Who Wins in 1912 if Roosevelt Sits Out?

The 1912 US Presidential election was a devastating defeat for the GOP, which had been in power for 16 years. The Republican Party was split between progressives, led by former President Theodore Roosevelt, and conservatives led by incumbent President William Howard Taft. When Roosevelt bucked the GOP to form an independent Progressive Party, Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson benefited from a divided Republican vote to win an overwhelming majority in the electoral college. Yet the popular vote was closer: Wilson won 41.8%, less than Bryan's share of the vote in 1908.

What if Roosevelt had decided not to challenge Taft, instead deciding to wait until 1916? Would Taft be re-elected? Would another progressive Republican, such as Robert La Follette, run against Taft in the GOP primaries?
 
IMO more than TR's not running would be necessary for Taft to win in 1912. Remember, the Democrats won control of the House in 1910, before the Taft-TR split. Indeed, much of the clamor in 1911-12 for TR to run came from Republicans who feared that Taft couldn't win...

See my posts at

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18496100

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18501361

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18502310

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18504035
 
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MO more than TR's not running would be necessary for Taft to win in 1912. Remember, the Democrats won control of the House in 1910, before the Taft-TR split. Indeed, much of the clamor in 1911-12 for TR to run came from Republicans who feared that Taft couldn't win...

See my posts at

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18496100

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18501361

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18502310

https://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/threads/wi-tr-doesnt-run-in-1912.462459/#post-18504035

Indeed. This is a reminder that I started a thread on this same topic three years ago.

My opinion is that Wilson wins, but by a narrower margin. A La Follette third party candidacy would not nearly carry the same support that Roosevelt's did, yet the Republicans would still be split and in the progressive spirit of the age Wilson would have the advantage over Taft.
 
Taft will get a progressive primary challenger, but I doubt ther would be a viable third party run without TR's appeal. LaFollete did respectfully in 1924, but that was after Roosevelt's performance in 1912.

So with the national popular vote, IOTL:

Wilson 41.8%
Roosevelt 27.4%
Taft 23.2%
Debs 6.0%

Lets try these figures:

Wilson 45.8%
Taft 44.6%
Debs 8.0%

Is this plausible? Bryan got 43.8% in 1908. This represents a 4.5% swing from the Democrats to the Republicans. These totals still give the Democrats control of Congress. Also for comparison, Bryan got 46.7% in 1896.

Wilson could win both California and South Dakota, both of which went for Roosevelt IOTL. Taft doesn't seem to have been on the ballot in South Dakota, and got less than 4,000 votes in Caliifornia. California in particular was close. The two combined for 18 electoral votes.

Taft still wins the other four Roosevelt states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington), plus his two states of Utah and Vermont. Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Vermont did not vote Democrat between the Civil War and Great Depression, and Michigan voted Democrat only once in that period.

Taft will pick up the other five New England states, for 40 electoral votes. Wilson took well under 40% in all of them. Wilson probably loses all the states where he took under 40% to Taft, except for Nevada which had a large Debs vote. The other states and Kansas, Wyoming, Illinois, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota, Iowa, and Idaho for a total of 73 electoral votes. Ohio, with 24 electoral votes, is really close. IOTL Wilson got 41% of the vote, to 49% combined for Roosevelt and Taft, with Taft doing better than Roosevelt.

So take the combined Taft and Roosevelt electoral votes of 96, subtract California's 13, then add 113 for the states, except Nevada, where Wilson polled under 40%, and add 24 for Ohio. This is 220 electoral votes for Taft as opposed to 331 for Wilson. It looks like Wilson wins, carrying all the southern and border states, New York, New Jersey, and Indiana. Nebraska, and several western states, possibly including California. Wisconsin either votes for Wilson or a LaFollette favorite on candidacy.

However, New York, New Mexico, and New Jersey are extremely close. The combined Roosevelt and Taft margin over Wilson was 10% in New Mexico, 11% in New York, and 12% in New Jersey. Taft could just about swing it if he draws a straight of New York, Ohio, and either New Jersey or California. The problem is that I just don't see him winning New Jersey or California against Wilson, though Hughes did carry New Jersey against Wilson in 1916.

Keep in mind that in this scenario, Roosevelt will likely be campaigning for Taft, since it would strengthen his position in the party in 1916. And that will help.

