After more than a decade of losing elections to Democrats, after three straight presidential losses to Franklin D. Roosevelt -- the man conservative Republicans loved to hate -- the scent of victory was at last in the air for the GOP.Why did they do it? Anyone can tell you....and the reason remains the same.
But there was a problem, and a big one at that. The previous December 7th America had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. The attack was a disaster, killing 2,471 military and civilians and destroying a considerable portion of the U.S. Navy. For the second time in just over twenty years the country was now at war. Not only were we fighting the Japanese but the Germans and the Italians too.
In the partisan camps of the Republican Party there was considerable feeling that the fault for this lay personally with FDR. Some were convinced he either knew the attack was coming and let it happen to plunge the country into the war, or that he should have known and was simply incompetent. The man, they believed, was neither very bright nor very honest. Battlefields were now erupting in strange countries literally all over the world -- in Europe, Africa, Asia. So in circumstances like this, how does a political opposition approach the upcoming election?
Savage FDR? Run on a campaign of "Roosevelt lied and people died"? Should they go out and tell the American people just how dangerously incompetent the man was, that the best thing to do was make peace with Hitler and Japan's Hirohito, then elect Republicans who would simply force FDR to bring home the boys and let the rest of the world cope with chaos? After all, a few years earlier FDR himself had turned back an ocean liner filled with 937 Jews escaping the looming Holocaust. The idea of not making Hitler, Hirohito or Mussolini any angrier than they were was certainly one approach.
The Republicans did none of the above. Instead, with the President on the political ropes at last, with a burgeoning team of attractive GOP candidates all over the country they did something else.
They rallied to FDR.
Running for Governor of Connecticut Raymond Baldwin stated flatly that "[t]he President of the United States is our Commander in Chief. Because we are Americans before we are Republicans, we will back him in the conduct of the war. His success is our success and we want him to succeed." At the Republican National Committee, Chairman Joseph Martin pledged "100 percent support of the war effort." And on it went with campaigning Republicans across the country.
And the Nazis and the Japanese? The so-called Axis Powers? What was their response? The New York Times editorial page trumpeted "an admission from Berlin that it would be 'harboring an illusion' to expect the Republican victory to bring any change whatever in the policy of the United States." Focusing on the silence of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the paper concluded: "His silence is proof of the fact that we have made the unity of our purpose apparent to our enemies."And what happened to the Republicans in the '42 election? Did they sacrifice their political gain by supporting the nation at war?
The Republicans won the election, gaining 44 new House seats and 10 in the Senate, not quite a majority, but erasing FDR's control. Dewey won in New York and was instantly bannered as a presidential sure thing. GOP gubernatorial candidates won across the country....and people wonder why I feel disgust now and then.