The Shitty 1912 Candidacy of William Howard Taft, Republican, Ohio.
Quick Bio: The 27th President, 1909-13, and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft is the only POTUS to have also filled a role on the SCOTUS. He also filled some large clothes as the heaviest President (he maxed at 335 lbs.). A Cincinnati native, a Yale legacy, and a Skull and Bones member, Taft studied law and managed to be appointed as a Superior Court judge by age 29. He was later Governor-General of the Philippines and repeatedly turned down nominations for the Supreme Court (until finally accepting the Chief Justice position in his autumn years). Taft is the only incumbent President whose reelection bid resulted in finishing not first, or second, but third. William met his future wife Helen at a bobsledding party, because don’t we all, and enjoyed a 46-year marriage with three children.
Background of the 1912 Election: Theodore Roosevelt had hand-picked Taft as his scion during the 1908 election, based on their seeming alignment in policy and political theory. Once Taft entered the White House, though, he diverged from the then-popular Republican progressivism, leaning right while Teddy had leaned left. Fearing the destruction of Lincoln’s Republican ideals, Teddy announced he’d accept the 1912 GOP nomination if offered.
This put President Taft in a hard spot, facing opposition not only from his own party, but from a former (and still much beloved) office holder. This in turn put the Republican Party in a hard spot. The 1912 Republican Conventions were divided, with complicated negotiations for delegates that fell to ruin. Seeing a split down the middle with no end to the bickering, Roosevelt left the GOP, taking supporters and delegates with him to form the Progressive Party. The Republicans left behind, with time running out and knowing they were doomed, were forced to support President Taft as their nominee.
Details of Taft’s Candidacy’s Shittiness: The President also knew he was doomed; what’s worse is, he accepted that notion. Taft’s 1912 campaign reached legendary status for shittiness. Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, ignored Taft completely and campaigned exclusively against Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy spent a nominal period attacking President Taft’s “stolen” Republican nomination before concentrating on Wilson.
And then William Howard Taft, the sitting President, gave up. He returned to the 19th Century tradition of not actively campaigning — yes, candidates staying quietly at home during elections was a thing for nearly 100 years. (Taft made his only speech when he accepted the nomination.) He asked his cabinet members, whose jobs he had given to them, to go out and stump. They all said no. Even Taft’s VP, James S. Sherman, pooped out on him by dying a week before the election.
Taft’s lack of effort had even left him off the ballot in South Dakota and California. He won only Vermont and Utah. If one combines Roosevelt and Taft’s popular votes, the total is greater than Wilson’s. However — in another example of the shittiness that is our electoral college voting system — Wilson scored 435 electoral votes compared to just 96 combined for Taft and Teddy.
Conclusion: Taft may be the only major party candidate to run with clearly no hope of winning (this is debatable). But he is certainly the only incumbent President to do so; and, as stated above, he’s the only sitting president to finish third or lower in the electoral balloting for a re-election campaign.
All the other incumbents who faced a no-win situation fell on the sword and didn’t run again (or were forced not to by their parties). As he stared down doom, Taft went meekly rather than a guns-blazing last stand, making his 1912 run one of the most ineffectual on record.
What a shitty candidate for President of the United States.
This series continues with Daniel Webster. For my list of Four Presidents Who Actually Got Shit Done, click here. To support me, buy my books. To insult me, a popular place to start in my last name. It rhymes with “cock.”