by Jake Aferiat 3.25.2020
Robert Cline enjoyed a roughly 41-year in the federal government, getting his start as federal bank examiner in 1973 in the Richard Nixon administration before retiring as a Treasury Department employee in 2014.
A lifelong Republican and resident of Washington, D.C. since the 1970s, Cline performed audits on many different financial institutions and oversaw and dealt with the regulation of the banking industry and their insurance policies.
Drawing on his near four-decade long career deep inside the Beltway, he weighed in recently on important moments from history in assessing the political landscapes of today:
Q: What do you make of Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and what factors enabled him to ascend to that position?
A: I’m a conservative. That’s my starting point. And I think from a larger perspective,
even Republicans have lost the ability to control spending behaviors and even lost the ability to control the rate of increase in spending. Secondly, I think the American public as a whole, over decades, has gotten sick and tired of career politicians, dealing out the same old trope. Basically engaging in partisan political battles accomplishing nearly nothing, or nothing at all, while spending all of this energy, time and taxpayer resources. And a lot of people are sick and tired of it. Hence, I think, just the time was right for someone like the president to, in fact, become elected, who comes in with a totally different perspective, who is a disrupter and isn’t afraid to change businesses usual. He isn’t afraid to think differently, to look outside the box, to engage differently, and I think a lot of the public, almost back to when Richard Nixon said, and coined the phrase, the silent majority. I think, in essence, you’re almost seeing in a sense, another silent majority emerge, under the leadership of President Trump. They may not stand out like, Antifa and some of these other far left-wing Democrats socialists, and berate and bad mouth, and even threaten physical altercations. They just sit there calmly, respectfully, and say, ‘No, we have a different viewpoint. and we’re going to exercise that viewpoint should we be in the position to do so.’ And we’re going to go forward with that, as, perhaps, maybe partially a new paradigm or a new model. But we’re not going back to the same old, same old. And I think a large part of the populace was sick of the same old, same old. And hence you wound up with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Q: Talking about Trump’s role as a disrupter, are his presence and emergence good for the Republican Party?
A: I think he’s been a game changer for the party. Because when you think even within the construct of the Republican Party, they, too, in a way, are career politicians. Very few of them came from extensive business backgrounds or other backgrounds outside government. The government water trough, so to speak, was the only feed trough, that they had known in their working lives. So to have someone like Trump come in, who had both the ups and downs in businesses — because I believe as a business person, if you don’t, if you don’t fail you’ll never really learn how to succeed — because you learn from your failures and certainly Trump had his organizational share of failures. It may be in the building industry as well under his father Fred, and certainly in the gaming industry in certain casinos, but he learned from those experiences so he brought all of those skills to the table, which career politicians simply don’t have, because that’s never been their life. So, this is a brand new viewpoint. And I think the party will benefit from that.
Q: Having gotten your start in the Nixon Administration, did you ever get a chance to meet him?
A: As a matter of fact, my senior year at Syracuse which is a Republican stronghold in that part of New York State. We went to a Young Republicans rally at the War Memorial. It was the winter of 1968 and Nixon was giving a stump speech. And I not only got a chance to meet the man and shake his hand, but I did get his autograph. And unfortunately, I lost that autograph. But yes, I met Richard Nixon personally. It [the speech] was probably related in part and in large measure — we were still in Vietnam and students of my age at the time I had a concern in terms of what was going on. We had a draft. We all had lottery numbers. So we were all forced to have skin in the game, so to speak. There were also concerns about restlessness and lawlessness and campus disruption and taking over of administration buildings. Nixon was running on a platform of trying to find a way to get us out of Vietnam, but also making sure that we were a society of law-abiding citizens not lawless disregard of not only the law, but other citizens’ rights….So that was what he was, basically talking about this was right after [former] President [Lyndon B.] Johnson announced that he was not going to run for re-election and he was not going to accept the nomination, even if the Democratic Party nominated him as the nominee.”
Q: As a lifelong Republican, when did you notice a shift away from Republicans like Jacob Javits and Nelson Rockefeller to what we have today?
A: Well, I think I think to try to make that quantum leap in time doesn’t necessarily serve any useful analytic purpose. And I’ll tell you why I think you have to break the analysis down into very small- time segments. Because even between election cycles and off your election cycles, you can find reasons … that might cause a particular shift in any party’s direction. In other words, you can point to a similar kind of analysis in terms of when did the Democrat Party become literally not only liberal and progressive, but where did all these socialistic tendencies come from?
