Aug 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Historian Douglas Brinkley: Trump speech at Gettysburg "would be a terrible blunder"

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Historian Douglas Brinkley told Axios that the idea of President Trump giving his convention acceptance speech at the Gettysburg battlefield would be "a terrible blunder," calling it "deeply cheesy and inappropriate."

Why it matters: Brinkley, CNN's presidential historian and a professor at Rice University, said that choosing Gettysburg would be less about living up to the ideals of equality and freedom that Abraham Lincoln espoused in the Gettysburg Address — and more of a tactical decision to help him get an edge in November.

Why Gettysburg is appealing, according to Brinkley:

  • Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, a key swing state that Trump barely won in 2016 and wants to hold onto.
  • Like his July 3 speech at Mt. Rushmore, this would be a way for Trump to continue to embrace national monuments and position himself as their protector — all while suggesting that the Democrats would cave to pressure from radicals who want to tear them down.
  • It would allow him to attempt to align himself with military veterans.
  • Logistically, Gettysburg is close to Camp David, allowing easy preparation.
  • In a broader sense, Lincoln is one of the most popular and respected presidents, so it makes sense that Trump — as he has done in the past — would want to attempt to invite flattering historical comparisons.

The big picture: Brinkley believes that any attempt to politicize the battlefield could backfire, adding that Trump would be better advised to speak from the White House — which is not without controversy but could be justifiable as his "workplace" amid a pandemic.

  • "It shows an utter lack of understanding about what a military battlefield is. It's not to promote yourself for your own nomination, it should be sacrosanct for all Americans," he said.
  • "It's a place to bow your head and reflect and instead Trump is going to pound his chest," he added.
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