There’s a lot of talk about President-elect Trump as another Ronald Reagan, based in part on his appeal to Reagan Democrats — the union guys, lunch-bucket blue-collar Catholic voters in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan that hadn’t gone Republican since 1988, when Reagan was in the White House.
Others liken Trump to Richard Nixon, in part for his appeal to the “silent majority.”
But there’s another president whose similarities to Trump, both in style and substance, bear mentioning, partly because they might surprise, or perhaps even reassure, some of those now panicked over his rise to power. That is John F. Kennedy, who, unlike Reagan, Nixon or Trump, was elected as a Democrat.
Here are 11 ways, both substantive and stylistic, Kennedy and Trump are similar:
They both had residences in New York City and Palm Beach. Kennedy had a family estate in Palm Beach, along with an apartment in the Carlyle on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Trump has Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower.
They both had aviator older brothers who died. JFK’s older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was killed in action flying a bomber in World War II. Trump’s older brother Freddy, a professional airline pilot, died in 1981, an alcoholic.
They both had wealthy fathers in the real estate business. JFK’s father made money as a stock market player, Hollywood movie investor and liquor importer. But one of his biggest long-term investments was in real estate, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Trump’s father was also in the real estate business. Like JFK, Donald Trump has been underestimated as a born-rich heir.
Both were elected by narrow margins. Kennedy won 303 electoral votes in 1960; it looks like Trump will have 306. Kennedy won the popular vote in 1960 by only a minuscule margin; Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton.
Both mastered television. Kennedy was widely credited for his appearance in televised debates against Nixon. Trump consolidated his fame and brand as a reality television star on the “Apprentice.”
Both relied on family advisers. Kennedy named Bobby Kennedy attorney general and Sargent Shriver to head the Peace Corps. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have his ear.
Both have had their skin-tone scrutinized. JFK’s orange hue has sometimes been attributed to Addison’s disease. Trump’s skin-color, also in the orange palette, is the topic of extensive Internet speculation.
Both have had acrimonious relations with The New York Times. Kennedy met with Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger in 1963 to suggest that that Times reporter David Halberstam be transferred away from Vietnam; Kennedy described his reporting there as “wholly unobjective.” Trump met with current Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. after the election and frequently tweets criticism of the “failing” New York Times.
Both have been accused of running racist campaigns. Kennedy got elected with the support of segregationist white Southern governors and appeared at campaign rallies where “Dixie” was played. Trump won backing from critics of Mexican immigration.
Both named second-generation Wall Street figures as Treasury secretary. Kennedy picked Douglas Dillon, who worked at the firm Dillon, Read, built by his father, Clarence Dillon. Trump picked Steven Mnuchin, who followed his father Robert into a career at Goldman Sachs.
Both are tax cutters. Kennedy’s income tax cuts were the model for Reagan’s. Trump has campaigned as a pro-growth tax cutter.
If these similarities, and others, are not widely observed, I suspect nonetheless that they have not escaped the attention of at least one senior Trump administration figure. That’s the incoming counselor to the president, Steve Bannon, whose brother Chris recently told the Boston Globe that his family “were Kennedy freaks. My dad knocked on doors for Kennedy.”
If Trump manages to pull off a presidency as inspirational and consequential as JFK’s was, 50 years from now maybe people will be warmly recalling how their families were Trump freaks.
You never know.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.