Divided Republicans – Again
A century ago, the Republican Party was in turmoil. In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt challenged President William Howard Taft for the presidential nomination. When the Republican national convention chose Taft, Roosevelt won the presidential nomination of a new party, the Progressives. During the campaign, Roosevelt declared he was as fit as a bull moose, thereby adding a this political mascot to the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. (The Socialists did not have a mascot.) Liberal Republicans joined the Progressives; conservative Republicans backed Taft. The Democrats nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson and the Socialists chose Eugene Debs. With the Republicans split, Wilson became the first Democratic president of the twentieth century. After the election, some Republicans, including Roosevelt, returned to their party, but others stayed with the Progressives and then joined the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party emerged from this crisis as a much more conservative organization. Liberal Republicans from the Midwest and West wielded some influence, but a Republican pro tem of the Senate dismissed them as the “Sons of the Wild Jackass”. Conservative Republicans dominated the 1920s until the Great Depression transformed the political landscape, and the Democratic Party took power in 1933.
How Donald Trump will change the Republican Party is now the question of the hour. If he loses in November, then it is likely that his nomination was only an aberration of our political system. If Trump wins, he will certainly transform the Republican Party, and perhaps even the Democratic Party. Global economic changes and other world events influenced by a Trump presidency could have consequences that will dwarf Trump’s domestic political impact. It is also a certainty that the unexpected will happen, and President Trump’s response will be critical. We may look back on 2016 as the start of a new era.