Toward the end of Wednesday’s debate, the moderators asked the four Republican candidates onstage which former president would be their inspiration if they were elected. The answers were the ones you’d typically expect.
George Washington, America’s founding father. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote its founding document. Abraham Lincoln, who preserved a divided nation. Ronald Reagan, the modern conservative icon.
And … Calvin Coolidge, who … uh …
“One of the guys I’ll take inspiration from is Calvin Coolidge,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who studied history at Yale and once taught the subject at a private school, said. “He’s one of the few presidents that got almost everything right.”
His pronouncement drew significant applause.
Coolidge, a Republican from New England, was the 30th president of the United States, holding office from 1923 to 1929. He took over after Warren G. Harding died in office. Coolidge then won a term of his own.
Coolidge has become a somewhat unexpected favorite among modern conservatives. He cut taxes, and supported small government and deregulation. His presidency, which coincided with the Roaring Twenties, is often credited for the period’s economic boom. (Coolidge fans tend to blame his successor, Herbert Hoover, for the crash that followed.) Reagan was an early member of the modern cult of Coolidge.
Coolidge was once derided as stern and cold. When told he had died, Dorothy Parker reportedly quipped, “How could they tell?” In 1926, Walter Lippmann observed that Coolidge had a talent for “active inactivity” that suited business interests and “all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy.”
Historians have since tried to rehab his image, with apparent success.
After the debate, Mr. DeSantis underscored his affection for the man of few words.
“Silent Cal knew the proper role of the federal government,” he wrote in a post on the social media site X.
But Coolidge’s record has been a matter of some debate. David Greenberg, a historian, wrote in an essay for the Miller Center at the University of Virginia that Coolidge’s foreign policy did little to curb the rise of the Nazis in Germany. He added that many Americans linked Coolidge’s economic policies to the Great Depression, which followed his presidency.
“Scholarly opinion looks upon the Coolidge presidency with skepticism, ranking him relatively low among American chief executives in terms of his administration’s positive impact and legacy,” Dr. Greenberg wrote.
Many Americans are probably more familiar with another famous Coolidge. Jennifer Coolidge, the star of the HBO series “The White Lotus,” has said she is the former president’s distant cousin.