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Robert FisherTop Contributor: Anime
4.0 out of 5 starsThe template for modern presidential campaigns
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2015
I was a bit uncertain about getting this book; I was not a supporter of George W. Bush so would I like a book by one of his top advisers? Then it occurred to me that while I don't care for many of the views of Patrick Buchanan, I did find his recent book on Richard Nixon, The Greatest Comeback, quite interesting. Further, I am fascinated by the politics of the 1890's, so I took a chance. Karl Rove has written a book that proves good reading; he does make a strong case that William McKinley could be seen as the template for modern presidential campaigning. I was intrigued by how McKinley and his campaign team worked for years in advance to halt the so-called Combine, GOP bosses who sought a nominee who would simply carry out their wishes regarding patronage. Rove is in his element as he describes how McKinley forces won the Republican nomination. He also tells of the Democratic convention and how a series of lucky breaks set the stage for William J. Bryan to win the nomination with a stunning speech. One criticism I do have is that Rove does not cover the Populist Party until over halfway through the book even if its 1892 showing made it a force in politics. There are spots in which the book could have enjoyed better editing. Overall however, The Triumph of William McKinley is both entertaining and informative.
4.0 out of 5 starsFor policy wonks and political junkies
Reviewed in the United States on October 12, 2016
This book was hard to read. Not that the writing was poor but rather the nitty-gritty detail Rove takes us through in 19th Century American politics is exhausting. Most of the names are unfamiliar, especially when he gets down into the bowels of insider-Republican politics and convention tactics of the 1880s and 1890s.
It's not all bad, however. The issues of the time, that drove presidential politics, were the basis for the currency valuation (silver, gold, credit?) and the issuance of certain tariffs on certain products - some providing cheap goods while others made American goods more expensive and cost jobs. Protectionism vs. free and open global markets. Sound familiar?
Similarities can be made between that election and the campaign for 2016. Immigration was an issue as was ethnicity. McKinley reached out to Catholics and supported black voting rights which were both marginalized at the time. McKinley railed against the establishment and formed a coalition of voters who would serve Republicans well for three decades.
The freewheeling methods and tactics political parties used to select their candidates is also a bit of shocker. Patronage jobs were freely offered to adversaries for their support and many cabinets consisted of men who were just a short time before were political adversaries. Lincoln’s Team of Rivals is the best known example of how 19th century politicians secured support as Lincoln’s cabinet was made up those who contested his nomination. However, there is no mention of the Rockefeller-J.P. Morgan- Carnegie cabal who some historians credit for his victory by virtue of massive political donations from these millionaires. I find it curious Rove did not even comment on that urban legend.
The research is meticulous and the footnotes plentiful. A work of tremendous scholarship but difficult for the average reader.
John E. Nevola - Author of The Last Jump U.S. Army Veteran Military Writer's Society of America
My advice to readers of this very fascinating history is to ignore the name of its author. Karl Rove is extraordinary as he is controversial as a political strategist. Nevertheless if a reader checks her political baggage at the door, she will find a very well written biography of William McKinley that focuses on his election to the presidency in 1896.
McKinley a Civil War hero and the last of the Civil War presidents was a highly organized politician and a strategic thinker. Although McKinley is remembered today as an establishment politician he, in fact, ran against the bosses of his day, successfully represented striking workers in Ohio and he opened up the Republican Party to masses of immigrant workers that were flooding into America’s factories. He practiced the politics of inclusion by having a Rabbi open the 1896 Republican Convention and was very comfortable working with the black politicians who represented the core of the Republican Party in the South. He understood the fundamental truth that political parties grow by addition, not subtraction. Unfortunately all too many of today’s Republicans have failed to heed that lesson.
In Congress McKinley was known as the “Napoleon of Protection”. Instead of arguing for Capital, he argued that protection set a floor underneath American wages therefore his high tariff policies protected workers as well as factory owners. In 1896 he wanted to run on that issue. Instead the locomotive of history made the “money question” the issue that year. It was the question of the gold standard versus free silver and its champion was William Jennings Bryan.
Rove is especially good at covering the Democratic Convention of that year and he shows step-by-step how Bryan won the nomination. You can almost hear the crowds cheering his “Cross of Gold” speech. The money question split both parties, but in the end it hurt Bryan more than McKinley as the “Gold Democrats” ended up with more heft than the “Silver Republicans”. Further Rove explains how McKinley successfully convinced working class voters that it was against their interests to be paid in a debased silver currency. Simply put, what was good for indebted farmers was not necessarily good for the urban working class.
Along the way Rove introduces us to the master insider Mark Hanna who runs and finances McKinley’s campaign, the 30 year old Charles Dawes who runs McKinley’s Midwestern operation who later becomes a Vice President and authors the Nobel Peace Prize winning reparations plan in 1925 and Theodore Roosevelt who greatly aids McKinley’s efforts in New York.
My quibbles with the book is that Rove spends too much time on inside baseball minutia and leaves out important details as to how McKinley financed his campaign where on a conservative basis he outspent Bryan 10-1. He also credits the rise in crop prices in the fall of 1896, the October surprise of that year, which undercut Bryan’s free silver campaign to bad crops in Australia and India. A closer look would have indicated the gold shortage of the 1890s that was deflating the economy was coming to end with the introduction of the cyanide process that was ramping up South African gold production and the discovery of gold in the Yukon in August of that year which set off the Klondike Gold Rush. With gold no longer scarce, the deflation ended and the need to inflate the currency with the introduction of silver disappeared. Thus what McKinley accomplished laid the basis for Republican dominance over the next 36 years.
This is a history of the 1896 presidential campaign which saw William McKinley defeat William Jennings Bryant. A deeper purpose of the book is to elaborate Rove's own theories of how Republicans need to fight and win presidential elections. No, I don't mean speaking off one's front porch, as McKinley famously did. I mean messaging, message discipline, and organization. For all that, and the uphill battle Bryant had, Bryant nearly pulled it off. I was left thinking that for all of Rove's theories, they affect only a small proportion of the vote.
Republican mastermind Karl Rove describes in great detail the first modern presidential campaign in the USA. As the man behind President George W. Bush's two successful bids for the Presidency his faszination with the skill of his late colleagues is showing. There are only glimpses of the private life of William McKinley. His marriage to Ida Preston started happily but after the early death of their two daughters his wife fell ill and suffered from various illnesses. Despite her condition her doting husband found time to build up his poltical career from Representative to Governor of his home state Ohio to President of the United States. In his campaign he beat the populist Democratic contender William J. Bryan by a thoroughly planned and executed campaign. After defeating Spain in 1898 he won a second term but was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901. His Vice President and successor was Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most popular Presidents of the 20th century.