One might be tempted to believe we’re breaking new political ground when the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee steps down so she can endorse a Democrat Socialist over a legacy Wall Street centrist, when the Republican frontrunner talks about punching people in the face and his closest competitor makes a public speculation based on the size of the other man’s hands.
It’s looking a lot more like professional wrestling out there than anything even remotely presidential, scenes which make for great YouTube fodder but cause those of us who understand the stakes to bemoan the eventual fate of this conflicted nation.
We’ve come apart at the seams before: A power vacuum created by the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the withdrawal of one-term President Lyndon Johnson gave a dangerous energy to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where a police riot broke out after Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination despite not having competed in any primaries. Not one. And that, friends, is how we got President Richard Nixon.
These days the left is divided between a business-friendly, legacy candidate and an upstart who is most often compared to President Franklin Roosevelt — often as a slur, as if the only four-term president in history is some sort of stain on the country. But FDR’s distant cousin, a few generations removed, might understand Sanders’ predicament.
President Theodore Roosevelt was a popular, progressive Republican, if you can imagine such a thing, that stepped down after two terms, allowing his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, to win the 1908 presidential race. By 1912, Roosevelt wanted back in but Taft had secured all the delegate votes before the convention. Roosevelt led his people off the convention floor and formed his own party, the Bull Moose, to run against Taft and that year’s Democrat, Woodrow Wilson.
Is it reasonable to assume most people know how that played out? Roosevelt came in second, with 27 percent of the vote, which was still better than the establishment Republican, Taft, who scored just 23 percent. Wilson became the 28th president with just 41 percent of the vote, and would go on to create the Federal Reserve.
Interesting side note: the remaining 6 percent went to the socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs.