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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
Pinchot: Our weakness here from the start, as indicated in my letter to you, remains the same—the doubt on the part of your opponents as to what you will do in case of your nomination by the Progressives; in other words, the feeling has got around among them, from somewhere or other, that if you are nominated and they had anyone that is even approximately bearable, you would withdraw and their nomination would stand. That is what has made us weak in dealing with them. We have been playing poker with them substantially without chips in that direction. Now I realize, of course, the difficulty of that situation; at the same time, if you could send to some one here a telegram or a message over the telephone which could be circulated and which, without directly committing you finally to make the race, would indicate that that was your intention, and that could become known to the other side, it would very much strengthen our case.
Roosevelt: … I do not believe that good would come from such a communication as you suggest. …
White and the other “radicals” were unable to get control of the Progressive convention on Friday. Over at the Coliseum, the Republicans wound up their oratory and began to vote. The first ballot was a great disappointment to the friends of Roosevelt in both conventions. Hughes had an impressive lead over the field, whereas Roosevelt was far down the list of candidates with only 65 votes. The second ballot greatly increased Hughes’s lead and added only a handful of new supporters to Roosevelt’s candidacy. At this point the nomination of Hughes seemed inevitable unless a deal with the Progressives could be arranged. The Republican leaders therefore adjourned the session to allow for a final effort at compromise.
The results of the first two ballots had demonstrated clearly that Roosevelt could not win the Republican nomination. For Roosevelt, this practically settled the question of his own action. So long as he had hopes of a double nomination he was willing to consider the possibility of running independently, should the Republicans make an objectionable choice; without those hopes the possibility disappeared.
Fearing just this development, some of the Progressives attempted to force Roosevelt’s hand.
“I am not going to dictate to that convention as if I were a Tammany chieftain.”
Pinchot: Have you heard the result of the first ballot?
Roosevelt: Yes, I got , did I not? The Republicans must [realize] that if they carry things too far they may make it absolutely necessary for me to run on a third ticket but I absolutely will not commit myself in advance. I wish you would look around and see who else would run; see Hiram Johnson.
Pinchot: He will not. As things stand tonight I do not see how it is possible for anything of that sort to happen, and your refusal to run would kill the Progressive party entirely. That seems to be self-evident. …
Roosevelt: I wish to say this—that there is a very wide difference between making a young colonel and a retired major general lead a forlorn hope. I have simply got to reserve judgment.
Pinchot: There is one thing I want to say. There is apparently throughout the convention a very strong fear that if we wait until after the Republicans have nominated, and if they nominate Hughes, an effort will be made at that time to force our convention to nominate Hughes.
Roosevelt: I do not see how. I can only say for myself: If the Republican convention now nominated Hughes I would have to say that even though the Progressives endorsed him I would not endorse him until he repudiated the German-American alliance.
Pinchot: I want you to make it evident that our people will nominate you; then you decide afterwards what to do.
Roosevelt: Now see here; that is a big order.
Pinchot: I do not want you to make a public statement but I want you to make it evident to your managers here that you do not want anyone to take steps to have our convention nominate Hughes.
Roosevelt: I’ll take those steps.
Pinchot: There is a very strong fear among men whose judgment is to be respected that an effort of that kind will be made.