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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
“Mexico is our Balkan Peninsula and we will have to deal with it”
Butler: There is some talk of Fairbanks, whose record I am not familiar with but whose record with you I do know about. And then there is Knox, who has been little mentioned here.
Roosevelt: Let me interrupt with a word about Knox. I am devoted to Knox personally, but unfortunately he is just as responsible for this Mexican situation as the present Administration. [Roosevelt felt that Knox, as Taft’s secretary of state, had been partially responsible for what Roosevelt considered the mishandling of the Mexican Revolution.—Ed.] … After peace the submarine episodes will be but a memory, but Mexico is our Balkan peninsula and we will have to handle it; and we will be met at every step in our condemnation of Wilson with what our candidate himself has done. Lodge will tell you that too.
Butler: What is there to be said in a general way about Fairbanks?
Roosevelt: … I really have a real liking for Fairbanks personally. He is to me a very much better man than Hughes, but I am horribly afraid that he will prove impossible to do anything with. … I need not tell you that I am in the same position you are. I have to get the Progressive convention to agree in the same way that you must get the Republican convention in agreement. Fairbanks I personally would like. … Would there be any chance of taking up an entirely new man?
Butler: I think it possible, although it might surprise them very much.
Roosevelt: … Now would there be a chance of taking up Leonard Wood?
Butler: I don’t think there would be, for this reason: There would not be any objection to him personally, but it would not meet with the approval of the western and southwestern states. … In view of our preparedness program they would not approve of a military man. …
Roosevelt: Of course he would understand very speedily that the tariff and such matters were entirely outside his realm and would get on the Army and Navy question and Americanism at once. He wouldn’t have to do as Brother Hughes will have to do—improvise. Would there be any possibility of putting Lodge across?
Butler: … I don’t know what vote-getting qualities Lodge has.
Roosevelt: I don’t myself; but he has the political habit and these men would get on with him. …
Butler: Suppose I have a talk with Perkins along the lines we have been talking? … Will you just hold the wire and I’ll get Perkins? Sorry to have got you out of bed at this hour.
Roosevelt: Heavens and earth, man, don’t speak of it. Look what you must have been doing all these nights while I have been lolling around doing nothing.
“I know Lodge’s record like a book. He is just as straight as a string.”
Roosevelt then reported to Perkins the main points of his conversation with Butler. Perkins rang off to confer with Butler, to whom he proposed the following plan: The Progressive leaders (presumably in Roosevelt’s name) would draft a statement refusing to support Hughes. This statement could be pushed through the Progressive convention, however, only by coupling it with the nomination of Roosevelt, which the great mass of the delegates was hot to accomplish. After that the Progressives would adjourn, sending their anti-Hughes statement to the Republicans. Then the Republicans would have no choice but to accept Roosevelt if they wanted to win the election. “I want it distinctly understood,” Perkins told Butler in explaining his scheme, “that if we do that you are going to say to your friends that it was we who saved them [from Hughes] and that you are not going to hold it up against us for nominating our man first.” At 3:30 Butler left to confer with the other Republicans on the compromise committee, promising to let Perkins know before dawn if this course of action seemed feasible. Perkins called Roosevelt back and outlined the new plan.
Roosevelt: That is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever heard. I want to say right here, although you may not agree with me, that I am sure I was right in speaking of Wood and Lodge.