Teddy 1912The 1912 Republican National Convention was a battle for the soul of the Republican party. The Republican Nomination was decided at the Convention Though President William Howard Taft had been Theodore Roosevelt’s chosen successor in 1908. By 1912, the increasingly radical Roosevelt was dissatisfied with Taft’s relative conservatism in office. In violation of an earlier pledge not to run for a second full term, Roosevelt chose to challenge the president for the Republican nomination. Much like Donald Trump, the progressive Roosevelt was a post-constitutional candidate. There are parallels between Trump’s defense of eminent domain abuse and Roosevelt’s contempt for property rights, and Trump’s strongman tendencies have antecedents in TR’s impatience with the machinery of constitutional government. In the early 20th century, only a handful of states held popular primaries to choose presidential nominees, and the results weren’t even binding. But Roosevelt was a popular figure, and he took advantage of these contests, carrying nine out of twelve primaries. President Taft, however, still controlled the machinery of the party, and in states where convention delegates were chosen by party regulars, Taft’s forces dominated. One can almost imagine the outrage of Trump boosters, such as Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich and others, at the notion that the “will of the people” could be so successfully thwarted by the party apparatus. Unlike Trump, Roosevelt didn’t promise riots if he failed to secure the nomination, but the convention organizers were prepared for them. A thousand policemen patrolled the aisles of the convention, and barbed wire was hidden beneath the bunting of the speaker’s platform in order to prevent assaults. For Roosevelt had cast his battle for the nomination in apocalyptic language, proclaiming to his followers that: “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”
Needless to say the rest is history. Roosevelt bolted the party and formed the Bull Moose party. The split allowed Woodrow Wilson to win the election.
If this sounds familiar, in the interest of full disclosure, my great uncle Sam was a delegate to the Bull Moose convention, didn’t do him a lot of good.