Several media pundits continually raise the possibility that a current Republican presidential candidate may eventually run for president as an independent. A fascinating question? Has any such independent candidate ever defeated the successfully nominated Republican Party candidate? Yes, exactly one century ago and his campaign platform was remarkably similar to today’s issues.
Although Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft had the support of the party professionals in the election of 1912, he faced a strong challenge to his renomination by former progressive Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Although he had handpicked Taft as his successor in 1908, Roosevelt “was unhappy with what he regarded as the conservative course of Taft’s administration.” In early 1912, Teddy declared his candidacy in the Republican Party against Taft.
At the party’s convention in June 1912, (prior to state primaries) the Taft forces were clearly in command, used steamroller tactics, thus insuring Taft’s re-nomination. Roosevelt requested his people “to take no further part in the convention.” Teddy’s supporters then formed their own party (Bull Moose) which met in August 1912 and nominated Roosevelt. His campaign platform included (Are you ready for this?) creation of a national health service, graduated inheritance and income taxes, a ban on corporate campaign contributions, limits on individual campaign contributions, campaign financial disclosure laws, registration of lobbyists, opening congressional committee hearings to the public, national occupational safety standards, workmen’s compensation insurance, a social security system, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, greater assimilation of immigrants and a federal securities commission to supervise and protect the public of offerings of stocks and bonds. Wow!
With Republicans divided between Taft and Roosevelt, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election, however, with fewer votes than the total votes of Roosevelt and Taft. Teddy, with 88 electoral votes, soundly defeated Taft, with only 8 electoral votes. Roosevelt had called his progressive programs a “Square Deal.” Teddy’s young relative, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, later running for president as a Democrat, adopted many of Teddy’s ideas and called his progressive program a “New Deal.” In a poll of historians in 1982, the Chicago Tribune rated Teddy our 4th greatest president.