The New York Times has noticed the parallels:
“Staunch in its opposition to the Democrats but rived by fierce internal schisms, the American political party stumbled toward defeat, its members cursing their fate. “We are slain,” cried Lewis D. Campbell, a representative from Ohio. “The party is dead, dead, dead!”
That was the election of 1852, when the Whig Party, then one of the country’s two major political forces, began to crumble over bitter arguments about slavery. The Whigs would dissolve within four years, to be reborn as the Republican Party — the very party now engulfed by its own civil war. …”
Earlier this summer, a historian wrote an article for Politico about the parallels between Donald Trump and Zachary Taylor and the crisis over slavery that engulfed the Whig Party:
“It was summer, and a major U.S. political party had just chosen an inexperienced, unqualified, loutish, wealthy outsider with ambiguous party loyalties to be its presidential nominee. Some party luminaries thought he would help them win the general election. But many of the faithful were furious and mystified: How could their party compromise its ideals to such a degree?
Sound like 2016? This happened a century and a half ago. …
Still, many Whig loyalists mistrusted Taylor. He was crude, nonpartisan, unpresidential. Ohio Senator Thomas Corwin wondered how “sleeping 40 years in the woods and cultivating moss on the calves of his legs” qualified Taylor for the presidency. The great senator and former Secretary of State Daniel Webster called Taylor “an illiterate frontier colonel who hasn’t voted for 40 years.” Webster was so contemptuous he refused backroom deals to become Taylor’s running mate (unknowingly missing a chance to become president when Taylor died during his first term). Indeed, the biographer Holman Hamilton would pronounce Taylor “one of the strangest presidential candidates in all our annals … the first serious White House contender in history without the slightest experience in any sort of civil government.” …
Resisting pressure to run as an independent, but refusing to stump for Taylor, Henry Clay exclaimed, “I fear that the Whig party is dissolved and that no longer are there Whig principles to excite zeal and simulate exertion.” A New York Whig, claiming the convention “committed the double crime of suicide and paricide,” mourned, “The Whig party as such is dead. The very name will be abandoned, should Taylor be elected, for ‘the Taylor party.’” …
And the party did indeed begin to dissolve. Almost immediately after the nomination, the self-proclaimed “Conscience Whigs” (anti-slavery Whigs) bolted, refusing to support a slaveholding candidate. Joining various other anti-slavery factions, including those that defected from the Democratic Party, the rebels formed The Free Soil Party and nominated former President Martin Van Buren. …
Neither destiny nor sorcery, history offers warning signs to avoid and points of light for inspiration. America’s modern two-party system is remarkably resilient. Republicans have recently enjoyed a surge in gubernatorial, congressional and state legislative wins. Still, Trump and the Republicans might want to study 1848 to see the damage even a winning insurgent can both signal and cause. And many Republicans might want to consider what is worse: the institutional problems mass defections by “Conscience Republicans” could bring about—or the moral ruin that could come from the ones who stay behind, choosing to pursue party power over principles.”
There are striking parallels between the Conscience Whigs, NeverTrumpism, and Free Soilism. The Conscience Whigs were motivated by the same sort of preening highmindedness. They were just as sanctimonious. They carried forth about “our principles.” They were the cucks of their time. They moralized politics and turned what was for millions in the South an existential question into a life or death apocalyptic political struggle.
What about the Alt-Right? In this historical reenactment of the events that led up to the War Between the States, there is no doubt that the Alt-Right are reprising the role of the Fire-Eaters who mainstreamed reactionary ideas which were then wafting across the Atlantic from Europe.
BTW, Zachary Taylor won the presidential election in 1848, but he was unable to stop the Irrepressible Conflict.