This Is a Blog: Election 1912: Beware the Bull Moose

Monday, August 23, 2010

Election 1912: Beware the Bull Moose

As the century turned, Republicans led by William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt led the largest build-up of federal power since Lincoln. They expanded the American Empire, busted trusts, and started the country’s first real steps toward wide-spread conservation. So how the hell did the Republicans become the conservative party? Here’s how.

The Contenders

President William Howard Taft (R-OH) – Although Roosevelt picked his friend as his successor to the presidency, Taft was a strict constitutional constructionist. He believed that all that power and authority his buddy TR scooped up went way beyond what the constitution allowed. Like his Republican predecessors, he gave all federal control back to Congress and settled into the wholly 19th Century position of just being chief administrator.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (P-NY) – TR returned from a much heralded African safari to find his buddy Taft had shat all over his dreams for America. He thought his friend weak for allowing Congress to take over. Even though he promised not to run for a third term back in 1908, he couldn’t stand to see his old chum fuck up the country any more. He threw his hat into the ring as the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party candidate.

Governor Thomas Woodrow Wilson (D-VA) – Just look at the man. Compared to the burly, mustachioed presidents to serve since Buchanan, he didn’t even look presidential. Let’s be honest, he looked like Buchanan. He opposed Mr. Democrat himself, William Jennings Bryan, and his only real political experience was about a year as Governor of New Jersey. This former Princeton professor didn’t have a chance.

The Fight

Taft gave a couple speeches and returned to the White House. Let’s just sort of forget him for now. Wilson and Roosevelt took to the country Bryan-style offering what ended up being two styles of Progressivism. Wilson’s “New Freedom” promised to bust trusts and support labor unions. Roosevelts “New Nationalism” went about as far left as any major candidate had ever done, promising large-scale regulation of business and a wide-reaching system of social welfare.

Just before an event in Milwaukee, a guy shot TR. In a very Jackson-like show of manliness, Roosevelt gave his speech before allowing himself to be taken to the hospital. That display was not enough, though, to win over the conservative wing of his former party.

As election day grew nearer, the outcome could not have been more clear. Without Roosevelt in the mix, the majority of voters would have gone for Taft, but there was old TR screwing over his old protégé. Seeing his clear victory, Wilson turned his attention to Congressional races. As a last fuck you to Bryan, Wilson won with fewer votes than Bryan received in 1896, 1900, or 1908.

The Title

The Wilson presidency started the major resurgence of the Democratic Party. He established the Federal Reserve and oversaw the ratification of the 17th, 18th, and 19th amendments. His New Freedom was the clear inspiration for FDR’s New Deal. When WWI broke out, he kept us neutral as long as he could, and in the wake of the war, tried his darnedest to form the League of Nations. A stroke and 12 years of conservative presidents dismantled pretty much undid most of that.

Roosevelt petitioned Wilson to allow him to lead a group of volunteers into the War. Wilson refused. Most of the Bull Moose’s later life was spent dying of a leg infection he contracted in Brazil. But hey, in exchange, the Brazilians named Rio Roosevelt after him.

President Harding appointed Taft Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he spent the rest of his life.

But now back to my original question. Much like what happened with Van Buren in 1848, Roosevelt sucked the progressives out of the Republican Party. When the Progressive Party fell apart, they found themselves more closely aligned with Wilson. The electoral victories of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover helped build up the Republican Party’s conservative base. And that’s how we have the parties we have today. Kind of makes you wish we had a TR to kick the shit out of today's parties.

Next Up – Election 1948: Dewey Defeats Diddly Squat

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