A quiet, well-financed conservative advisor with a knack for getting corporate donations for his candidate helps a Republican governor of a large swing state get elected to the presidency on a platform of conservative economic policy. During and afterward, this advisor becomes the target of liberals as an "evil" conservative mastermind. Sound familiar?
Many people have raised concerns about the influence that Karl Rove has had on the decision making of the Bush II White House. For those unawares, Karl Rove has been Bush's political advisor for many years, and he has engineered both Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.
Rove is an ingenious architect of a modern conservative presidency, but it's all been done before. You see, better than one hundred years before Rove set foot in the White House, conservative mastermind Mark Hanna got William McKinley elected to the White House. How did he do it, and what did he do after that? Well, that's quite a story...
The First Neoconservative
(September 24, 1837 - February 15, 1904)
Mark Hanna was born in New Lisbon, Ohio in 1837 to a grocer and moved with his family to better economic times in Cleveland in 1852. When his father passed on in 1858, Hanna inherited the family's grocery business, which was thriving in the growing metropolis.
Hanna's road to economic success took a brief detour during the Civil War, in which Hanna served in the Army and was involved in a number of early battles, after which he was honorably discharged; he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1895 because of his service. After serving in the military, Hanna returned to Cleveland and to the grocery business, and under his control, the next twenty years were extremely successful. Hanna became the dominant force in the grocery business in Cleveland, and by the mid-1870s, he had expanded into iron and coal.
By the mid-1880s, Hanna had amassed a great deal of money, and he was looking for a new challenge. He found that challenge in politics.
Hanna in Ohio Politics
By the mid-1880s, Hanna was becoming more and more involved with the state political scene in Ohio, and he quickly found that John Sherman, the senior United States senator from the state, shared many of Hanna's conservative viewpoints. Thus, during the 1888 race for the Republican Party nomination, Hanna managed Sherman's campaign.
This first campaign was unsuccessful for a number of reasons, mostly relating to Hanna's inexperience in politics and the strong candidacies of James Blaine (the 1884 Republican nominee) and Benjamin Harrison (the 1888 nominee, who went on to win the presidency). During the election, however, Hanna met and became acquainted with a man who was born to be President, William McKinley, who was then serving as a representative. McKinley's friendliness, great speaking ability, and willingness to be cooperative had won him a lot of fans within the Republican Party, and thus when he ran for the governorship of Ohio in 1891 and was looking for a campaign manager, Hanna, with his experience with a presidential campaign, was a natural choice. The Hanna/McKinley team would remain together until their tragic end.
McKinley won the governorship in 1891 and again in 1893, and thus the stage was set for McKinley and Hanna to emerge on a national stage.
McKinley in the White House
During the 1896 presidential election, the incumbent, Grover Cleveland, declined to accept his party's nomination, which was perhaps appropriate since he didn't have much support from his party, anyway. Instead, the Democratic Party nominated William Jennings Bryan to be their nominee. The Republicans, on the other hand, knew they had a good thing with William McKinley's affable style, and thus he became the party's nominee almost without hesitation.
The primary issue of the race was the question of the gold standard, which corporate interests were in favor of but most progressives were opposed to. Bryan loudly advocated a silver standard, using You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold as his campaign slogan.
Hanna knew where McKinley's bread was buttered, and that was with businesses, so Hanna spent much of early 1896 gathering a war chest of donations from many corporations, raising in the area of three and a half million dollars for the candidacy, which was by far the most ever raised by a campaign at that time. Hanna employed up to 1,400 workers who spent their time distributing pamphlets and giving stump speeches for McKinley, particularly in large urban areas. Given that there were no major flaws in McKinley's record, most of the liberal newspapers at the time instead focused their editorial efforts on Hanna, particularly Hearst's newspapers.
Hanna's efforts paid off, and McKinley resoundingly defeated Bryan on election day. Hanna's reward was a well-supported candidacy for the Senate in 1897, to fill the seat vacated by John Sherman, and thus Hanna's own political career began in earnest.
Hanna's Later Career
Hanna served in the Senate from 1897 to 1904, mostly focusing on issues related to labor. Hanna felt strongly that strikes were politically, economically, and personally damaging and that both union members and businesses should try to prevent strikes as much as possible, and this was made clear by his willingness to both encourage companies to recognize unions but also encourage strike-breaking legislation.
Hanna had an enemy, though: Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a progressive Republican of the old Abraham Lincoln mold, not the more conservative modern Republican. Hanna and Roosevelt clashed again and again over various issues, with their deepest disagreement coming as a result of the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt was very much in favor of war with Spain, while Hanna was opposed to it.
Hanna tried everything he could to prevent Teddy Roosevelt's nomination to the vice presidency in 1900 by the Republicans, but the party went forward with a McKinley/Roosevelt ticket, which again defeated Bryan in a landslide.
Then, on September 6, 1901, the unthinkable happened: Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot President McKinley, and the wounds would prove to be fatal. Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, and thus much of Hanna's influence over the White House was lost.
Hanna and Roosevelt considered each other political enemies, but they recognized each other as major powers within the Republican Party. Thus, they worked together on occasion (the Panama Canal project is one such example) but mostly avoided each other, as they both knew that there would be a bloody battle for the party nomination in 1904.
In early 1904, Hanna had secured support from most of the conservative element of the Republican Party and was in the midst of fundraising for a war against Roosevelt for the future of the party: were the Republicans going to be progressive, as Roosevelt represented, or were they going to be conservative, as Hanna represented? Anyone with awareness of modern politics knows which side came out on top, but unfortunately, Hanna wouldn't get to see it.
In early 1904, Mark Hanna caught typhoid fever and on February 15, 1904, he passed away, leaving behind a burgeoning conservative movement in the Republican Party. This conservative movement would split the party in half in 1912, when the party went behind the more conservative William Howard Taft instead of supporting Teddy Roosevelt, and thus led to the conservative Republican Party of today.
Hanna's Long-Term Impact
The success Hanna had in bringing conservative financial backing into the Republican Party, thus getting the conservative William McKinley elected president, set the stage for the future direction of the party, away from the progressive attitudes of the past and towards a more conservative attitude that would define the party in the 20th century and beyond.
As for Hanna himself? His career is an obvious model for conservative political planners to come, particularly Karl Rove.