Part 5: Chapter XVIII - Page 115
Bitter Rivals Theodore Roosevelt and William R. Hearst - Sources: Boston Public Library & Wiki Commons
The decisive campaigning period in late September through October was principally characterized by extensive stump speechmaking and celebratory rallies from each of the presidential candidates and their respective endorsers. Normalized as a standard feature of electioneering, all parties contesting the race now adopted the whistle-stop/regional touring approach once pioneered by President Bryan. The various teams, traveling by rail and the occasional buggy, dotted the map in search of excitable crowds and untapped electorates. This five-way race was completely unpredictable from start to finish, and with parties divided and ideologies splintered, even veteran analysts had profound difficulty predicting its outcome.
Speaker Butler and former Secretary Lincoln looked to build inroads among communities in swing states like Illinois and Pennsylvania, utilizing a similar campaign strategy to that of Senator Knox in 1908. The Republican nominee opted to run predominantly negative messaging in these areas, thereby mimicking the RNC in its stinging criticisms of President Hearst. Butler never hesitated in demeaning his electoral competitors as subpar, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous, but it was undoubtedly Hearst who absorbed the lion's share of the assaults. More so than anyone, Butler hammered Hearst's do-nothing tenure and referred to his theoretical second-term as a wellspring of economic calamity and cultural ruination. He exclaimed that the, "integrity of the republic," was dependent upon the outcome of the race, and only through a sharp rebuke of Hearst and Democratic corruption could the nation endure. Butler took on some flak from his contemporaries for stopping short of grouping Roosevelt in with Hearst, and indeed the House speaker did not frequently condemn the Progressives nor its presidential ticket - especially not with the same fire with which he condemned Hearst, but the overall strategy was working. The Pennsylvanian's October poll numbers and forecasted percentage of the vote had already exceeded expectations.
The Republican presidential campaign in 1912 was, by far, the most sophisticated and well-funded of the bunch. Progressives relied on small businesses for financial endorsements and Democrats looked to city organizations and Southern investors, but the Republicans retained an unmoving lock on corporate support. The giant trusts all sided with Butler and dedicated huge sums to his cause, as had the Pullman and Vanderbilt families. The Butler Campaign also did wonders in terms of printed advertisements along the eastern seaboard with election ads appearing in most mainstream publications (outside of the Hearst papers, of course). The congressman's greatest strengths, a proven bipartisan ability to negotiate legislatively and a knack for attaining mild crossover appeal with moderate Progressives, made Butler a far weightier presence in the race than other GOP contenders in recent memory. His strategic dispatching of Lincoln in the Midwest helped immensely to the party's prospective fortune as well.
Even with Butler doing well in the East and Marshall garnering support in the South, the splintered field benefited no one quite as well as it had Theodore Roosevelt. The former president comfortably led every national poll, attracted the largest audiences, kept a healthy relationship with small financiers, and played to the desire of an America looking for familiarity. Roosevelt echoed the bullet points of his New Nationalism at each speaking venue and drove home the need for an active federal government that preserved economic growth and shielded average Americans from corporate leeches. He promoted an increased tariff to benefit American factorial production, promised a "living wage" for workers, and even adopted Democratic positions concerning electoral reform (national primaries, the recall, and the initiative). He spoke in unmistakably positive terms, skillfully latching onto and directing the emotions of the crowds. "What we Progressives are trying to do," he roared with his distinctive ebullience, "is to enroll rich or poor, whatever their social or industrial position, to stand together for the most elementary rights of good citizenship, those elementary rights which are the foundation of good citizenship in this great Republic of ours."
Nevertheless, trouble brewed for the Progressive standard bearer. As the frontrunner in the race, a bright red target was painted squarely on his back. Just as Butler often refused to chide the former president, Roosevelt conspicuously declined to speak to the ills of the Republican Party. It appeared to be an unspoken gentlemen's agreement betwixt the two men, likely to focus all fire at the incumbent in a joint effort. This tactic was somewhat effective in that moderates were seemingly split as opposed to tuning out in favor of the Democratic candidate, but it allowed for President Hearst to launch a rather unexpected barrage of attacks against the two leading figures. In a chain of advertisements, press interviews, and speeches, the Napoleon of the American Press charged that Butler and Roosevelt were conspiring to rob the voters of a fair election. More specifically, he decreed that the Rough Rider was merely donning a progressive persona for the purposes of winning the election. Afterward, Hearst purported, Roosevelt would inevitably regress to his 1908-era conciliatory tone with the GOP.
My fight has always been for the interests of the people. That, I expect, has been made clear these past four years. The scheming and conniving of certain characters and anti-democratic societies has made progress stagnant. They have intimidated us, they have rejected our calls for compromise, and now they have converged to permanently forestall our movement for honest governance. Mr. Roosevelt recently, and proudly, admitted to sawing the edges from his program to appeal to the enemies of progress. Mr. Roosevelt can boast of a belated honesty, so why not be completely frank with the public and tell the whole truth? To labor, to women, to the jobless, to the sick, he will spare not one crumb. It is the standpat program for which Mr. Roosevelt fights. You may vote for a Progressive, but you shall receive a Republican.
William Randolph Hearst, "Campaign Speech in St. Louis", October 19th, 1912
This move revived Hearst's faltering operation in an unprecedented fashion and reinvigorated his most fervent supporters. The unrelenting assault on Roosevelt's character and prolific accusations of under-the-table shuffling reminded Hearst's fans why they fancied the charismatic businessman to begin with. For them, Hearst spoke the gospel truth, and nothing offered by the other candidates could match that. Suspecting collusion by the old parties against the new age of reform was Hearst's bread and butter, and in making this charge a centerpiece in his campaign, the business magnate rose refreshed. A letter in the New York Herald summarized the shape of the late autumn election. "The American people, like all people, are interested in personality. If they are asked to vote they want to know whom and what they are voting for. If any man casts a vote for Hearst for President, he will know that Hearst is answerable only to him. [...] He appeals to the people, not to a boss or corporation. Not even the most venal of newspapers has suggested that anybody owns Hearst, or that he would be influenced by anything save the will of the people in the event of his election."
In the terms of the Hearst Campaign, only with a continuance of the current policies could the country embark toward true "patriotic progressivism" and genuine reform. They drilled it in as a life-or-death choice. Hearst's professed policies of protecting the virtue of government from insidious influences went together with keeping American property and American lives safe along the border with Mexico. Of all five candidates, the incumbent alone brought up intervention in Mexico as a realistic endeavor. While Roosevelt, Butler, and Marshall mostly put a spotlight on keeping relations with Germany tidy and fending off European influence in the Caribbean, none but Hearst consistently exploited local foreign policy to their advantage. "The Others May Bring Us to the Grave, I Know Hearst Will Keep Us Safe!" one pro-Hearst pamphlet read. After a lengthy interval, it seemed Hearst had returned to his old self, and that was what the other candidates feared most of all.