March 3 Presidential Losers; Teddy Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and Eugene Debs
Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Eugene Debs, 1912
William Howard Taft
The race began to get really interesting when Teddy Roosevelt decided to enter the fray as a Bull Moose Candidate. His mission was to defeat his own former VP, William Howard Taft, who'd proven to be a big disappointment in the White House. 1 The gist of it was that he felt Taft was far too conservative and hadn't followed the more liberal and progressive agenda he'd laid out. (Liberal? Progressive? Weren't these guys were Republicans?)
Then, just for grins, the Socialist Party nominated Eugene Debs. (Many people have never heard the name Eugene Debs before, but study his picture closely and tell me what else you could name him.) Debs ran into tough going because Socialism wasn't a very popular concept in those days, and he had to explain that he wasn't a Wobbly trying to overthrow capitalism, although some of those admittedly were in the party, and he wasn't one of these airie-fairie Fabian Socialists like George Bernard Shaw, although those were fine folks, too, and nor was he a "Gas-and-Water-Socialist" whatever the hell that was, but, well... and by the time he'd gotten that far, his listener had gone off to get a sandwich. In spite of this, the Socialists got a whopping 6% of the popular vote. During a rally in New York, Debs' running mate Emil Seidel bragged that only four years ago people were throwing rotten vegetables and eggs at them, and now they weren't. 2 This was the high point for Debs, though. Wilson sent him to prison for treason for his opposition to World War I. Debs ran for president again, but being in a penitentiary in Atlanta somewhat hampered his campaign, and he made a negligible showing. He served four years of a ten-year prison sentence before Harding commuted his sentence so he could be home in time for Christmas and then die. Highlights of the '12 campaign included Taft's running mate dropping dead on the campaign trail, and John Flammang Schrank's assassination attempt at Teddy Roosevelt. The bullet was stopped by a fifty-page speech in his pocket. 3
Woodrow Wilson: 435
Teddy Roosevelt: 88
William Howard Taft: 8
Eugene Debs: 0
1. How big was he?
2. Eggs were too expensive.
3. 50 pages! Did Schrank want to kill him or just shut him up?