Note: We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, and before you find out who holds the not-so-coveted position of “American History’s Biggest Asshole,” remember to check out 6th through 10th place, and of course 11th through 20th in the Runner-Ups section.
Robert A. Taft…More than just about anyone else on the list, I strugged with where exactly to put Senator Taft, arguably the Godfather of modern Republican “thought.” I knew he was too big an asshole not to include in the Top 10, but wasn’t sure if he was really worse than, say, Nelson W. Aldrich (another senator with a history of serving Big Business) or Prescott Bush or Joseph McCarthy. After all, how does one really choose the exact ranking of “The Great Republican Asshole Senators” and give Taft the (dis)honor of “Most Assholish American Senator ever.” [Which I guess is also a spoiler alert that the Final 4 Assholes aren’t senators.]
Because he uniquely combines the worst traits of all of them…
5. As the son of President Taft, he has the nepotism and shitty political dynasty of Prescott Bush. Gee, what a surprise that the son of a President doesn’t fully empathize with the plight of the working-class. I wonder what modern politician also shared that trait–perhaps with a W. for a middle initial?
4. He had more power than Joseph McCarthy ever thought about. McCarthy was eventually unpopular even in his own party, but it’s safe to say Senate Majority Leader Taft held a bit more influence, and Taft had his name attached to major bills even before he officially led the senate.
3. Not unlike Nelson Aldrich, he was fighting the populist reforms of a President Roosevelt (FDR over Teddy). Taft was the leading opponent of the New Deal, and all the good work FDR was trying to do, when Republicans took over congress he stopped any New Deal expansion, and saw it as his mission to completely get rid of it if possible.
2. He’s routinely listed as the most powerful senator outside that “Great Triumvirate” of assholes John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay. Staunchly anti-labor, he helped curb the power of labor unions after Roosevelt died. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act greatly hurt labor unions, and even when President Truman vetoed it, he got enough people in congress to override the veto.
1. He’s basically the Godfather of modern (i.e. extreme) conservatism. Taft hated the moderate Republicanism favored by the “Eastern Establishment” and Thomas Dewey. He is the forefather of every radical Republican nut that’s been unleashed on the American public in the last several decades. It’s hard to point to one individual to blame for modern Republican radicalism, but Taft would have to be towards the top of that list.
Bonus Assholery: As a strict non-interventionist, he was against entering WWII, against supporting the Allied Powers over Nazi Germany, against the Nuremberg Trials, and against the eventual founding of NATO (which he saw as antagonistic towards the Soviets, who he did not view as a major threat). That’s right, he wasn’t just a domestic asshole, but dead-wrong on foreign matters too.
Asshole Adjacent: Domestically, I feel his ideologically pure nuttery and blandly wonkish sociopathy in every Grover Norquist and Paul Ryan. Beyond that, I think Tea Party stalwarts like Jim DeMint or Ted Cruz probably owe him a debt. And internationally, since Taft was one of the only big politicians of the time who was against entering WWII (favoring relations with Japan and the Nazis until Pearl Harbor) and creating NATO (which he saw as overly aggressive towards the Soviets), you can see Taft’s pitiful shadow over the current White House with appeaser-in-chief Donald Trump, who makes Neville Chamberlain look like Rambo when it comes to the Russians. For all these reasons and more, I truly do believe Taft deserves the title of “Biggest Asshole in the Senate,” and key road-paver for the decades of ultra-right wingers we’ve had to tolerate.