Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

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.

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I've got a bad feeling about this ...
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
Looks like someone's gonna shake the hornet's nest to keep themselves in the game.

It's truly amazing how flexible the polling positions and popularity of the "mainstream" candidates are but Lil' Debby at the bottom can only pick up 2% in all this chaos. Meanwhile Hearst is bouncing around the charts.
Call me biased.
Looks like someone's gonna shake the hornet's nest to keep themselves in the game.

It's truly amazing how flexible the polling positions and popularity of the "mainstream" candidates are but Lil' Debby at the bottom can only pick up 2% in all this chaos. Meanwhile Hearst is bouncing around the charts.
Call me biased.

I should mention that the Des Moines Register is an Iowan state poll while the more established Literary Digest uses a national sample.
The polls are still somewhat flexible, but that may have been unintentionally misleading.
I should mention that the Des Moines Register is an Iowan state poll while the more established Literary Digest uses a national sample.
The polls are still somewhat flexible, but that may have been unintentionally misleading.
My own fault for trusting polls, don't mind my naivete.
We've avoided a split electoral college too many times.
I don't think we'll skate by this time. There are too many strong candidates this time around.
We have an incumbent for a spoiler, a former President for a presumptive winner, the two old establishment parties have both failed to shoot themselves in the foot and the Socialists are nipping at everyone's heels county by county even if they can't win a state.

I think this is going to be the one where things get messy.
Part 5: Chapter XVIII - Page 116

House Speaker Thomas Butler on the Campaign Trail, October 1912 - Source: Wiki Commons

Following a tumultuous set of nominating conventions and a bitter campaign season, Election Day 1912 finally arrived. The disparate candidacies completed their final events and their complex campaigns officially closed shop. Roosevelt and Hearst operations concluded in New York City at separate venues, Butler appeared for the final time as an active candidate from the front porch of his West Chester home in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Marshall settled in at a St. Louis hotel, and Debs wrapped up his last campaign showing in Sacramento. National polls proved the malleability of this race as Roosevelt's lead diminished slightly since early October, yet it could hardly be denied that the Progressive preserved the greatest degree of enthusiasm out of the presidential field. Some press contributors still estimated a landslide in favor of the Rough Rider despite the polls reflecting otherwise. In any metric, this election was Roosevelt's to lose, and coming up short would likely spell the end of the former president's career.

President Hearst, meanwhile, was met with a last-ditch effort by the Democratic Party to blockade the now-independent from interrupting the vote. Some two-dozen state governments announced, roughly six days before the scheduled election, that the president would not be included on their official ballots. These election authorities referred to various procedural missteps and errors in the Hearst Campaign's haphazard filing. As such, these powers exclaimed that the president's name would be removed from the final printing. This phenomenon was not an official policy of any political party, but the states enacting such decision making were predominantly in or along the border of the South. State election officials deliberately handed down this development at the final hour, knowing full well Hearst would not have an adequate window to fight it. Southern Democrats were not about to allow for a split Democratic electorate if it could be prevented, as even a single Republican victory would speculatively amount to utter embarrassment. Not one state overruled its ruling. This left the business magnate at a major strategic disadvantage.

The above fear among Democrats that a split vote could harm their notoriety just as the 1904 Progressive schism damaged the GOP was prevalent going into November 5th. Very few publications predicted a victory for Governor Marshall, and even fewer for President Hearst. "Frankly, neither had the numbers," wrote election historian George Alexander in The Four Elections That Shaped America. "Discounting their inherent Southern advantage, the Democratic Party was unable to withstand even a 10% loss. Even for William Jennings Bryan, the Champion of the West, victory in the Great Plains and in spotty Mountain districts counted on carrying every possible vote. [...] Roosevelt once robbed a mere portion of Bryan's sums and that was enough to carry him to the White House with an Electoral majority." As previously inferred, the potentiality of a rift in the Democratic vote benefited Roosevelt immeasurably, and he presumptively prayed that split would be enough to sidestep an underperformance.

On the evening of the election, as the vote count progressed and states began reporting their figures, early signs appeared promising for the Progressive Party. Roosevelt had a promising Popular Vote advantage in the bulk of Northeastern and Midwestern swing states, perhaps due to his middle-class precincts reporting sooner than in poorer and more diverse communities, but it slowly, steadily dissipated as the night went on. Fortunately for their standard-bearer, Maine was called for the Progressive column far sooner than in previous cycles. It seemed Hearst only won a meager 8% out of Augusta, but that 8% derived exclusively from the Democratic vote. Democratic division drove their nominee far into third place, and boosted Butler to a distant second. As for the remainder of New England, the Republican nominee performed roughly as well in that region as Knox and Depew. Massachusetts was a bit closer, and Roosevelt hoped to replicate his stunning 1904 Boston win via a superbly constructed media blitz, but Butler successfully grabbed the Bay State, 32% to 27%.

