In a speech at the Panama Canal on Thursday, Mike Pence compared Donald Trump to none other than Teddy Roosevelt. For real!
Here’s the excerpt:
“And in President Donald Trump, I think the United States once again has a President whose vision, energy, and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt. Think about it. Then, as now, we have a builder of boundless optimism, who seeks to usher in a new era of shared prosperity all across this new world. Then, as now, we have a leader who sees things not just as they are, but for what they could be. And then, as now, we have a President who understands, in his words, ‘A nation is only living as long as it is striving.’
And just as President Roosevelt exhorted his fellow Americans to ‘dare to be great,’ President Donald Trump has dared our nation to make America great again, and we’ll do it with all of our friends in the world.”
That’s quite the comparison! After all, Teddy Roosevelt is ranked as the 4th best president in our nation’s history, according to C-SPAN’s 2017 Presidential Historians Survey. (TR was ranked 4th in the 2000 and 2009 C-SPAN surveys too.)
Pence is hanging the comparison entirely on the similarities he sees between Trump’s boundless ambition to make America great again and TR’s signature optimism and vitality. (Left unsaid by Pence is another similarity the two men had: Both were born in New York City to wealthy families.)
The truth, however, is that Pence’s “Trump is just like Roosevelt!” comparison fails on a number of fronts. Below are a few big(ly) ways that the two men are very, very different.
1. Roosevelt was a war hero. Trump isn’t.
The entire reason that TR was recruited into politics by the New York machine was because of his heroism in the Spanish American War – leading the Rough Riders in the battle of San Juan Hill.
Trump received five deferments to keep him out of the Vietnam War.
2. Roosevelt held political office before running for president. Trump didn’t.
Roosevelt spent time as a state assemblyman, governor of New York and vice president prior to ascending to the top job following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901.
The presidency is the first office Trump has ever run for or held.
3. Roosevelt was 42 when he became president. Trump is 71.
Roosevelt is the youngest person to assume the presidency. Trump is the oldest. Roosevelt’s youth – not to mention his war heroics – was a major selling point for him; he was seen as having the vim and vigor the country needed.
4. Roosevelt said to “speak softly and carry a big stick” in foreign affairs. Trump does the opposite.
While lots of people misconstrue Roosevelt’s “big stick” quote as an assertion of necessary toughness, historian Edmund Morris writes that TR meant the exact opposite. “Actually, Roosevelt was trying to say that soft-spoken (even secret) diplomacy should be the priority of a civilization, as long as hardness – of moral resolve, of military might – lay back of it,” Morris says in “Theodore Rex.” He adds: “[TR] reiterated his distaste for national ‘boasting and blustering.’”
That approach runs directly counter to how Trump has handled foreign policy in the first 200+ days of his administration. Take Trump’s rhetoric toward North Korea. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said earlier this month of the rogue regime. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
That’s tough talk, particularly given that chief Trump strategist Steve Bannon is on the record acknowledging there is no military solution to the North Korea conflict.
5. Roosevelt was a committed conservationist. Trump is skeptical that global warming is real.
One of TR’s lasting legacies was his work to preserve the environment. This, per the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, is illuminating: “Roosevelt used his presidential authority to issue executive orders to create 150 new national forests, increasing the amount of protected land from 42 million acres to 172 million acres. The President also created five national parks, eighteen national monuments, and 51 wildlife refuges.”
That’s a marked contrast from what Trump has said about climate change, which most scientists believe is the most pressing environmental issue of our age. Trump has said global warming was “created by and for the Chinese.” He’s asked: “When will our country stop wasting money on global warming and so many other truly ‘STUPID’ things and begin to focus on lower taxes?” And, he’s proclaimed that he “believe[s] in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don’t believe in climate change.”