Friday, February 01, 2008

Garfield and Gore

No, not that Garfield.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881), 20th President of the U.S.

He was elected after 35 ballots at an exciting Republican convention, then assassinated 4 months after taking office. His story provides an interesting model for what could happen this summer at the conventions of both parties, as well as what could happen next year.

Phyllis Schlafly has written this account of the Convention of 1880:

A relatively new book (2003) of political history called Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield may provide the model. Kenneth D. Ackerman tells the fascinating story of how the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago deadlocked, with three sets of delegates unwilling to abandon their first choice, and a totally unexpected non-candidate dark horse named James A. Garfield was nominated on the 36th ballot and then elected President.

Senator James G. Blaine of Maine was the first major name placed in nomination, soon followed by New York powerhouse Senator Roscoe Conkling's nomination of war hero General U.S. Grant for a third term. The third major contender was Treasury Secretary John Sherman, nominated by his friend and campaign manager Senator-elect James A. Garfield.

The first ballot on Monday, June 7 produced Grant, 304; Blaine, 284; Sherman, 93; and a handful of votes for minor candidates. All were well short of the 379 votes needed to win.

Over the next four hours, delegates cast 18 ballots, every one with a full roll call of states. They broke for dinner and then came back to cast 10 more ballots, despite the heat, the tedium and the hard benches on which they sat.

All three blocs seemed equally determined to stand by their man. After those 28 ballots, Grant's total of 304 votes had grown to 307, Blaine's 284 had shrunk to 279, and Sherman's 93 to 91.

When the convention resumed on Tuesday morning to cast the 29th ballot, Sherman's total jumped to 116, but that boomlet faded on the next ballot.

The break came on the 34th ballot, late in the alphabetic roll call of states, when Wisconsin suddenly announced "Sixteen votes for James A. Garfield." Sitting in the Ohio delegation, Garfield jumped to his feet and tried to make a point of order that he had not consented to have his name placed in nomination, but the convention chairman gaveled him down and refused to let him speak.

The 34th ballot totaled 312 for Grant, 275 for Blaine, 107 for Sherman, and 17 for Garfield. On the 35th ballot, Indiana and Maryland switched to Garfield, giving him a new total of 50 votes.

The roll call for the 36th ballot became high drama. State after state switched to Garfield. Then Maine announced that all its votes had moved from Blaine to Garfield.

When the balloting reached Ohio, Sherman ceded his support to Garfield, who then won the Republican nomination with 395 votes.

Could Republicans be so divided going into the 2008 Convention that a dark horse could win the nomination?

Schlafly's question could also be used for the Democrats. Obama's loyalty to the Establishment has not been proven. He cannot be the nominee. Hillary will drive Republicans to the polls to vote for the less evil of two evil lessers. Will Al Gore be the Democrats' James Garfield?

If Ron Paul should implausibly be the Republican dark horse, in a convention taken over by patriotic free marketers and public opinion fed by internet buzz, Dr. Paul may well meet the same fate as Garfield. Garfield was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau, who didn't get the government job he wanted. A lot of people will be out of a government job if Ron Paul is elected.

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