During the presidential primary campaign of 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t doing so great. He was more of an uncommitted and moderate democrat compared to his frenemy and fellow New York pol, Al Smith. Compared with the hugely successful Smith, Roosevelt was panned as the “weak-willed” “corkscrew candidate”.
The problem with FDR was that he was out-of-line with his base. He was a flip-flopper. He had changed his positions on everything from his support of embattled NY Mayor Tammany Hall to his support of the League of Nations, Prohibition and monetary policy. Convention delegates saw him as weak in light of his lack of a spine combined with his perceived weakness due to his inability to walk unaided.
FDR lost in the all of the first three rounds of convention voting. Chicago bookies placed FDR’s odds at 5-to-1. But everything changed when Senator McAdoo decided to swing his support to Roosevelt, rather than allowing Smith to win. (Smith had denied McAdoo the nomination eight years earlier.)
As soon as McAdoo took the microphone at the convention to announce his support for Roosevelt, the audience knew that Roosevelt would be the nominee. The delegates began to jeer Roosevelt’s name. The party didn’t want a weak ticket with such a bad economy. It was political suicide! They though they could defeat Hoover and win if they had a strong enough ticket. As the boos came in, McAdoo replied, “I intend to say what I propose to say without regard to what the galleries or anybody else thinks.” Senator McAdoo swung his California delegates to Governor Roosevelt and clinched for him the nomination.
Governor Al Smith was so bitter, he broke with tradition and refused to endorse Roosevelt on the floor. It was the first of two upsets. The general election soon followed.
Of course, we all know how the story ends. Roosevelt, the weakest of candidates became one of the first presidential candidates to speak at his party’s convention and arrived on something a presidential candidate had never utilized before — an airplane, in dramatic fashion. In the end, Roosevelt was able to paint Herbert Hoover as completely incompetent, although he continued the Hoover policies for another decade. Today, FDR is regarded by the left as the greatest democratic president in United States History.
Will a weak flip-flopper arise from the GOP nominating contest in 2012 and go on to beat a weak incumbent in November? It is difficult to say, one thing we know for sure is, it has happened before.