Q: Having [lived through] the Kennedy Assassination and remembering it vividly, was that a time when partisanship and politics took a back seat?
A: Politics never goes out the window ….That’s a misnomer. Politics … will be there as long as there’s a political system. I think it’s maybe a presumption that we set aside politics, but we don’t. We never set it aside. We may not ratchet it up to the power of 10. But we never truly set it aside.”
Q: Having seen the effects of lobbying firsthand, what do you make of the influence of lobbyists today?
A: I don’t necessarily view it that way. I see it as due process. I see it, that every voice has the right, if not the obligation, to express redress of what they perceive to be grievances to their government. So I don’t see it as an issue of suppression. I see it as an issue of expression that you have multiple industries and businesses that have trade groups and associations just like you have labor unions just like you have the SEIU, for instance that represents service employee workers. You have the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that goes out and represents the expressions of businesses, both small and large. So I think what has gotten into the political morass, if you will, is that everybody says you should listen to my voice but no one else’s. And that I think is patently unfair that every voice regardless of size has a right to be heard. As to money in politics, we as a country for years have been trying to get federal financing of federal public campaigns. It has failed miserably. Ask yourself, how many people do you know that check the box on their individual tax return to have $3 or whatever the appropriate amount is that’s indicated there to go to that federal fund to finance campaign, even though it doesn’t affect their tax bill. Again, it has failed miserably. Secondly, the fact that the scaling of what it takes financially now, to run campaigns and the nature of campaigns themselves. You have to have inordinately large sums of money to become an effective voice to get your message, your message out, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on. So I honestly don’t know at this point in time whether there is a meaningful way that you can take money out of politics. I’m not sure it’s possible.
Q: Who was/were your favorite president(s)?
A: I think probably because of what they did and how they did it I would have to say the first would be Ronald Reagan. He brought down the Soviet Union, in large degree Communism and was really the prime mover and driver for more democratic movements and institutions in Europe and parties, particularly Eastern Europe. He was probably the one I most admire. The second one, I would say, because you talk about public service and his service to the nation would be, and I’ve met him once personally, was George H. W. Bush. Man, if you can imagine 17, 18 years old being shot down as a fighter pilot in the ocean, being rescued by a sub, then going on to a private business career, being elected to Congress, wind up … being appointed as United Nations Ambassador, being appointed and running the CIA, then having the privilege of serving as Reagan’s vice president, and then being elected president of the United States and also marshaling, I think to the world’s amazement, the first Gulf War, and kicking Saddam out of Kuwait.
Q: What was it like to go to school during the time of the Civil Rights Movement?
A: [At Syracuse] we were way up north. I remember in high school, we only had one black student. One. We hardly had any Asian or minority students. So we were far from the epicenter of what was going on …. So you go south of the Mason Dixon line, you start getting into the Mid Atlantic states. It’s a whole different perspective. So we weren’t really living in that reality, although we were hearing and seeing that reality and we could only kind of intellectualize it in our minds.
Q: What’d you make of Jimmy Carter?
A: Jimmy Carter, I just don’t think had the skill set. And I’m not sure to any significant degree that he brought the right people in his administration, although I must admit that the one significant accomplishment that he should be given credit for was the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. He was able to get that done. That was a significant stepping stone to trying to instill at least a modicum of stability in the Middle East, you know, far from the panacea, but at least it was a significant first step. And I do give him credit for that. I remember him sitting in front of the television. I don’t remember exactly when it was. He was in a, like a cardigan sweater, saying that this country is in a great malaise. You know, the American public doesn’t want to be told that in that fashion. It was the wrong message to send, even though we were running away with rampant inflation, rampant interest rates. At the time, it was the wrong way to convey the message. I just don’t think he had the right team and he had the right skill sets.”
Q: How’d you come to your political beliefs?
A: I came to my political beliefs by seeing how things didn’t work or were misdirected or wasted by what others were doing, and thinking and the others thinking that was the right way to do it. And I said, ‘No, there’s got to be a different way. There’s got to be a better way of doing it.’ All it was demonstrating to me was failure to achieve what were the intended goals.”