I’ve been watching with great amusement the Republican establishment’s attempts to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination. Something very similar happened in 1912, when former President Theodore challenged the incumbent, his former friend William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination. Roosevelt was immensely popular. By the time the Republican National Convention met in Chicago in early summer, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of Republicans throughout the United States preferred TR to the hapless Taft.
But Taft controlled the machinery of the Republican establishment, and he managed to win the nomination –in spite of Roosevelt’s surge. 1912 was the first year of presidential primaries in the US. TR won most of them, but they did not then play as central a role as they now play in the way we choose candidates. In fact, the Republican Party (and the country) did not quite know what to do with the results of the limited number of primaries in 1912. North Dakota, by the way, was the first state
to hold a presidential primary, and to Roosevelt’s deep chagrin, Fighting Bob La Follette won in the state that had transformed TR from a New York dude into the larger-than-life figure we recognize from Mount Rushmore.
When TR was prevented by the Republican establishment from receiving the nomination, he bolted, formed a third party–the Progressive or Bull Moose Party–and mounted the most successful third party candidacy in American history (29%). Roosevelt defeated William Howard Taft easily, but he also divided the Republican vote and ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.
As Thomas Jefferson said, it is NEVER a good idea to thwart “the decided will of the American people.” The Republican Party’s emerging civil war is likely to elect the Democrat, and leave a bad taste in the party for years, and perhaps decades, to come. If the American people want Donald Trump (far from clear so far), it would be intelligent for Republicans to swallow hard and listen to the voice of the people.