GOP overconfidence started before Barack Obama was sworn-in. At first I attributed it to racism. Then I remembered Harry S Truman, the man from Missouri – and very white.
President-for-life Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, GA, after he had won the November election. It was in April of my senior year at Holy Cross. Like most Americans, the single thing I remembered about Vice President Truman was he liked to tickle the keys. There was a famous picture, taken in Washington’s National Press Club Canteen, of glamorous movie star Lauren Bacall lounging on the piano while he beamed up at her from the old upright’s bench.
Two years after FDR’s death the former Midwest senator implemented what was known as the Marshall Plan to save Western Europe from looming communism. He had already been handed his electoral head in the 1946 off-year races that did nothing to trim Republican hopes for the White House. But the GOP was “stuck” with former-New York City district attorney and NY Gov. Thomas Dewey, the loser in the 1944 election to FDR.
Mr. Dewey was characterized as the stiff, sugary bridegroom on a wedding cake by the GOP duenna Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of “Rough Rider” Theodore Roosevelt. In that atmosphere, forces behind Ohio’s Sen. Robert A. Taft tore the party apart; it was a matter of the Eastern establishment against Ohio and the heart of the country – a similar situation as now, ideologically.
The “presumed” 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney has a reputation as too wealthy and very Mormon – not attributes to endear him to most voters. This is why the nation has seen GOP “flavors of the week,” as Sarah Palin described the alternating primaries’ winners. A close friend, newly returned from New York, and an avid Republican, told me the talk along the Atlantic seaboard is for another governor or maybe a senator to be brought into the convention as the new favorite – presumably a nominee not sullied in the primary races.
Harry Truman benefitted from the Berlin Airlift; Americans don’t feel comfortable changing presidents at the time of foreign crises. Barack Obama enjoys no such supplement.
On the other hand, from history or my experiences, I can’t recall when one party devoured its leading lights in the primaries. If Mr. Romney or Rick Santorum is left standing when all the pre-convention is done, I can’t imagine the loser leading his faithful to support the winner enthusiastically: too much has been inferred or plain-out shouted in recent months. I never figured many Taft adherents really worked for the man from New York. Mr. Truman, as usual, went home to Independence, to vote and wait for the results.
The day after the 1948 election when the re-elected president passed through Chicago on his way back to Washington, the former Missouri senator beamed above his bow-tie when he held up the headline of the early edition of The Tribune, a very Republican newspaper; it declared “Dewey Defeats Truman.” At his inauguration dinner, the buoyant honoree imitated NBC’s H.V. Kaltenborn who had predicted a GOP landslide.
No direct comparisons with 1948 are really possible. My chief point was the overconfidence in which the Republicans and their stalwarts, including The Chicago Tribune and commentator Kaltenborn, believed absolutely. With the media more partisan now, those of the right-wing started shoveling dirt in the face of the probable Democratic nominee.
Barack Obama shares with Harry S Truman the perception that they were doomed losers, before they first took the oath of office. What the GOP candidates have done to each other in recent months argues against the predicated outcome.