Imagine this scenario:
The Republican Party has lost two presidential elections in a row. The establishment leaders of the party are on the ropes. Among many potential GOP presidential candidates, none has ignited many sparks and none appears capable of assembling a majority. The party seems rudderless.
On the other side of the world, new threats to freedom and democracy are emerging in the form of tyrannical regimes that vow death to America and other free, civilized nations. The crimes that they commit against humanity are horrifying. Shockingly, the ideologies that they embrace even have adherents within the United States.
Amidst all this, one man emerges who begins to appeal to disgruntled Republicans and even more than a few independents and Democrats.
He’s never run for office before. He’s not a traditional Republican. In fact, he’s previously contributed to and voted for Democrats and still embraces some liberal views. An ardent capitalist, he’s achieved his greatest fame in New York City where he’s connected to powerful business interests. He warns that we must do more to shore up our economy, face the growing threat to our nation and prepare ourselves militarily.
Almost overnight, a large grassroots network emerges to support this man for the GOP nomination.
In defiance of establishment GOP leaders, a groundswell develops — much of it aided and abetted by national media outlets that are intrigued with his rise and potential candidacy. He begins to draw larger and larger crowds and leapfrogs ahead of a field of at least 10 potential nominees.
It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Maybe that’s because it all actually happened before. The year was 1940, the man’s name was Wendell Wilke and he went on to win the Republican presidential nomination at the GOP convention in Philadelphia:
Like Donald Trump today, Wilke was not the choice of the GOP establishment. They were looking to support New York’s gangbusting DA Thomas E. Dewey or US Senators Robert Taft or Arthur Vandenburg. They probably would have even settled for former President Herbert Hoover as the nominee. But the party’s rank-and-file had other ideas. They were busy joining “Wilkie Clubs” throughout the nation and extolling the virtues of a 48-year-old visionary who could not be easily pegged.
Like Trump, Wilke had a vibrant personality. And, like Trump he advanced his cause by effectively using the mass media. For Wilke, it was radio. For Trump, it’s now TV and social media.
Like Trump, Wilke also attracted a huge cadre of supporters who were disaffected and felt disconnected from the establishment. When the convention assembled in Philadelphia, Wilkie’s citizen army flooded delegates with hundreds of thousands of telegrams. And, his supporters packed the galleries at the old Philadelphia Convention Hall.
Like Trump, Wilke attended an Ivy League School. Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Wilke graduated from Princeton.
Both Wilke and Trump headed big corporations. Trump built his own company; Wilke ran one of America’s biggest utlities holding companies. Even their ancestry is similar. Both Wilke and Trump had German grandparents who fled Germany and emigrated to America. Wilke was Protestant (Episcopalian) and so is Trump (Presbyterian).
A 1940 profile of Wilke in Life magazine said he was “burdened with no self doubts” and described him as someone who likes being “scot-free to say exactly what he damn well thinks whenever he thinks it.” This delighted his huge campaign crowds who were describes as “wildly enthusiastic.”
“It is perfectly evident,” Life said “that [Wilke] is having tie time of his life and expects, in an exciting and imperfect world, to go on having it.”
Wendell Wilke was the only person nominated by a major political party who had not held significant elected or appointed office or achieved some major military rank.
It’s a shame he isn’t here right now to meet Donald Trump. I think they’d be fast friends.