October 27, 2012

Counterfactual history: Taft wins in 1952

Robert A. Taft/Wikipedia photo
Just how much different would American history have been in Robert A. Taft, not Dwight D. Eisenhower, gotten the Republican presidential nomination in 1952, then gone on to beat Adlai Stevenson in the general election?

A lot in at least a few ways, and at least moderately different in a number of ways. For the sake of this counterfactual story, I am also going to assume that cancer does not kill him in 1953.

First, the lot of organized labor might actually be better. You may be saying “Huh?” if you recognize Bob Taft as one half of the Taft-Hartley anti-labor bill. But, by two or three years after it had been passed, he reportedly thought it had swung the pendulum too far, especially in terms of the amount of government intervention involved, and actually tried to modify it. However, the House and Senate couldn’t agree on one version.

So, +1 for Taft so far vs. Ike.

Second, we likely would not have a military-industrial complex. He would have gotten an end to the Korean War on the same terms as Ike and then, per his libertarian tendencies, would have fought to end the military draft. Along with that, he would have fought to cut general defense spending.

Now +2 for Taft.

Third, we wouldn’t have had the Cold War, at least not in the same degree. Again, in part due to his libertarian stance on many issues, he was not a fan of the Red Scare. Along with that, he would have cut Joe McCarthy off at the pass long before Ike did.

Let’s call it +3.

Fourth, Earl Warren likely wouldn’t be chief justice. As Dewey did in 1948, Taft in 1952 probably would have named him, not Dick Nixon, as Veep. That, in turn, affects the future Supreme Court hugely. And, it affects the civil rights movement along with it.

Oops, we’re back to +2.

Fifth, Taft would have at least tried to fulfill his pledge to roll back the New Deal. He probably wouldn’t have been completely successful, but probably would have gotten enough Southern Democrats to roll back fair portions of it. Social Security, even, might have been trimmed. It certainly wouldn’t have been expanded to include people like farmers, as Ike did in blatant GOP politicking.

Now, we’re back to +1, if that.

Now, some political futures.

First, I’m going to assume that Taft not only is not killed by cancer in 1953, but serves out his full term and is renominated.

However, the anti-New Deal push, plus Cold War fears being ratcheted up by Democrats, make him vulnerable. Stevenson is seen as damaged goods, since he didn’t lose to a war hero like Ike, just to Taft. So, who do the Dems choose?

Maybe Averill Harriman, who actually got last-minute backing from Harry Truman in the real 1956 Democratic race? Or Estes Kefauver wins after all? I’ll hypothetically say Harriman, with Eastern Establishment members of both parties backing him, to beat Taft.

But, with a Democrat now in the White House … the push for civil rights (with no unanimous Brown ruling of 1954 because of no Chief Justice Warren) heats up, and winds up making Harriman vulnerable in 1960.

That, in turn, leads to a more nuanced version of the 1964 GOP primaries getting moved up to 1960. Many Republicans favor Rocky, but others rally to Goldwater because an all-New Yorker race seems off-putting. (Dick Nixon is toiling away in the Senate still.) Goldwater gets the nod, loses to Harriman, but not as badly as to LBJ.

Result? No big mandate for a Great Society or a massive civil rights push.

Having way failed to get the presidential nomination for son Jack in 1956, Joe Kennedy tells his son to wait until 1964 rather than challenge the incumbent president in 1960 in a Democratic party battle. Jack, faithful to the legacy of his stroke-incapacitated dad in 1964, runs himself, but without all of h is dad’s connections, has to cut a deal with LBJ on the second ballot to get the nomination.

With civil rights on a speeding –up slow burn in 1964, and a Massachusetts senator seen as uncaring and a Texas senator seen as a southern racist, Rocky gets the GOP nod, wins handily, and serves two terms, with Nixon as Veep.

The Kennedys never get the same legacy as in real life. Bobby loses to Humphrey in the 1972 primaries. The Hump beats Nixon who, under the eye of Rocky, can’t do too many dirty tricks.

I won’t extend my alternative history further than that, but it’s an interesting concept at least.

Let’s not forget this could have a second option — Taft dies in presidential office of his cancer after all, and Earl Warren becomes president.

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