The most bizarre year in politics was 1940Submitted by Crabacado on Mon, 07/22/2013 - 13:08
Several months before the Republican Convention was to be held in June of 1940, a grass-roots campaign begun for a candidate that didn't even know he was one.
Thus began one of the strangest years in the political history of the United States. A year in which a presidential candidate would do a complete and literal 180 on his views in a matter of months.
Wendell Willkie was a lawyer turned businessman who made a name for himself by standing up to big government overreach, such as FDR's New Deal and the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
This was a real life 'Atlas Shrugged' as Willkie was the President of Commonwealth & Southern, a large and private energy company that supplied electricity to eight states.
FDR wanted to create the TVA and have the federal government run it.
Waxing libertarian prose, Willkie argued in front of congress for free markets and keeping the government out of private enterprise.
He lost, the government won and he was forced to sell his energy empire to the TVA.
This is where an unwitting Willkie's short political career begins and shortly thereafter ends.
In multiple radio addresses, broadcast nationwide, Willkie criticized just about everything FDR did or wanted to do.
In May, 1940, just a few short weeks before the Republican convention, polls showed Wendell Willkie with less than 3% support. Unknown to Willkie at the time, a massive groundswell of grass-roots supporters sprang up all over the country. His supporters numbered in the millions and he didn't even campaign!
After a brokered convention and several rounds of ballots, Willkie emerged as the Republican Presidential Nominee. There were several fistfights on the convention floor, many of which had to be broken up by police. This recalls another incident at the convention when the head of a state delegation from the Midwest announced "two votes for Villkie" in a Scandinavian accent.
With an interventionist platform and zero previous political experience, he went up against FDR, who was running for an unprecedented third term.
Roosevelt slaughtered Willkie in that election, capturing over 80% of the electoral college.
So what does Willkie do? He becomes FDR's biggest supporter and is rewarded with an 'Ambassadorship at Large'. He traveled the world and wrote books espousing a 'One World' system of big government and social justice.
This from a guy whose company was railroaded and seized by the Federal Government just years before!
He even began supporting the draft and called for US intervention on a global scale, not just Europe. Literally everything he argued against, just a year earlier, was now something he openly embraced.
During his paid travels, he visited China and a scandal resulted. Gardner Milk Cowles in the book Milk Looks Back, Willkie's visit to China involved a bizarre episode in which Soong May-ling, wife of Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek allegedly seduced Willkie. Cowles claimed she planned to use China's wealth to help Willkie become President in 1944. Cowles claimed she later told him, "If Wendell could be elected, then he and I would rule the world. I would rule the Orient and Wendell would rule the western world."
How a man who came in second place for president could do such an epic political 180 in such a short period of time, is something even Mitt Romney would admire. What happened to this guy?
He did run again in 1944 but did not even get close to the nomination as, by this point, he had lost all of his political credibility.
Willkie died in October, 1940 and his 1940 running mate, Charles L. McNary, had died six months earlier. At no other time in American history have both members of a major-party presidential ticket died during the term for which they had sought election.