Tea party should note 1912 struggle

August 3, 2012


— Ted Cruz’s victory in Tuesday’s Texas Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination is the most impressive triumph yet for the still-strengthening tea party impulse. And Cruz’s victory coincides with something conservatives should celebrate, the centennial of the 20th century’s most important intra-party struggle. By preventing former President Theodore Roosevelt from capturing the 1912 Republican presidential nomination from President William Howard Taft, the GOP deliberately doomed its chances for holding the presidency but kept its commitment to the Constitution.

Before Cruz, now 41, earned a Harvard law degree magna cum laude, he wrote his Princeton senior thesis on the Constitution’s Ninth and 10th Amendments, which if taken seriously would revitalize two bulwarks of liberty — the ideas that the federal government’s powers are limited because they are enumerated, and that the enumeration of certain rights does not “deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Both ideas are repudiated by today’s progressives, as they were by TR, whose Bull Moose Party, the result of his bolt from the GOP, convened in Chicago 100 years ago Sunday — Aug. 5, 1912.

After leaving the presidency in 1909, TR went haywire. He had always chafed under constitutional restraints, but he had remained a Hamiltonian, construing the Constitution expansively but respectfully. By 1912, however, he had become what the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, was — an anti-Madisonian. Both thought the Constitution — the enumeration and separation of powers — intolerably crippled government.

Espousing unconstrained majoritarianism, TR disdained Madison’s belief that the ultimate danger is wherever ultimate power resides, which in a democracy is with the majority. He endorsed the recall of state judicial decisions and by September 1912 favored the power to recall all public officials, including the president.

TR’s anti-constitutional excesses moved two political heroes to subordinate personal affection to the public interest. New York Sen. Elihu Root had served TR as secretary of war and secretary of state, and was Roosevelt’s first choice to succeed him in 1908. Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge had long been one of TR’s closest friends. Both sided with Taft.

As the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra says (in “The Saviors of the Constitution,” National Affairs, Winter 2012, and elsewhere), by their “lonely, principled” stand, Root and Lodge, along with Taft, “denied TR the powerful electoral machinery of the Republican Party, which would almost surely have elected him, and then been turned to securing sweeping alterations” of the Constitution. Wilson won with 41.8 percent of the vote (to TR’s 27.4 percent). Taft won 23.2 percent, carrying only Vermont and Utah, but achieved something far grander than a second term — the preservation of the GOP as an intellectual counterbalance to the Democrats’ thorough embrace of progressivism and the “living” — actually, disappearing — Constitution.

Today, many of the tea party’s academic despisers portray it as anti-democratic and anti-intellectual. Actually, it stands, as the forgotten heroes of 1912 did, with Madison, the most intellectually formidable Founder. He created, and the tea party defends, a constitutional architecture that does not thwart democracy but refines it, on the fact that in a republic, which is defined by the principle of representation, the people do not directly decide issues, they decide who will decide. And the things representatives are permitted to decide are strictly circumscribed by constitutional limits on federal power.

TR sought to make these limits few — and as flimsy as cobwebs when the people chose to amend them by plebiscitary methods. The New Republic, then a voice of progressivism, ridiculed Root for being “committed to the theory of government, based upon natural rights” — the Declaration of Independence’s theory of pre-political rights. Schambra, however, argues that for Root and Lodge, as for today’s tea party, the rights proclaimed in the Declaration and the restrictions the Constitution imposes on government are inseparably linked, as Root said, to “the end that individual liberty might be preserved.”

The GOP’s defeat in 1912 — like that in 1964 under Barry Goldwater, whose spirit infuses the tea party — was profoundly constructive. By rejecting TR, it preserved the Constitution from capricious majorities. When Cruz comes to the Senate, he and like-minded Republicans — Utah’s Mike Lee, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and, if they win, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and perhaps some others — can honor two exemplary senatorial predecessors by forming the small but distinguished Root-Lodge Caucus.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    


Robert Rauktis 5 years, 7 months ago

"Small government" George wrote a column, say 1998, where he said the problem with America is that there were no big government projects anymore, like dams and airports, to raise the patriotic spirit. Which way is it, George?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Speak out now to end the Bush tax cuts. Kevin Yoder /Lynn Jenkins just voted to extend the Bush tax cuts.

We need to speak out now to ensure the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% are allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of the year.

Representative Kevin Yoder, 202 225-2865 Representaive Lynn Jenkins 202 225 6601

After more than a decade, it's clear that Bush tax cuts for the rich are a massive -- and very costly -- failure.

Rep Kevin Yoder, 202-225-2865 Rep Lynn Jenkins 202 225 6601

I am extremely dismayed that Rep Yoder and Rep Jenkins voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

When we're brutally slashing the budget for government programs that help people, there's nothing more fiscally irresponsible than giving money to millionaires and billionaires who literally don't need it.

Rep Kevin Yoder, 202-225-2865 Rep Lynn Jenkins 202 225 6601

The very same politicians who are pleading poverty and yelling the loudest about the need to make brutal budget cuts had no problem voting to give away more tax breaks to the rich and the ultra-rich.

We saw this again yesterday when Congress Rep Lynn Jenkins and Rep. Kevin Yoder, voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans.

