For Theodore Roosevelt’s supporters, forcibly wresting political control away from the party bosses was always an acceptable option.
Would a candidate for president of the United States ever officially condone a riot on the floor of a national convention? Would a candidate actually ever seek to provoke one? Should delegates at a convention be permitted to carry guns? Can supporters of a candidate try to buy delegate votes? Could any of these things happen at a contested Republican Convention this year in Cleveland?
It seems unlikely, but there would be precedents. Amazingly, in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt tried to wrest the nomination from William Howard Taft, there were plans for riots, plenty of guns, and more than a few attempted and perhaps actual bribes.
Even though he had groomed Taft as his handpicked successor in 1908—describing him as the most lovable man he knew—Roosevelt decided to come out of retirement in 1912 and challenge the sitting president for the Republican nomination. Up to then, delegates to national conventions were picked by party leaders, but when it became clear that he could not win over the men who controlled the party machinery, Roosevelt embraced a new idea: presidential primaries. His campaign theme became: “Let the people rule.” There were 13 primaries that year, and when Roosevelt won nine of them and 70 percent of the elected delegates, he claimed to have right to the nomination. But most of those delegates had been picked in the old-fashioned way. So when Taft’s supporters used the power of his incumbency to pressure delegates and control the proceedings, Roosevelt—or men acting in his name—resorted to more creative and belligerent tactics.