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Trump and Teddy Roosevelt: Bull Moose in the Made-in-China Shop

Could the Republican Party be headed again for a 1912-style convention breakdown and party split?

March 15, 2016

Could the Republican Party be headed again for a 1912-style convention breakdown and party split?

Could the past be prologue? Are Americans going to experience a repeat of the peculiar electioneering experience of 1912?

Signs increasingly point toward no U.S. Republican presidential candidate arriving at his party’s 2016 convention with a majority of pledged delegates. This would be the first time since the 1976 Republican Convention that the nominee is chosen at the convention itself.

The parallels could reach back farther into U.S. history, however.

Just over a century ago, former President Teddy Roosevelt launched a divisive campaign for the Republican nomination against his erstwhile friend (and War Secretary in his own administration), President Howard Taft.

Before even a first ballot had been taken at the 1912 Republican convention, Roosevelt had stormed out with his delegates, promising to form a new party.

Trump and Teddy

Even though Roosevelt’s non-Republican presidential run ultimately fell short, it is hard to miss the shared personality traits between Teddy “Big Stick” Roosevelt and Donald Trump — even though the latter clearly has never heard of the “Speak Softly” part of the former’s famous quotation.

Both Trump and Teddy position themselves as unapologetically nationalist and imperialist Republicans, on the foreign side. Both come from New York City politics and wealthy New York families.

They are also ill at ease in their own parties and uncomfortable with the existing economic orthodoxies – at least publicly on the campaign trail – and campaigning on populist reforms, of a sort.

There are many policy differences between Trump’s platform – such as it is – and the manifesto Roosevelt would eventually release after storming out of the Republican convention in 1912, but their appeal is fundamentally comparable.

Pledging to make the middle and working class great again amid relentless attacks on political corruption, mismanagement and corporate mis-governance? Sounds familiar.

Possible walkout?

There are many different ways the 2016 Republican Convention could unfold. Every day, the pandemonium of Trump rallies grows more violent, for example.

But Trump’s thin-skinned and ego-driven personality type is close enough to Roosevelt’s to foreshadow a repeat of the 1912 convention walkout at the 2016 convention, if it appears Trump will not be nominated.

Of course, the 1912 split handed the White House to the Democrats for the first time in almost a generation and significantly altered the remaining Republican Party.

The new party that Teddy set up did not really take off, despite fielding a significant number of non-presidential candidates in 1912 (and for a few cycles afterward).

But even an ultimately feeble attempt at party building clearly isn’t what Trump has in mind. He doesn’t care about institutions, just about himself as a brand.


If Trump can’t wrap up the nomination before the convention, will he launch an independent run?

Trump’s thin-skinned ego could foreshadow a repeat of Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 convention walkout.

Trump doesn’t care about party or government institutions, just about himself as a brand.