On this 48th Presidents Day (it was known as Washington’s Birthday until 1971), let's take a look back through Missoulian archives and newspapers.com for whatever pearls of wisdom may have been imparted by and about the four sitting U.S. Presidents who visited Missoula in the past 110 years.
It's hard to top the opening sentences in this paper’s account of the first such visit:
“Half a thousand of President Taft's friends greeted him at the Northern Pacific depot at 11:05 last night. Half a thousand saw the Taft smile, heard the Taft voice and — what is more than either — heard the Taft laugh, a hearty, bubbling cachinnation that shakes the Taft bulk and the Taft double chin.” — Missoulian, Sept. 28, 1909, upon a short train stop by William Taft and his 10-minute off-the cuff address from the rear platform of his special railroad car.
Taft was on his way west and didn’t say much of import. But he did fit in a story about U.S. Sen. Joseph Dixon, a fellow Republican who owned and ran the Missoulian.
"When I was secretary of war (1904 to 1908) I was bothered to death by Senator Dixon,” the president related. “Every day, including Sunday, brought me letters bearing special delivery stamps, so that I might be sure to get them, and telling me that establishment of a brigade post at Missoula would be of the greatest advantage to the nation.
“Considering the other parts of the country, Missoula has more than it deserves, perhaps, but the post is here now and we can't move it if we wished to. But I must say that the troops are in fine condition.”
The presidential words in Missoula that resounded the most nationwide were uttered by Harry S Truman in 1950, again in an abbreviated early morning address and again from the back of a train. Truman remains the only Democratic president to stop by the Garden City while in office.
The Missoulian didn’t provide full quotes, but the national press corps traveling with Truman jumped on one in particular. It prompted a headline in the New York Daily News: “Truman Coins Acorny Tag.”
"I hope the country never gets into the hands of little men with acorn minds. Let us keep it in the hands of men who can see the trees and who will work for a nation and a world at peace." — Harry Truman, May 12, 1950, in the Baltimore Sun
President Dwight D. Eisenhower showed up in town, by airplane, in 1954 to dedicate the Aerial Fire Depot at the Missoula County Airport. The crowd he addressed approached 30,000 by estimate of a Montana Highway Patrolman.
"Every citizen has a part to play in making the country great. The citizens are not wards of a central system. The people can help themselves better than some bureaucrat far off in Washington." — Eisenhower, Sept. 22, 1954
The regional Associated Press reporter at the airport expanded on Ike’s quote:
"Never will we desert any section or any people who, through no fault of their own, faces disaster and needs the help of central government. And by the same token, never will we step across that line that permits unwarranted federal intrusion into your lives."
That was the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, "and never has a better philosophy for America been stated,” Eisenhower said.
Donald Trump brought his own brand of Republican politics to Missoula last October. He spoke on a Thursday evening to roughly 8,000 people at a private hangar at the Missoula airport within a stone’s throw of where Eisenhower stood in 1954.
Trump spoke for 71 minutes, roughly twice as long as his three predecessors combined. As is his wont, he covered innumerable topics. The president was there to support Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat Jon Tester.
“The Democratic Party has become too extreme to be trusted with power. If you want to drain the swamp you must defeat the Democrats and you must defeat Sen. Jon Tester … How the hell did you ever elect that guy?” — Trump, Oct. 18, 2018
He touted U.S. military buildup.
“We're going to have the most powerful military by far that we've ever had. And a lot of it's already coming, those brand-new, beautiful planes, those incredible stealth F-35s, the — you have the F-35, you have the F-18s, the Super Dupers, the Hornets.”
Trump stirred up a hornet's nest after inviting Greg Gianforte to the stage. The Republican occupies Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House. He won a special election in May 2018, a day after assaulting reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian in Bozeman.
“Greg is smart,” said Trump, lauding Gianforte for limiting his remarks to a few sentences. “And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. (Laughter) Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of... He was my guy.
“We endorsed Greg very early,” the president added, “but I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter (loud cheers). And he was way up. And he was way up. And I said, oh, this was like the day of the election, or just before, and I said, oh, this is terrible, he's going to lose the election. Then I said, well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him. And it did! (cheers)."
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