The Forty-year Run


On the third ballot Garner was third but in a position to use his votes to swing the convention. Roosevelt was first, and Al Smith second, with Woodrow Wilson’s lieutenant Newton D. Baker the dark horse. Hearst still felt cool toward FDR, but the alternatives were worse. So in a series of telephone calls from San Simeon, Hearst persuaded Garner to switch to FDR (with no apparent promise of the Vice Presidency, although that came later), and Roosevelt became the nominee and soon President.

That was the high point in Hearst’s political career. It was also perhaps his greatest blunder, for he would spend the next twelve years hating Roosevelt more bitterly than any of all the candidates he had worked against.

William Randolph Hearst played a major role in American politics, quite possibly longer than any major politician in this country’s history. Hearst the journalist, the North American Review said in 1906, was “a blazing disgrace to his craft,” and responsible journalists echoed the sentiment throughout the first half of this century. But they missed the point: Hearst was not really a journalist. He said as much, not long before his death, in 1951: “If I had my life to live over again I would be a newspaperman and merely try to be a better one.”

But perhaps that was never really an option. What Swanberg called Hearst’s presidential “hunger” may well have been too powerful for any immersion in newspapering to assuage. And that hunger was never satisfied. At least one colleague—Hearst’s lawyer, John Francis Neyland—said, “Had he not been able to turn to some diversion like the building of San Simeon, I think he would have gone crazy.”