I did a similar analysis of Roosevelt's chances as the sole Republican candidate in the other thread, and I like them better. I concluded the election would come down to New York in that thread. Taft also needs New York to win, but he needs lots of help elsewhere. I think the additional additional 4% cushion in the national popular vote Roosevelt starts with would make up for Taft votes defecting to Wilson in this scenario, though it would be close.
 

DougM

Donor
I think you folks are placing way to much stock in the mid terms. It is not exactly unknown for a president to not have control of congress.
 
Imho you're being far too generous to the Republicans.

They had suffered a smashing defeat at the 1910 midterms, and nothing had happened since to improve their chances. My guess is Wilson would win quite a bit bigger than that.

BTW, the 1911 elections were no more favorable to the Republicans than the 1910 ones. In Philadelphia, the Republican machine lost control of the city for the *only* time between 1891 and 1951! "Keystone-Democrat" candidate Rudolph Blankenburg narrowly defeated George H. Earle, Jr. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1911_Philadelphia_mayoral_election State GOP boss Boies Penrose, a conservative and a Taft loyalist, had vigorously campaigned for Earle. In Kentucky--which was definitely a two-party state, having elected a Republican governor in 1907 and having only very narrowly voted for Bryan jn 1908-- the Democrats easily won the governorship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1911_Kentucky_gubernatorial_election Democrat Eugene Foss was re-elected governor of MA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1911_Massachusetts_gubernatorial_election

Indeed, much of the clamor for Roosevelt to run came precisely from the concerns of many Republicans that Taft couldn't win in 1912.
 
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I wonder if Debs would have won as many votes as he did if Roosevelt sits out.

Debs was a safe protest in a year where there wasn't a real chance of throwing the election to the republicans (or progressives). In his other presidential runs he never got over 3%.
 
I think you folks are placing way to much stock in the mid terms. It is not exactly unknown for a president to not have control of congress.
And yet the Republicans retained control in 1898, 1902, and 1906. The last major rout of an incumbent party in the midterms was in 1894--and sure enough, the Democrats lost control of the White House two years later. The last midterm rout before *that* was 1890--and again, Harrison was defeated two years later. *After* 1910 the next time an incumbent party was to lose control of the House was 1918--and we all know what happened two years later.

Being routed in the midterms was indeed a pretty good sign that your party was in trouble in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
 
Imho you're being far too generous to the Republicans.

They had suffered a smashing defeat at the 1910 midterms, and nothing had happened since to improve their chances. My guess is Wilson would win quite a bit bigger than that.

I don't have any sources that state who progressive voters would have supported with Roosevelt out of the race. But if you shift 75% of Roosevelt's votes to Taft (I do not think that we should assume that every Progressive voter would have cast their ballot for the Republican ticket), Taft gets 43.7% of the vote. If you shift the remaining 25% to Wilson, he gets 48.65% of the vote. Taft can only win if nearly everyone who voted for Roosevelt votes for him instead, but I do not think this would occur.
 
To avoid losing, Taft needs to stave off a nomination challenge, unifying the party behind him, and avoid a third party challenger. The former (as others have said) seems impossible. Even if TR doesn’t challenge him, Robert La Follette was already running a fairly successful insurgent campaign. And even if La Follette doesn’t run third party, Eugene Debs picked up 6% of the popular vote which is enough of a third party to hurt the progressive republicans. Taft just wasn’t a strong enough leader politically to hold his party together.

I would be most interested in knowing how well Debs can do in this election. Are there any states he can win?
 
I don't have any sources that state who progressive voters would have supported with Roosevelt out of the race. But if you shift 75% of Roosevelt's votes to Taft (I do not think that we should assume that every Progressive voter would have cast their ballot for the Republican ticket), Taft gets 43.7% of the vote. If you shift the remaining 25% to Wilson, he gets 48.65% of the vote. Taft can only win if nearly everyone who voted for Roosevelt votes for him instead, but I do not think this would occur.
Still looks too close to me.

In 1916.after the GOP had had four solid years to patch up their differences, and had made substantial gains in the 1914 midterms , Hughes *still* ran three percentage points behind Wilson. Im 1912, with the Taft administration still thoroughly unpopular, I'd expect that gap to be at least doubled.
 
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Still looks too close to me.