Theodore Roosevelt was, however, able to assert dominance in New Jersey. A state politically fissured between its popular Democratic governor and its two Progressive senators, New Jersey became a textbook visualization of Democratic splintering costing that party any remote chance of success. This practically assured Roosevelt an easy win with little effort required. Some analysts and Democratic operatives within the Marshall Campaign hoped that the presence of Governor Wilson would push its electorate toward their side of the ballot, but the "Hearst Factor" dividing ballots allowed the Progressive firebrand to outpace his previous attempts in the Garden State. Roosevelt won New Jersey's 14 Electoral Votes with 38% of the vote, in conjunction with Butler's 29%, Marshall's 23% and Hearst's 9%. For comparison's sake, the latter managed 33% in 1908.

Always politically capricious, New York state remained a fickle beast. State government officials as directed by Governor Chanler meticulously monitored some of the busiest polling places as a means to assuage fears of repeated corruption. In the aftermath of the endlessly discussed Manhattan Scandal, many New Yorkers residing in the five boroughs fretted that their votes may not be counted or counted incorrectly due to Tammany shenanigans. Chanler privately believed the measure was unnecessary, but he acquiesced to the demands of the population and planted 'watchdogs' in those precincts marked for high risk of malpractice. As a direct result, the 1912 election in New York may indeed have been one of the safest up to that point with few irregularities to note.

New York, in a unified voice, resoundingly rejected the prospect of re-electing President Hearst. The incumbent and former governor received a humiliating 4% of the tally in his apparent home state. Even in the event of rampant voter fraud and a recreation of the very worst practices in electoral history, the scandal-ridden businessman was always doomed to lose in the Empire State. The State Democratic Party refused to comment on the entrance of Hearst as an independent candidate, and fully endorsed Governor Marshall at the closing of the Democratic Convention. Hearst's state-wide allies, once instrumental in swaying New York to the Democratic column, were totally disinterested in the renewed candidacy. Democrats may have been dejected from the election, considering Marshall finished in a distant third nearing fourth-place Eugene Debs. Butler ran extraordinarily close to Roosevelt, but it was the latter who emerged victorious in that bout. By a margin of 3%, the Progressive leader finally won his coveted New York.
Part 5: Chapter XVIII - Page 117

Cartoon Depicting Eugene Debs Rising Above the Hearst-Roosevelt Fray - Source: LoC

Four years earlier, Senator Philander Knox narrowly lost his home state by a margin of about 2%. Roosevelt, in that previous election, succeeded in harvesting Pennsylvania's vote after triumphantly locking in support from municipal workers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It was Debs who managed to pull off this stunt in 1912. Debs captured a decent portion of the Keystone State's significant urban and left-leaning vote, albeit falling to bits in the more conservative countryside. This fortuitous rise of the Socialist candidate was a one of two sure-fire blows to the dismayed Progressive. The other was a stellar performance by the Republican nominee. Apparently a far more beloved public official than Knox, Butler conquered the home field advantage accompanied by a wide majority of middle-class voters. Therefore, Butler snagged the state out from Roosevelt's nose.

President Hearst retained some sense of adoration among former Populists in Mississippi and Arkansas, and was initially anticipated to perform fairly well in the Southern states, but on the whole his results in this region were negligible. When listed as the 1908 Democratic nominee, Hearst swept the South. In 1912, he did not exceed 3% in any one state. Indeed, Governor Marshall sailed to successive wins in the Deep South and carried Texas with ease. Beyond the Southernmost part of the nation, however, Marshall encountered pronounced difficulties the likes of which no Democrat in recent history was forced to reckon with. In states along the border of the American South, Hearst received noteworthy totals through tremendous write-in campaigns. In Kentucky, for example, the incumbent managed to pull out 8% of the total vote even though his name did not appear on the state ballot. This sharply pained the Democratic effort and produced a rather unexpected outcropping.

Marshall held on in Kentucky after a shockingly tight vote, finishing about seven points ahead of the competition. Likewise, the contender won out in Missouri by about 10% despite early reports indicating a Republican lean. The trouble came with Democratic division in the remaining three states. In West Virginia, a state traditionally won by Democrats (apart from the 1900 election), a combination of Progressive collapse and Hearst segmenting the Democratic electorate resulted in a Butler victory with about 31% of the total count. The same stunning scenario played out, scene-for-scene, in Maryland and Delaware. Marshall, of course, was furious.

