Book review: Karl Rove’s ‘The Triumph of William McKinley’

The architect of George W. Bush’s two successful presidential campaigns has returned to a favorite subject in a book of political history that acts as an appeal to today’s Republican Party.

In The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters, Karl Rove resurrects the all-but-forgotten 25th president as the GOP’s best strategy to building a triumphant political coalition that can dominate in the 21st century.

It was McKinley, Rove writes, who transformed his party and the electoral map for the next 40 years by remaking the party in his own pragmatic image.

Rove understood immediately the parallels between the era of McKinley and today during a class at the University of Texas.

The reader will, too.

McKinley was a Midwestern governor who recognized the need to expand his party’s base by embracing immigrants, who more and more were providing the manpower for an economy undergoing dramatic change with new technologies in the era of industrialization.

He reached out to expand the diversity of his party by seeking the endorsement of Catholic leaders and advocating the expansion and protection of black voting rights.

McKinley also took on what we call “the establishment,” the party “bosses,” and he made bold proposals designed to take on income inequality and make a global economy work for all Americans.

All of this ultimately split his party — still sounds familiar — yet he won the election of 1896 over William Jennings Bryan, who preached an economic populism very similar to that of presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders.

Triumph ultimately is another reminder of the valuable lessons of the past, not to mention the reality that there is nothing in the world today that hasn’t happened before, no matter the pesky belief that the world revolves around us.

The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters

  • By Karl Rove
  • Simon & Schuster, $32.50
  • Audio: Rove reads the audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.99).