In 1916.after the GOP had had four solid years to patch up their differences, and had made substantial gains in the 1914 midterms , Hughes *still* ran three percentage points behind Wilson. Im 11912, with the Taft administration still thoroughly unpopular, I'd expect that gap to be at least doubled.

I am persuaded by your argument that sans Roosevelt, Wilson is likely to win a decisive victory. Would 48% for Wilson, ~34% for Taft, 10% for La Follette, and 6% for Debs be a plausible outcome? I am of the opinion that even without Roosevelt another Progressive would run as a third party candidate. (If LaFollette was willing to do so against the far more popular Coolidge in 1924, I see no reason he would be unwilling to go against Taft in 1912).
 
In the off chance that Taft does win what changed with Wilson never holding office?

I don't think much would change from 1913-1916. Despite his reputation as a conservative, Taft was actually very progressive (he was an aggressive trust buster, more so than TR, while supporting both the income tax and the direct election of Senators). He would not reintroduce segregation into the federal government, however he would be neutral during the start of WWI.
 
The more I read about the run-up to the 1912 election, Taft had very little going for him while La Follette made all the lousy decisions he could have made. Even if we butterfly away Roosevelt snubbing La Follette’s National Progressive Republican League, he thought it would be a better decision to write an autobiography during 1911 and the first part of 1912 instead of touring the country. Then he gave such a disastrous speech after his daughter’s surgery, that people thought he was having a mental break. Even if hand wave away Theodore Roosevelt’s challenge and third party run (he’s eaten by an alligator— the end), the GOP heading into 1912 resembles a party that is going to lose. If Bob runs third party, Taft loses. If Bob doesn’t run third party, his supporters likely flock to Wilson or Debs.
 
Since a number of commentators raised the issue of the 1910 elections, I checked the figures using wikipedia. I looked at the House of Representatives only, since that was a national contest where all the members were up for election and elected directly, unlike the Senate.

In 1908, the Republicans won 219 to 172, apparently (these figures are by no means solid), winning the national popular vote by 50.3% to 45.4%. Taft got 51.6% of the national popular vote that year, running about 1% better than the Republican congressional candidates.

In 1910, the Republicans lost 57 seats, 55 going to the Democrats and the other two going to an independent and a socialist. They took 46.5% of the national popular vote, to 46.7% to the Democrats. This is a 2.5% national popular vote swing. Note that incumbents at the time didn't run ahead of their parties' national support by the ridiculous margins of later periods, so small swings in the national popular vote could translate into big swings in seats.

In 1912, after the 1910 redistricting and the final expansion of the House to 435 members, the Democrats gained another 62 seats. The socialist and independent members lost. The Republicans lost 28 seats, so the balance of the Democratic gain is attributable to the new seats created. Candidates running as Progressives gained 10 seats. The national popular vote totals. National popular vote totals listed were 38.9% for Republicans, 43.3% for the Democrats, 10% for the Progressives, and 8% for the Socialist. The Democratic and Socialist percentages are a couple points higher than their presidential candidates. Combined Republican and Progressive totals were about 4% lower than the combined Roosevelt and Taft votes.

I think the 1912 results are pretty much noise, given the fragmented electorate. But I think a key takeaway is that commentators are making too much of the 1910 Democratic landslide. In the aggregate national popular vote, they beat the Republicans by 0.2% nationally, and took 46.7%. The Republicans still took 46.5%, and will this certainly dropped a good deal in 1912, it seems most of the loss can be attributed to the Progressive candidates.

I also think the above figures indicate that Wilson has a ceiling of 48% of the national popular vote in 1912, about 7% above what he got IOTL, given the totals the Demcorats were putting up in Congressional races. He got 49% in 1916, but had the incumbency advantage, the war issue, and his first term had been fairly successful. We can be fairly sure that Wilson is going to get between 41% and 48% of the national popular vote in 1912, against a single Republican candidate. Debs and other minor candidates will take anywhere between 7% and 10% (I am assuming no independent LaFollette run, just a primary challenge). So a Roosevelt or even a Taft victory as the sole Republican candidate is feasible. I think for Taft this is unlikely given how lukewarm his support was, for Roosevelt I would give even odds or slightly better, but in either case it would be close.
 
Wilson would win narrowly, I think. Taft wasn't a particularly popular president and, rightly or wrongly, was viewed as on the side of the conservative wing of the Republican Party .
 
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