Donald Trump Is No Grover Cleveland.

AuthorScher, Bill
PositionTroy Senik's "A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland"

A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland by Troy Senik Threshold, 383 pp.

The only president to win, lose, and then win again was a man of political principle. But like 45, he might also have been a rapist.

We are cursed to live in a time when Donald Trump's grotesque shadow hangs over almost any topic of political or cultural conversation. So if you read Troy Senik's new biography, A Man of Iron, about the life of Grover Cleveland, you can't help but try to detect any relevant parallels between the one person who won, then lost, then won the presidency, and the person trying to be the second.

Trump, thankfully, is only mentioned in passing, as the president who proposed including Cleveland in a new sculpture garden honoring American heroes, a project scotched by Joe Biden. Senik--formerly a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a vice president at the conservative Manhattan Institute for Public Policy think tank--is wise to leave the distracting former president out of his taut and punchy narrative. How Cleveland--the only Democratic president elected in the post-Civil War 19th century--pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of American presidential politics is a fascinating subject. But it's not one that offers a model of success for Trump to emulate. The Cleveland story is a morality play, exemplifying how unwavering principle can sustain a politician through difficult times. "Virtually everything worth saying about Grover Cleveland boils down to that one elemental fact: he possessed moral courage at almost superhuman levels," writes Senik, in a sentence one would never write about Donald Trump.

Granted, after learning about Cleveland's first term record--228 penny-pinching vetoes of pension awards to individual Civil War veterans; a tariff reform push that hit a brick wall in the Republican Senate; and an obsessive personal involvement in minor civil service appointments--some readers might conclude that Senik's praise is excessively effusive. Voters in 1888 were certainly underwhelmed. After his first term, Cleveland irritated wide swaths of the electorate: the powerful Grand Army of the Republic veterans lobby with his vetoes; Democratic job seekers with his commitment to civil service reform; and northerners who detected a bias toward industries from the Democratic South in his party's kludgy tariff reform bill. Senik acknowledges that Cleveland led with his chin too often to...

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