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POLITICAL NOTES: Battle of Hastings

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Battle of Hastings

When the Republican National Committee met in Washington last week, it was like a family gathering which has just heard that old Uncle Bim didn’t die broke after all. The election, the new seats in Congress, the squad of new Republican Governors, the startling proof that the New Deal is not immortal, made all the ladies & gentlemen feel downright festive. And then into their midst rushed a chunky, rufous young man from New York and almost spoiled it all.

He was Kenneth Simpson, the one Republican leader who, all the time that Uncle Bim was really believed to be washed up, was actually making headway in Manhattan. To him was due large credit for the final smashing to Tammany last year with the Fusion ticket, led by explosive, progressive Fiorello LaGuardia. It was Kenneth Simpson who groomed the advertising profession’s gift to politics, Representative Bruce Barton. And Simpson it was who had so very nearly overturned the strong, widely respected regime of Governor Herbert Lehman with the G. O. P.’s most dazzling rookie of the decade, District Attorney Tom Dewey.

Mr. Simpson had raced to Washington by milk train and plane from Albany, after a night session of his State executive committee at which he had fought for the National Committee seat of Charles Dewey Hilles. retired. Mr. Simpson’s failure to elect Tom Dewey by getting out a bigger New York City vote for him was one of the reasons the State committee was reluctant to nominate him for the national body. Other reason was the method he had chosen to get out such city votes as he did: he had “played ball” with the local American Labor Party. In the end Mr. Simpson had overcome these objections. He now wanted to be certified by the National Committee. More, he wanted to be put on that body’s Executive Committee, where New York’s Hilles had sat, though his committee back home had not voted for this. As an acknowledged leader of the young, “liberal” element in the party and as a demonstrably able political practitioner, he felt he deserved the place ahead of Herbert Hoover’s candidate, Mrs. Ruth Baker Pratt, splendid committeewoman though she is. Unhappily for the party’s publicity, Mr. Simpson cried: “The people have left the President, but they will turn to the Republican Party only if they are sure that it is not under the domination of Mr. Hoover, the Liberty League and some of the reactionary influences of the past. If we turn that way, we might as well fold up!”

What the National Republican Committee did at this juncture could scarcely have been improved upon by some playful New Deal imp. Instead of “liberal” Mr. Simpson they elected to Mr. Hilles’ executive seat the apple-headed little gnome from Delaware, whom name-calling Harold Ickes calls “Proxy Dan, the Du Pont man”— ex-Senator Daniel Oren Hastings, than whom no man in Congress has a more reactionary record. As a sop to “liberals” they gave the one other executive vacancy to South Dakota’s Harvey Jewett Jr.

Democrats laughed themselves sick at this “proof” that the G. O. P. was “going back to its old ways.” Columnists and cartoonists (see cut) chortled or groaned over this “evidence” of a Liberal-Conservative split among Republicans paralleling the split in the Democratic Party. Even the arch-Republican New York Herald Tribune lamented: “Nothing could be plainer than that the standpatters are still powerful in the party and have still to learn their first lesson in progress.” Republican members of Congress hastened to explain that the party’s coloration for 1940 would be determined not by the National Committee but by their legislative record, which they would make themselves.

Fact of the matter was that the seating of Mr. Hastings instead of Kenneth Simpson was not the sheer Conservative-over-Liberal act which it was so glibly named. Basically, Mr. Hastings’ election was a gesture to the party’s fat cats, not to give them greater voice in party councils but to encourage contributions, which in 1940 will be badly needed.* Dan Hastings missed getting the place last time there was a vacancy by only a vote or two. The preponderant sentiment of the committee is far to the left of Mr. Hastings, but not even its most “progressive” members were entirely comfortable about Kenneth Simpson’s carryings-on with the American Laborites. Finally, the Republican National Committee feels about itself just a little like a fine old club. You don’t elect a man, however celebrated, to membership in the morning and that same afternoon put him on the board of governors.

* National Treasurer C.B. Goodspeed last week reported a deficit of $724,910, but this,despite a $636,452 outlay for this year’s elections, was $50,000 less red ink than on January 1, 1938.

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