What happens when a former president decides he wants to go back to his old job, regardless of what gets in his way?
As Donald Trump begins his third run in the White House, he splits the Republican Party in a campaign to take back the office from his successor, William Howard Taft, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. .
In my view as a scholar of 20th century American history, it was Roosevelt’s sense of entitlement, his moral narcissism, and his belief that he was indispensable that made him turn his back on the party.
This dire outcome may give us a glimpse of what 2024 has in store for the Republican Party.
Roosevelt’s Charm and Ego
Roosevelt’s tenure from 1901 to 1909 was marked by labor rights, antitrust initiatives, the birth of environmentalism, consumer protection, democratic electoral reform, a modern navy, and even the Nobel Peace Prize. There is little doubt that it was full of success until
As the first modern president, Roosevelt was an activist, a nationalist, and a celebrity. And it is this last quality that most defined Theodore Roosevelt.
He reveled in his notoriety and publicity.
Daughter Alice said, “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral. He wanted to be the bride at every wedding. He wanted to be the baby at every christening.”
He was frenzied, loud, a showman – showing off, his critics complained – his favorite exclamation, “Bully”, was his most against life in the public eye. It was the perfect expression of childlike enthusiasm.
“We must always remember that the president is six years old,” said one of his ambassadors sadly.
a fierce battle between two former friends
Thus, it was very difficult for Roosevelt to hand over his office to his handpicked successor, Taft, because he had made an impulsive promise never to run for office again.
Regrets began almost immediately, and as soon as Roosevelt returned from a year-long trip to Africa and Europe in June 1910, he began arguing with the cautiously uncharismatic Taft.
Some were imagined, some were real, but essentially irrelevant.
Roosevelt wanted the presidency back in the spotlight. In early 1912, he announced that he would run for the incumbent president of his own party. This president is his longtime confidant and colleague, whom he planned to nominate four years ago.
Since Taft dominated the Republican machine, Roosevelt’s path to the nomination was through a new mechanism of state primaries, an early result of Progressive Reform.
Roosevelt won nine of the twelve contested, but most of the delegates to the Republican convention were chosen by local bosses, and Taft won almost all of them.
At the national convention in Chicago in June, Roosevelt broke with tradition and appeared in person. He challenged the entitlement of Taft’s delegates, particularly those from the South, who at that time held a quarter of his total vote despite the Republican Party’s moribund position in the region.
When his challenge failed and Taft was nominated on the first ballot, Roosevelt could have done the same with virtually any losing party nominee.
But that response was not in Roosevelt’s DNA.
Embarrassed and furious, he accuses Taft of stealing the nomination through fraud and announces the formation of a new party as his personal means.
The Progressive Party, informally known as the Moose Party, formally nominated Roosevelt at a hastily organized party convention in August.
The delegation adopted “Forward, Christian Soldiers” as the national anthem, and heard leaders describe the upcoming campaign as “Armageddon” and “Battle for the Lord.”
Roosevelt spent much of his time campaigning for the general election, during which he narrowly survived an assassination attempt, claiming he had been tricked into the Republican nomination.
Roosevelt also described Taft as having “less brains than a guinea pig” and described the 300-plus-pound president as “fathead” as a “fathead” and stooped to personal dryness. I was.
Taft was deeply hurt by a rift with a former friend. He campaigned less vigorously, resigning to lose the general election as soon as he won his nomination.
Unlike Roosevelt, Taft’s career ambition was not to become president, but to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which he achieved in 1921.
Will history repeat itself?
The November result was a landslide victory for Wilson, who won 40 of the 48 states at the time, just as Roosevelt had predicted.
Roosevelt and Taft, however, accounted for more than half of the popular vote, a stark reminder of the importance of unity within the party and of accepting defeat with grace and dignity.
Although unintentional, Roosevelt’s self-aggrandization had other consequences that still bear the weight of historical responsibility on his legacy.
A product of the antebellum South, Wilson brought the racial attitudes of his region and class to the White House.
He segregated some federal civil servants, celebrated the 1915 racist film Birth of a Nation, and held rare meetings intended to meet with black civil rights leaders. I insulted and insulted them on every occasion. He refused to offer black Southerners negotiated federal jobs under the Republican administration.
Roosevelt’s racial animosity was not as deep as Wilson’s, but he nevertheless helped usher in an era of greater racism.
Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
As today’s sharply divided Republican Party looks to the 2024 election, Roosevelt touts his own ego and vanity over the institutional well-being of the party that made him Governor, Vice President and President of New York. What you have is history that rhymes.
Just like in 1912, the Republican Party is held hostage by the whims of the former president. He stormed out of the game he lost and showed gruffly flipping the board as he left.
If that happens, the survival of the Republican Party will be in jeopardy.
The GOP survived until 1912.
Maybe not so lucky next time.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Please read the original article.