares whether it's constitutional or not.' So this is what happened; in times of war, we see a president with unlimited power now. And essentially, in the last 70 years, we haven't come off of war-time footing, whether it was World War II, then we had the Cold War, now we've got the War on Terror. So presidents have taken a tremendous amount of authority, and they can go back to Abraham Lincoln and point and say, 'Well, he did.' But at the time, of course, people were pointing out, 'This is unconstitutional; it's very dangerous for you to do these kind of things.'
BENNETT: So let's talk about the last seven years, eight years by the end of this year. Barack Obama is listed under your 'terrible' category, which probably is less controversial than having Abraham Lincoln there. But what do you think his legacy will look like, especially as the first round of historians begin writing about him?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, unfortunately historians are all biased. And I'm biased, but I'm upfront about my biases. A lot of historians, though, are not. And so I think it depends on who's writing the history. There are going to be people who look at Barack Obama as transformative, and in some ways I can agree with them on that. He is transformative. The policies he has are, in my opinion, bad policies, but he is essentially taking what people like Roosevelt and Johnson and Nixon and all the other ones that I've said are bad, and putting it on steroids. Obama really has no care anymore whether anything he does is constitutional. And he tries to shield himself by saying, 'Well, I was a constitutional professor.' Well, we can debate what constitution he's looking at, but I think that in the future—and you're going to see this with George W. Bush, you're going to see it with Bill Clinton, any of these presidents in the last, say, half century—it's going to depend on the politics of the person writing the history and what they're going to say about it. Though I think that some people on the left are not very happy with Obama, because he hasn't done everything he said he was going to do. I think if you look at rankings in the future, just judging on how they go now, I think Obama will probably end up in the middle of the pack. But I would say, in my opinion, he's definitely one of the worst, if not the worst, really, in the past 50 years in particular.
BENNETT: The fear about Donald Trump is that as the president, his ego is going to get the best of him. What kind of history does America have with this type of strongman approach to the presidency, and has it ever worked?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, I would say that we've already had it. I mean, Obama's a strongman. He wants to do what he wants to do. Roosevelt was that way. I mean, we've had this kind of ego in the executive branch before. The one thing I can say about Trump, and I'm trying to give him some credit here, is that when he says things, when they ask him a policy question, he says, 'I'll look into it.' We get very frustrated with that, because it doesn't have substance. He's not saying, 'I'm going to do this, this, this, and this.' And I think that that could actually be positive, if he will surround himself with good people like Jeff Sessions, who's come out as his immigration advisor. And that's actually a much more constitutional approach than saying, 'This is exactly what I'm going to do in the executive office. I'm going to sign this executive order and this, and I'm going to essentially legislate from the oval office.' So hopefully he would let congress take the lead, and then he would follow. I think that's actually more refreshing than someone who comes in and says, 'Look, I'm going to do X, Y, and Z,' basically being a king. And I think that's what we expect out of the presidency, which is why it makes it so uncomfortable when somebody doesn't have that type of legislative agenda. And I do particularly like Trump's foreign policy. I know that we have this debate now on the conservative side on what foreign policy should we have? Should we have one that's very aggressive? Should we have one that's a little more non-interventionist? And in my opinion, the non-interventionist approach is a much more conservative approach. So I do like that about Trump. We'll see what happens. Cruz did pretty well yesterday, so I think that there's going to be this challenge now. It's going to be an interesting race. It's going to come down to Cruz and Trump; I don't think anyone else really stands a chance, either Kasich or Rubio.
BENNETT: There's talk about the remaining non-Trump candidates pulling enough votes away from Trump to force a so-called brokered convention, where delegates end up deciding more or less amongst themselves who's going to be the next president. Has this kind of thing ever happened before? Do people respect that kind of decision, or do they resent it?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, you know, the whole convention process, we didn't really get that until the 1830s, in a major way. So we've had elections before where there was kind of a deal-making process behind the scenes; 'We'll get this guy or get this guy.' I think really the closest you could get when-- in 1976, when Reagan and Ford were going at it, there was a chance right there that there could've been a situation where you might have had a brokered convention. But we haven't really had it. Cruz came out, the day before yesterday, and said, 'Look, if Trump gets the nomination, we have to support him, because this could be disastrous. Ultimately the people would revolt, if we did this. If Trump actually wins and he's close to having enough, and we pull it out from underneath him, that's going to set a very bad precedent.' So I think that people are afraid of that, because of what the popular perception would be. If Trump and Cruz are right there and neither one can get it, and then somehow Mitt Romney gets the nomination, I think you would see the absolute implosion of the Republican Party at that point. Nobody would want to support those people. So I hope that we don't get that. I hope that whoever gets the nomination, Cruz or Trump, or they're close to it, they'll back the frontrunner and we'll have some type of deal where maybe it's a president, vice president situation.
BENNETT: If whoever's elected in 2016 wants to be listed as someone that tried to "save" America in a future edition of your book, what's your advice?
MCCLANAHAN: Well, sure. I would say go back and look at that original Constitution. Use John Tyler as an example, a man that vetoed unconstitutional legislation, because that was his principle response to the constitution. He said it over and over; 'I have to defend the Constitution.' That's what we need out of an executive, not someone who's going to legislate from the executive branch or someone who's going to be a virtual king.
BENNETT: Brion McClanahan, thanks so much.
For over a quarter century, the experienced advisors of Bennett Group Financial Services, LLC have been successfully guiding clients through the complexities of wealth management. Bennett Group Financial Services provides individual investors, corporations and foundations with holistic investment strategies using unique portfolio solutions across a breadth of asset classes. Our unique vision and insight into market trends makes Bennett Group Financial Services a much sought after expert resource with regular appearances on Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and MSNBC as well as being featured in Business Week, Fortune, The NY Times, The NY Sun, Washington Business Journal in addition to our highly regarded weekly talk radio program - Financial Mythbusting. Through attentive service and prudent, thoughtful advice, Bennett Group Financial Services, LLC strives to consistently provide its clients with the highest quality of guidance and personalized service available.
About Dawn Bennett
Dawn Bennett is CEO and Founder of Bennett Group Financial Services. She hosts a national radio program called Financial Myth Busting http://www.financialmythbusting.com.
She discusses educational topics and events in the financial news, along with her thoughts on the economy, financial markets, investments, and more with her live guests, who have included rock legend Ted Nugent, as well as Steve Forbes and Grover Norquist. Listeners can call 855-884-DAWN a as well as take podcasts on the road and forums for interaction.
She can be reached on Twitter @DawnBennettFMB or on Facebook Financial Myth Busting with Dawn Bennett.