The Political Experience: Republican Party
The Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, an associate justice of the Supreme Court and former governor of New York for the 1916 presidential ticket. Neither a liberal nor a conservative, Hughes (campaigning at top right) possessed a reputation for being capable, honest, and willing to fight injustice: as governor, he had entered into political competition with the boss-run New York state legislature, enacting liberal legislation to the dismay of many Old Guard Republican financial interests. Former Bull Moose Progressives* and some of the Old Guard wished for Theodore Roosevelt's nomination. Conservative Old Guards wanted Elihu Root, a 72 year old Senator, to be nominated. Hughes' nomination resulted from a compromise between the conservative and progressive wings of the Republican Party.
Republicans rejected Roosevelt because of his split with the party in 1912 as well as the general feeling that his political ship had sailed. Elihu Root (portrait at middle left), viewed by many as representative of financial interests, was considered simply too conservative to be taken seriously as a candidate. Root did, however, make an important anti-Wilson campaign speech that suggested the emerging theme of the Republican campaign.
Hughes' campaign began and remained critical of Wilson, but Hughes himself was criticized by many for a lack of alternatives for his attacks on Wilson's policies. Democrats capitalized on this weakness and painted Hughes as insecure in his opinions. Hughes did grasp the tariff as a major issue, arguing that the low tariff crafted under Wilson's administration and the importation of cheap goods resulted in a long term unstable economy. However, the nation's relative prosperity during this election year caused this campaign strategy to fail.
*Theodore Roosevelt split from the Republican Party during the 1912 presidential election, taking many Progressive reformers with him. They formed the Bull Moose Party, a short lived third party whose existence ensured Democratic Wilson's election in 1912.
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