• U.S.

U.S. At War: To the People

3 minute read

Last week Wendell Willkie rolled back home from a 5,000-mile trip to win Republican leaders by winning the people out from under them. Everywhere, even in the deep South, the people turned out for a look, stayed to cheer. A cheer in December 1943 is not necessarily a vote in November 1944. But the possibility was enough to rouse other Republicans to a stop-Willkie frenzy. Glowed Willkie: “I must be making great progress these days, for the peewees are shooting.”

In Democratic Dallas, Willkie drew nearly five times the crowd that Vice President Wallace had five weeks before.

At Amarillo in 1940 small boys had chanted a steady boo through his speech, he had been tired, his voice hoarse. This time, the train stopped only half an hour in Amarillo, in near-freezing weather. But from dozens of cars parked around the station, the loyal and the curious had crawled out in the cold for a glimpse of Wendell Willkie.

In Colorado the crowds were warm, the party leaders cool. Some party men, like Governor John C. Vivian, were cautiously “open-minded”; others, like shock-haired ex-Governor Ralph Carr, who had seconded Willkie’s nomination in 1940, were hostile. Across the border in Wyoming, the reception was different: roly-poly Jim Griffith, State G.O.P. chairman, led the cheers at a banquet in the old Plains Hotel, where the crowd spilled out from the banquet hall into the hotel lobby and an adjoining drugstore.

Change of Course. What most Republican leaders wanted to hear from Wendell Willkie was less about “One World,” more talk about the New Deal’s home failures. In Denver, Mr. Willkie seemed to have reached the same conclusion. “We must face the fact,” he acknowledged, “that the people of this country believe—with certain reservations—that the present Administration understands what makes the world tick.” Then he lit into the Democrats domestically: too long in office, too powerful, too wasteful, too inept.

Stop Willkie. The men who would stop Willkie agreed on everything except the man who could stop Willkie. On the smear level, ex-Akron Mayor C. Nelson Sparks published a bitter polemic asserting that international bankers and utilities magnates had engineered Willkie’s 1940 nomination. The faded sunflower, 1936 Nominee Alf Landon, pictured for freshmen G.O.P. Congressmen his own ideal candidate, who could not possibly have been confused with Wendell Willkie. The general anti-Willkie strategy: don’t commit now, wait until convention time.

To offset this caution, Wendell Willkie planned more speeches, more trips. Said he: “Voters are watching to see if we have the imagination and courage.”

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