“I struggled as hard as I could to beat Franklin Roosevelt,
and I tried to keep from pulling my punches. He was elected
president. He is my president now.”
—Willkie to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Feb.
At the beginning of 1940 the political strength of the Democratic Party had fallen below its peaks of 1932 and 1936. Depression and unemployment problems so overwhelming in earlier years of the decade were disappearing, and now criticisms of the New Deal were increasing. FDR’s attempt to purge nonconformists from the Democratic Party had floundered, and his court-packing scheme of 1937 had burst the enchantment of many supporters. Even some stalwarts were saying that given the resurgence of business, a Republican victory in the approaching presidential election was possible. Ballots in the 1936 election had hardly been counted before speculation about a successor to FDR began sprouting.
Within the Democratic Party, isolationists teamed with conservatives to form a coalition to block more of the hated New Deal measures. There was no dearth of aspirants in line for FDR’s job. Possible candidates like Cordell Hull, James Farley, and John Nance Garner were foremost, but they were not sympathetic New Dealers and could not be counted upon to continue enacting reform measures like ones in the past eight years. If domestic issues could be kept in the forefront, conservatives held hopes; but those hopes wilted whenever questions of foreign policy arose.