Less than twenty-four hours after Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted her party’s presidential nomination, Abraham Lincoln entered the contest. Or at least Mike Pence, the Republican nominee for vice president, wanted to weigh in on a recent controversy by citing Lincoln.
Pence attempted to explain the comments of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump concerning whether Russia had gained access to the e-mails of then-Secretary of State Clinton by invoking the words of the first Republican president (at least as he remembered them):
GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump wasn’t trying to encourage Russia to hack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails earlier this week, Trump’s vice presidential pick Mike Pence said ― he was just trying to be like Abraham Lincoln.
Pence, the governor of Indiana, invoked the Civil War-era president on Friday while defending Trump’s statement that he hoped Russian hackers have Clinton’s emails.
“He’s just simply saying, ‘gosh, if they’re out there somewhere, I would like to see them.’ … You know, Abraham Lincoln said, give the people the facts, and the republic will be saved,” Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I mean, I think that’s the point that [Trump is] making. He’s not encouraging some foreign power to compromise the security of this country.”
Pence is fond of invoking this quote, and he’s used it before to advise a president as to what to do:
“Is this the tapes thing?” Bush asked, referring to two ABC News reports that included excerpts of recordings Saddam Hussein made of meetings with his war cabinet in the years before the U.S. invasion. Bush had not seen the newscasts but had been briefed on them.
Pence framed his response as a question, quoting Abraham Lincoln: “One of your Republican predecessors said, ‘Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved.’ There are 3,000 hours of Saddam tapes and millions of pages of other documents that we captured after the war. When will the American public get to see this information?”
Apparently that did not happen.
It’s a commonplace observation that everyone running for office wants to have Abraham Lincoln on their side, and it must be nice when that’s the case. So we can now expect someone to ask a historian what Lincoln really said, and we’ll await that series of reports.
In the meantime, however, I’d like to point out to the Republican standard bearers that once you bring Lincoln into a presidential campaign as an authority, you leave yourself open to having other people quote Lincoln as well. And so I’d like to leave them with a Lincoln quote from 1855:
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.
Well, we know someone who likes Russia.