There is very little that so clearly demonstrates what's broken in Congress than those simultaneously demanding to give the Koch brothers a tax cut while pushing benefit cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Open Secrets:

Rep Lynn Jenkins http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00029077&cycle=2012 Phone: (202) 225-6601

Rep Kevin Yoder http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00031502 Rep Kevin Yoder, 202-225-2865

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

Did that. Received the usual, 'You're input is valued. Here is my position on your issue.'

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Where did the republican party go? It has been suggested that the GOP may be extinct as Mr Will so demonstrates.

How can there a Tea Party within the Republican party? Did the Tea Party simply bypass the ballot process? It seems the NOT GOP is merely a holding area for any group of whacko's that drop by.

The GOP must be dead.

What kind of GOP party is it that goes after it's own because certain members voted against a governor or president because it was in the best interest of the state or the nation?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

The Tea Party has been and remains one thing-- a barely concealed astroturf movement backed by plutocrats like the Koch Bros. And their interpretation of the 9th and 10th amendments is that all power resides with them-- not the states, not the people, with them.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Looks like the TOS agreements don't mean any more to the admin than they do to you.

Kirk Larson 5 years, 7 months ago

Even though taxes are the lowest they've been in decades.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

The GOP is said to represent Fiscal Responsibility yet campaign spending = otherwise.

Getaroom 5 years, 7 months ago

Another waste of space article by GW, who never never owned a pair of jeans or worked an honest day in his life! Oh, just like Romney but he at least has pressed mommy jeans for pretense. Way to go LJW, now how about another one from the Krauthammer.

PhilChiles 5 years, 7 months ago

Hey hey, let's not forget about Ron Paul.

pace 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't think someone calling a movement dominated by anti-intellectualism to be intellectuals if valid. Sure that is not a pig, it is a bacon and ham producer, and a standard of democracy. Right. " Keep your government hands off our Medicare". bright bulbs.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

Pretty much. And he's been a let down by not actually being liberal. I think he quotes Reagan more than Reagan did.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

I suspect that the idea that the Tea Party is the true protector of the Constitution is about as truthful as any of your average politicians.

Fortunate for George Will that Teddy the Rough Rider cannot come back from the grave to actually represent himself. I think he would be insulted that a guy who supported someone as dumb as Rick Perry for President would have the audacity to claim to be an expert on events that happened 100 years ago and to take them out of context to promote another Tea Party candidate who (this time) might not be a total idiot.

And more interesting would be the idea of running again as the Bull Moose Party Presidential candidate which I have to assume would Teddy would win in a landslide simply for the reason that he has a personality.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 7 months ago

I really really wish Texas would just secede from the Union and get it over with. They're giving the rest of the country a bad name.
"...like that in 1964 under Barry Goldwater, whose spirit infuses the tea party..."
Now this part made me spew my iced tea. Goldwater outright despised the religious right and linking him to the tea party has to have him spinning in his grave. I think I feel the breeze from here.
Historical revisionism; George Will doing what he does best.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 7 months ago

Don't know a lot of history, do ya? You must have been educated in Texas where they hate the "Founding Fathers" so much they outlawed teaching what they wrote.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

"The Square Deal was President Theodore Roosevelt's domestic program formed upon three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.[1] Thus, it aimed at helping middle class citizens and involved attacking plutocracy and bad trusts while at the same time protecting business from the most extreme demands of organized labor. In contrast to his predecessor William McKinley, Roosevelt was a Republican who believed in government action to mitigate social evils, and as president denounced “the representatives of predatory wealth” as guilty of “all forms of iniquity from the oppression of wage workers to defrauding the public.”[2]

Within his second term, he tried to extend his square deal further. Roosevelt pushed for the courts, which had been guided by a clearly delineated standard up to that point, to yield to the wishes of the executive branch on all subsequent anti-trust suits. In 1903, with Roosevelt's support, Congress passed the Elkins Act. This stated that railroads were not allowed to give rebates to favored companies any longer. These rebates had treated small Midwestern farmers unfairly by not allowing them equal access to the services of the railroad. The Interstate Commerce Commission controlled the prices that railroads could charge.

Legislation was passed which specified that meat had to be processed safely with proper sanitation. Foodstuffs and drugs could no longer be mislabeled, nor could consumers be deliberately misled. Roosevelt also fought strongly for land conservation, and safeguarded millions of hectares of wilderness from commercial exploitation."

Fairly obvious why the Pro-Corporation Conservatives don't like any of the Roosevelts.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

If I had a rich wife, I might just make my own Linwood newspaper and say whatever I wanted on my message boards.

Mike Ford 5 years, 7 months ago

looks like mr. will is making lemonade out of the lemons these crazies are creating... right falsie shewmaniac.......

Kirk Larson 5 years, 7 months ago

Repeating another lie, eh? The suit is to restore early voting for ALL Ohioans, including the military. The view must be nice in your fact free world.

Kirk Larson 5 years, 7 months ago

It goes like this: Ohio had early voting for everyone, but since early voting is convenient for the poor who may work cross town from their neighborhood polling place or the elderly who don't want to wait in line a long time, the republicans passed a law to gut early voting for everyone (including 900,000 veterans) except the current military. The lawsuit says you can't make two classes of voters and should restore early voting for all.

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