As for the American West, it reconfirmed its unambiguous preference for the Progressive Party. Although many rural farmers admitted some interest in the Hearst candidacy while others leaned into the left-wing messaging offered by Debs, few seemed fascinated by the Eastern-centric Marshall/McClellan ticket. Burgeoning cities in Colorado and the Dakotas expressed clear-cut support for Roosevelt, while Butler struggled to keep up his second place standing. His wins remained stuck in the mid-30s percentile, but the former president successfully carried nearly every Western state that pledged support for the Columbians in 1904. Even Bryan's Nebraska and Hearst's California narrowly chose Roosevelt out of the five-man field. Utah alone stayed a staunch beacon of Republicanism in a sea of Progressivism.

President Hearst made a serious play at the newer Southwestern states deep into the election season. He believed that these former territories would be more receptive to antagonizing Mexican revolutionaries considering their experiences along the Mexican border. For the president, concentrating on American security potentially outshined the more positive campaign themes utilized by Marshall and Roosevelt. To some degree, he was correct in determining their infatuation with such language. Hearst did secure some of his strongest showings in the Southwest, surpassing 10% in both states. This was hardly enough to set oneself apart from the field, however, and all it truly accomplished was setting back the official Democratic nominee. At the end of the day, Butler took New Mexico and Roosevelt eked ahead in Arizona - each by some thousand votes.

At last, in the central boiling pot of swing states and sheer unpredictability of the Midwest, some of the closest matches reached their end. Roosevelt maintained his natural advantages among small business owners, city workers, and tenant farmers throughout the entire region with a distinctive asterisk regarding Debs' base of unskilled industrial workers. Marshall fell far behind in this pivotal arena and could only surpass the pack in his gubernatorial base of Indiana. In any other electoral contest, Roosevelt would have attained checkmate, but the involvement of the Butler Campaign in Midwestern cities was dramatically underestimated. Possessing a near-unlimited war chest, a constant stream of favorable editorials, and endorsements by several city governments, Speaker Butler managed to do exceptionally well in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. The simple inclusion of Robert Todd Lincoln also seemed to profoundly help the Republican cause.

The final results of the race did not trickle in for some time, and that aspect kept everyone on edge. Wednesday, November 6th, came and went with no one candidate named the winner. Michigan went to Roosevelt, then Illinois did the same. Both counts were close and the prospective presidents listened attentively for the tally, but at that point it no longer mattered. Due to the arrangement of the Electoral Votes as-is, and upon confirmation from Governor John Tener (R-PA) that the margins in Pennsylvania were not close enough to merit a recount, it was impossible for any candidate to meet the required 266 needed to assume the presidency. Roosevelt held an ascertained plurality in both the Electoral and Popular Vote, but the division of the electorate had finally unleashed the ultimate consequence. The presidential election of 1912 would not be determined by the voters. Instead, according to Constitutional guidelines, the United States Congress would cast their decision in a contingent election.
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So twice the People's vote is rendered redundant. This has to have some spectacular results with the public if it does happen.
So twice the People's vote is rendered redundant. This has to have some spectacular results with the public if it does happen.
I like to think that once Teddy is either retired or sufficiently scandalized, there will be a massive sucking sound coming from the Socialist movement as it starts eating up disaffected Progressives and really starts making gains.

Maybe on the eve of the Great War, the Socialist Party has a Constitution Party esque performance in the least pro-war states, takes a few electoral votes, and sends a class of anti-war congressman to the Congress.
With a platform like that, and a good showing in district & state level elections, they could successfully keep the war discourse in a state of debate rather than being accepted by the majority of the country.

If there's never a point where the opposition resigns to it and the jingoists make the rest of the country fall in behind the effort, things can get very messy for a war president if they're seen as strong-arming the country into an unpopular action (something that will be made all the more likely by the mess of a House vote that's likely to happen right now).

That could solidify a *consciously* anti-war vote, and with the war scandalized by defeats, stalemates, and disgusting casualties, the next election could become a referendum on it. The Socialists will likely have been the only party with serious anti-war credibility, and with that they enter mainstream respectability.

As to the "redundant" vote.
That 8% is in an election year with an incredibly popular ex-president taking back a presidency that they're largely considered to have been cheated out of. A year with strong candidates with lots of institutional backing, deep pockets and generational loyalties.

8% is real damn good, and it's a jumping off point to a stronger showing. Should the right circumstances arrive.
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If it goes to the Senate they only put up the top two vice presidential candidates?
Yes but in the house it is top 3. Contingent elections are weird. So it's really a question of who the Republicans are more willing to accept, McClellan or Johnson. As too what occurs in the house, we don't know the party breakdown by state but since it's split roughly into thirds, I don't see either party able to capture a majority of state delegations easily. That means the vice president voted on in the Senate might serve as acting President for quite a while.
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