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T. R. On The Telephone
By private wire from Oyster Bay Roosevelt angled for the 1916 Progressive and Republican nominations, but his strategy backfired and killed the Progressive party
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
White: If the Republican convention does not show a decided tendency to come our way they [the Progressives] will nominate you pretty soon.
Roosevelt: Try to keep our convention from acting today. Keep them from acting until tomorrow. Let us see the drift of this evening and then call me up tomorrow. …
White: I think it can be very easily handled for tonight provided the Republicans do not go into session tonight and stampede for Hughes. Our people do not like the Hughes proposition.
Roosevelt: I do not like the Hughes proposition myself; I loathe it. I think Hughes is a man of the Wilson type; I think he is little better than Wilson. …
White: He must get out from under that German proposition before our people will consider him.
Yet White was a self-confessed leader of a group of “conspirators” who worked day and night to undermine Perkins’ control of the convention and proceed at once to the nomination of Roosevelt. At 8 P.M. Perkins reported to Roosevelt.
Perkins: We have had an extraordinary day here. … I really feel hopeful tonight for the first time. …
Roosevelt: George, I should like to be where I could hold your hand. … Did White tell you what he came down to tell me? He came to tell me that he had consulted with … the conservative side of the Progressive party, and said that they had decided that they were willing to yield to my wishes to the extent of waiting for one ballot. They wanted to know if I wished to be nominated after the first, or whether they should wait until after the second.
Perkins: When I got back to the convention I found they had it all framed up to nominate you, and [Raymond] Robins [chairman of the convention] told me that they did not propose to listen to any more nonsense about postponing your nomination and were going to put you through.
Roosevelt: George, there is no doubt about it; the other fellows have all the crooks and we have all the cranks.
(Note from Mary Kihm: I was called away at this point and did not get back to the telephone until the following remark by Colonel Roosevelt.)
Roosevelt: However, much as I despise Hughes I would prefer him to one of the burglars [i.e., those who had “stolen” the nomination from him in 1912—Ed.]. Even the members of our lunatic fringe take that view.
Twenty minutes later Roosevelt was getting a report on the Republican convention from John W. McGrath, Roosevelt’s private secretary, and Dr. Edward A. Rumely, owner of the New York Evening Mail.
McGrath: They have gone to ballot in the other convention but we haven’t heard anything from it as yet.
Roosevelt: Oh, Mac, go get your gun!
Rumely: I was at the Republican convention when you were nominated. The reporters said it was the first live demonstration. … Hughes was cheered for twenty minutes but it was a weak, thin thing. Joe Cannon and Harding looked down from one side of the platform and then down the other to see what was doing. Here’s the proposition: They are a very astute bunch of poker players. I watch the delegates. I talked with one Massachusetts delegate, Patch, who is known not to favor you. He stood up on a chair and I said, “What are you up for?” and he said, “I’m for Roosevelt but I haven’t been able to say it until now.” There are others like him, but here’s the situation: If they come to a vote and are only guessing whether or not there is a third party in the field they are very likely to follow their leaders; but if they know there is a third party in the field they will be afraid not to endorse you. …
Gifford Pinchot, pioneer conservationist and one of Roosevelt’s closest friends and staunchest Progressive supporters, was then put on the line.