In 1940, the Republican party was faced with one of its greatest problems. The party had been out of power for two presidential terms and had not organized Congress for ten years, the longest period in its history. From 1860 to 1932 the Republican party virtually dominated national and state government. In selecting candidates for the presidency it had always chosen a man who had given loyal and enduring service to the party. In 1940, this practice was to be revised. The Republicans ranged far afield and nominated Wendell Willkie.
Willkie's nomination shocked Republicans who had had difficulty accepting Herbert Hoover, despite his eight years of service in the cabinets of Harding and Coolidge. Yet, at their twenty-second convention the party of Lincoln, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt nominated a man who had never filled either a state or national office. And what was worse, a man whose political experience had been almost exclusively gathered in the Democratic party. In large part, this unprecedented departure from tradition can be explained in terms of the plight the Republican party had reached by 1940.
Before the Great Depression the Republicans had called themselves the only party fit to govern. The party represented itself as the guarantor of national prosperity; it was the party of business and business was the American ideal. The last successful candidate the Republicans nominated -- Herbert Hoover: humanitarian, engineer, and businessman -- epitomized the image which the Republicans had projected in the 1920's. Amidst one of the greatest landslides in U.S. political history, Hoover carried four southern states and all the rest of the country except Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 1928.
Despite this great popular mandate the Republicans were given a minute forewarning of things to come. For the first time since 1900 the Democrats gained a small cumulative majority of votes in the twelve