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Joseph Kaminski

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November 21, 2019

Wendell Willkie & Donald Trump

For the first time in around seventy-five years, a businessman with no political experience worth a dime has become the nominee of a major political party within the United States of America. We’ve seen Donald Trump before in the sphere of national politics before in the form of Wendell Willkie, a lawyer and corporate executive who snagged the 1940 Republican nomination after six recounts. However, unlike Willkie, it seems as if Trump won’t have to sit through more that one, maybe two at the most, recounts at the upcoming Republican National Convention this summer.

Wendell Willkie.

Wendell Willkie.

Wendell Willkie was the head of a utilities holding company, a fringe candidate that went on to become a popular figure in a strong race against Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. Willkie’s name, however, eventually lost the general election by around ten percentage points. Could we be seeing history repeat itself before our very eyes? A Republican candidate, once seen as a non-serious one who managed to captivate through delegate counts and a contested convention (minus the contested part this time around after Cruz and Kasich gave up earlier this week) only to horrendously face plant in the general election against a popular Democratic candidate? Is Hillary Clinton 2016’s Franklin Roosevelt, and is Donald Trump 2016’s Wendall Willkie?

Willkie was able to rise to the nomination after appealing to convention delegates as the conservative’s only hope for an international interventionist. He did, in fact, remain more or less a neutral party in terms of global war until the horrendous attacks at Pearl Harbor — however he favored United States involvement in World War II to support “the American Allies”, much more than the isolationist camps in control of the current Republican establishment felt. In a time where nationalism and patriotic pride was sweeping the nation, the conservative party felt out of touch with the people — especially after a dominant two-year (soon to be three-year) reign of Roosevelt.

Willkie was born in 1892 to a pair of lawyers in Indiana. He followed his family name and became one as well. He served in World War I, but was not sent to the battlegrounds of France until the final days of the war — he saw no action whatsoever but used military background to secure conservative votes later in his career, regardless. He was initially employed by Firestone, but eventually became a successful lawyer in a well known midwestern law firm. He represented electric utilities, which eventually led him to accepting a job in New York City as counsel for the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation in 1929. By 1933, he was president of the corporation. For the next six years, Willkie fought against the Tennessee Valley Authority before Congress and before the public. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but sold C&S’s property for a large profit.

Trump Willkie

I was surprised to find this image online after writing this article.

Where have we heard this story before? A corporate working man who used a weak career in military as a platform for his eventual political career in a convention setting! Donald Trump is CEO of Trump Organization, which (like Commonwealth & Southern Corporation) is based in New York City. Donald Trump went to New York Military Academy, the only time he ever wore military gear, yet claims to be “all for war no matter what”. Meanwhile Willkie actually went to war, but too late to actually see any action himself. The connections are rather broad, so far, but it’s interesting to look at the correlation between the two.

Now, unlike Trump, Willkie didn’t even bother running in the 1940 presidential primaries. Willkie had been a longtime Democratic activist, just as Trump has previously donated to and registered for the Democratic Party. Willkie changed his party registration at the last possible moment in 1939, positioning himself as an acceptable choice for a deadlocked convention in 1940.

As the Nazi Party rampaged throughout western Europe, the Republican Party realized they couldn’t nominate an isolationist to topple Roosevelt’s throne. Thomas E. Dewey, a party favorite, immediately found himself a target because of his isolationist views and Roaring Twenties mindset. In the contested convention, the party turned to Willkie — who was nominated on the sixth ballot over Ohio Senator Robert Taft, another party favorite. Where have we heard this before? Party favorites — establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — being toppled by a random, fringe character?

The election grew close, and ironically both Roosevelt and Willkie rushed to isolationist foundations in the final days of the race — making Willkie’s original non-isolation standpoints a double edged and unnecessary sword. Roosevelt won, taking 38 of the 48 states with 55% of the popular vote: a devastating loss for Willkie and the Republican Party.

After the election, Willkie became a nominal leader of the Republican Party, where he gave President Roosevelt his full support. Conservatives back-lashed as Willkie advocated liberal and internationalist platforms. He ran again in 1944, but failed to get any excitement in Wisconsin’s April primary. He went to Roosevelt, painfully, and had a discussion with the incumbent President. They discussed forming a liberal political party — separating from the two party American system — after the war was done. But, nothing could happen. Willkie had long been careless throughout his entire life — smoking heavily, eating poorly, and rarely exercising. Wendell Willkie died in October of 1944, and Roosevelt himself died in April of 1945.

If history is loosely based on patterns, which it most definitely is, could Donald Trump be the modern equivalent to Wendell Willkie? I believe that Donald Trump will face-plant horrendously against Hillary Clinton in a general election, leading him to face the word his ego hates most: “loser”. From there, his schizophrenic flip-flopping will probably lead him to supporting Clinton or possibly fading to black in order to open up some new adventure for his resume. Whether it be Trump Burgers or Trump Rugs or Trump Gift Shop, his entertainment values will probably come back to fruition if he doesn’t support Clinton after losing his winning status.

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