Who would become the Republican presidential nominee in 1920? In December 1919, three candidates led. Warren Harding ended up as president. Frank Lowden and Leonard Wood were largely forgotten by history.
This article broke down the pros and cons of each:
Ohio Senator Warren Harding
- “Senator Harding stands out most conspicuously in the eyes of the Republican powers that be as a safe man… He apparently knows the secret of making advances in life without arousing antagonisms.”
- “His greatest advantage from a political standpoint is that he hails from a pivotal State, a doubtful one with a big electoral vote. From being considered a rock-ribbed Republican State, Ohio has gone Democratic in the last two Presidential elections.” [Indeed, Ohio would vote Republican for Harding the following year. And it remains among the bigger swing states today.]
- “Senator Harding has failed to come out in a clear-cut fashion on some of the important issues that have arisen in this country since the armistice, his opponents point out. They have waited in vain, they assert, to hear from him on the steel strike, the coal strike, the Plumb plan, and on radicalism generally.” [Indeed, this flip-flopping / wait-and-see approach were major marks against recent losing candidates John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and currently Joe Biden.]
Illinois Governor Frank Lowden
- “In Governor Lowden’s career, starting from a humble beginning, there is a quality that has its appeal to the voter. He is the son of a village blacksmith.”
- “He has an excellent record as administrator and reformer of the Illinois State Government… When he was elected Governor in 1916 there were 128 State commissions, overlapping in wastefulness and inefficiency. These were consolidated into nine departments and an effective budget system was introduced.”
- “He lives in a State which is regarded as safely Republican.” [But so was Illinois a safely Democratic state for Barack Obama, so this argument seems flimsy to modern ears.]
- “His large wealth could be made the target of attack to prejudice labor against him.” [Donald Trump is literally one of the wealthiest people on planet earth, and certainly in America, yet that didn’t seem to prejudice voters against him.]
Major General Leonard Wood
- A beloved military hero. “In 1886, in the campaign against the Apaches in the West, his conduct as a medical and line officer won for him the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
- “Because of his close association with Theodore Roosevelt, the following of the late leader is rallying to him.” [Roosevelt, a beloved two-term president whose face would later be carved into Mount Rushmore, had died in January of that year.]
- “As the campaign unfolds, General Wood, as an officer under the President as Commander in Chief of the Army, is withheld from making known his views on questions uppermost before the people, or in putting his own energy in the fight for the nomination.”
- “There is nothing in the army regulations to prevent him from becoming a candidate for the Presidency, but the ethics of it is another question, it is stated.”
Of these three leading Republican candidates at the time, Harding would go on to win both the nomination and the presidency.
But ’tis not always thus. Trump wasn’t in the top three Republican candidates before he announced — in fact, most people didn’t even think he was actually going to run at all. (He had been talking about running for president since at least 1988, but most people dismissed it at self-promotional since he’d never actually pulled the trigger.)
Of the top four Democratic candidates right now, three of them were initially viewed as top tier contenders — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders — but current fourth place Pete Buttigieg most certainly was not. Indeed, most people hadn’t even heard of him back on January 1.
Republican Candidates: Wood, Harding and Lowden Avowed Possibilities in the Presidential Campaign, With Some Dark Horses in Background Republican Candidates
Published: Sunday, December 21, 1919