By: Nicholas Illuzzi
With the successes of the 2016 elections, the Republican Party has found itself in its most powerful position in almost one hundred years. Not only does the GOP control all three branches of the federal government, it also has trifectas (control of the governorship and both houses of state legislators) in 26 states. This incredible electoral success has come from an ideologically diverse slate of candidates, more focused on winning through a local understanding of constituents as compared to national ideological purity and big out-of-state donors.
With this diversity, however, comes conflicts. These conflicts have begun to define Trump-era legislation. Republicans across the nation have found themselves beholden to constituencies with different values, from suburban evangelicals to the blue-collar working class. These variations have had the Republican Party questioning its values since the primaries. As the GOP struggles to find a sole leader in today’s party, we can instead look back in time to find a great leader we can all respect and emulate. Prior to the superstars of our party like as Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, prior to even the United States, legendary Conservative Roman politician and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero was an icon of meritocracy, stability, and constitutionalism. We can find our role model in the Marcus Cicero.
One of the ideals that Republicans must reaffirm today is meritocracy. Cicero’s journey through Roman politics is a shining example of overcoming adversity through hard work. Though he was born into a wealthy family, Cicero was born in 106 BC outside the city of Rome in Arpinium. Not being from Rome made him an outsider in Roman politics. Cicero began his ascent in law, and his work as a defense lawyer was so impressive that he had to leave Rome after successfully defending a man the dictator Sulla wanted convicted. When Cicero returned to Rome in 75 BC, he was elected as a Senatorial quaestor and was sent as an administrator to Sicily. When Rome voted to subsidize grain for the poor, Cicero worked with the Sicilian landowners to negotiate fair prices for their grain. He also ended the corrupt practice of administrators skimming grain for profit and prosecuted the governor who allowed the practice. Through his hard work, he earned for himself a reputation of being a fair, hardworking man. Without any special treatment, Cicero overcame adversity through his merits and hard work. His rise as a young official can be an inspiration to young Republicans today who look to advance themselves and their careers.
Cicero loved the Roman Constitution as Republicans today love the American Constitution, and the defense of the Constitution was one of Cicero’s core values. Cicero began his rise during the dictatorship of Sulla, who completely ignored the Constitution during his reign. Therefore, even as a Conservative, Cicero avoided involvement in Sulla’s atrocities. While Sulla’s dictatorship stained a majority of the Conservative faction, Cicero rose above and shook off this destabilizing era to become a man beloved by the people. While incomparable in most ways to the reign of a dictator, the presidency of Donald Trump is controversial, and many Republican party insiders believe it similarly is a stain on the majority party’s image. In today’s divisive political climate, we may become corrupted by power and forget our values. However, if we keep the maintenance of our Constitution as a central ideal, our nation and our party will be better for it.
Cicero’s greatest triumph came in the defeat of the Cataline Conspiracy. As consul, Cicero discovered a plot to overthrow the government and march on Rome with an army. The conspiracy was orchestrated by Catalina, a Reformer who had lost to Cicero in the consular elections. Cicero presented evidence to the Senate, and he was granted senatus consultum ultimum, the equivalent of emergency powers. Cicero had Catalina and his cronies arrested and called for their execution. Even with essentially dictatorial powers, Cicero’s love of the Roman Constitution was so great that he still sought Senatorial approval for his actions. A majority of the rebel army deserted after the news spread of Catalina’s death, and therefore, Catalina was successful in defeating the conspiracy. Cicero’s devotion to order and to the Senate preserved the Roman Republic and its republican ideal for decades. We too must support justice and order, and avoid the imperialistic temptations that come with power. In the aftermath of the imperialistic Obama presidency, we must prevent the same abuse of power by our own party. We must be sure to hold President Trump to the same standard of executive abuse as President Obama. We must condemn President Trump’s attempts to rule “by phone and pen,” as Republicans did when President Obama pursued this course of action. We must maintain the filibuster in the Senate as the necessary check on power that it provides for both parties. Like Cicero, we must put our faith in every branch of our government.
After his consulship, Cicero remained on the sidelines of Roman politics for around twenty years. After his exile by Publius Clodius Pulcher, which you can read more about in my piece for The American Agora, and his subsequent silence on the Reformers in exchange for his return, Cicero returned to the public eye denouncing Caesar and Mark Antony. This would lead to his demise though, as Mark Antony’s soldiers would remove his head in 43 BC.
The life of Marcus Tullius Cicero is a great and legendary one. His love of Rome and its constitution mirrors our love for the United States and our constitution today. As the coordination of our party grows difficult, Republican politicians can look to Cicero’s reputation of peace, order, and achievement to guide us forward to success. The Republican Party today must show honor, justice, and pragmatism if we are to use our governing mandate to make America great again.