The Return of Bull Moose

Moviegoers know that most sequels tend to be long on hype and short on substance. Thus, Spirited Reasoners can expect that any attempt by Donald Trump to reprise Teddy Roosevelt’s shenanigans of 1912 will likely amount to just that—empty hype.

History tells us that Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt was, like Donald Trump, a somewhat larger-than-life figure, the main differences being that Roosevelt was (a) progressive and (b) a president who actually got things done during his term in office to benefit the average American. He had happily turned over the GOP nomination in 1908 to William Howard Taft, who won that election and aimed to succeed himself in 1912. But because Taft had, in Roosevelt’s eyes, failed to carry his progressive agenda forward, the latter rose against his former colleague.

When Taft edged out Roosevelt for the 1912 Republican Party nomination, Roosevelt—claiming that despite his being rejected by the GOP he still felt strong as a Bull Moose—proceeded to form the Progressive Party, a name no one remembers because the Bull Moose moniker stuck.

The net effect of all this party wrangling? Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party nominee, won the election of 1912 in an Electoral College landslide, due mostly to the split in the Republican Party. Perhaps more importantly for the future of American politics, a number of key leaders of the Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party switched sides later and became future Democrats. Harold Ickes, for example, became FDR’s Secretary of the Interior and was responsible for implementing much of the New Deal legislation.


Fast forward to the present. If Donald Trump chooses to seek the Republican Party nomination in 2024, he would be, like Teddy Roosevelt, a former president in quest of renomination after a one-term gap. Some would argue that he remains so popular among party faithful that he would be a hard man for anyone to beat in the primaries. I would argue, however, that events of January 6th are now seen as being so toxic that many Republican leaders might fear an electoral blowout. After all, Donald Trump not only lost both the popular and Electoral College vote, he also played a major role in his party’s loss of the Senate.

But if Republicans for whatever reason choose a different candidate as their standard-bearer in 2024, we should not be surprised if we are treated to a Bull Moose sequel rearing its ugly head, one that is overly hyped and short on substance. And this time, we can expect the moose to be not the least bit progressive.

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