For more than two centuries, the most common candidates for the role of Patriot King have been heroic generals. Six have made it to the White House—Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower—and in our day, Colin Powell, Wesley Clark and David Petraeus have been mentioned as possible aspirants.
In recent years, we have seen a new type of Patriot King: the tycoon. In 1992, the data-processing billionaire H. Ross Perot ran for president by invoking some specific issues, such as balancing the budget, but his main appeal was a Bolingbrokean pox on the U.S. political system. “This city,” he said in a speech to the National Press Club, “has become a town filled with sound bites, shell games, handlers and media stuntmen…We need deeds, not words.” Mr. Perot carried no states, but he won almost 19% of the popular vote—more than any postwar third-party candidate…
Comes now Mr. Trump, real-estate magnate, TV host and mouth for all seasons, whose appeal flows from his defiance of conventional political norms. He scatters opinions and insults with a free hand and uses his wealth as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
The Patriot King is a fantasy that lives on because of our discomfort with parties. Parties are hackish, opportunistic and timid; the two major ones rig the system as best they can. Yet parties are a genuine political innovation, almost as old as the Constitution and an important supplement to it. They organize Congress and facilitate the selection of presidents.