Just as Vice President Cheney looks back fondly on the 1976 Ford campaign, Ford liked to talk about the 1940 Wilkie campaign, recalling how he was one of the youthful demonstrators who shook up the Republican convention that year in Philadelphia.
The Wilkie campaign was an insurgency, albeit a very establishment oriented one. Unlike leading contenders Robert Taft and Tom Dewey, Wilkie was a pre-Pearl Harbor internationalist who was alarmed by the rise of Germany. On that basis, he came from nowhere to capture the Republican nomination with substantial help from his volunteers. Many of the volunteers were, like Ford, students and young professionals from the best schools. Yet shortly after the convention, Ford would join the American First Committee, a group founded by a fellow Yale Law student and which included Potter Stewart and Sargent Shriver who were also studying law at Yale. The goal of that group was to keep us out of the war in Europe. After Pearl Harbor, Ford would join the Navy and serve from 1942-1946.
Meanwhile, Wilkie’s unexpected nomination enabled FDR to run comfortably as an internationalist and to offer assitance to Great Britain without fear of being attacked by his opponent. Charles Peters tells this story in Five Days in Philadelphia.
If I recall correctly, Ford was dating a well known New York City model at the time of the 1940 convention. This stellar athlete must have cut a fine figure as he paraded through the convention center chanting “we want Wilkie.”
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