Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roosevelt and the Nomination in 1912

The election of 1912 gets attention because Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party split the Republican party and assured victory for the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson.

Lewis Gould looks at this election in a new light – on how Roosevelt lost the nomination and messed up the party:
The story has been compelling because much of it fits the facts. In its dramatic simplicity, however, it misses the dilemmas that the Republicans faced in 1912. By giving Roosevelt the sole starring role in the saga, it depicts the political loser as the winner, and thus understates Taft’s skill as a party politician. That Roosevelt made a series of mistakes and unwise decisions gets overlooked. It also leaves out the crucial contributions of Senator Robert M. La Follette to the ultimate triumph of the Republican conservatives. In a battle that foreshadowed the campaigning style of the future, Roosevelt and his allies missed chance after chance to seize control of the Grand Old Party. The consequences of their missteps would shape American politics for decades.

He argues that Taft better understood the politics of the convention and how to work the situation:
In fact, Taft had mastered the rules by which the Republicans operated and exploited his advantage to the full. Roosevelt would have done the same thing in his place, and indeed had played the same kind of delegate hardball in 1908 when he stage-managed Taft’s first nomination. Roosevelt had entered the race late, never fully understood how the convention rules operated, and launched his candidacy on the vote-losing issue of judicial recall. Moreover, Roosevelt never thought through his situation. If he could not support Taft before the nomination race began, how could he expect to endorse him after a bitter fight for the Republican prize? A bolt was likely as soon as Roosevelt became a candidate. He expected to win because he had always won in the past. It never occurred to Roosevelt that he might lose. When it was clear that he would not prevail, he fell back on theft as the explanation for his defeat. In truth, Taft had out-stolen Roosevelt in the partisan battle that was the Republican delegate selection process in 1912.

This is an intersting article to take a minute to read as it presents this election in a new light – this time more from the propsective of the oft-ignored Taft.

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