Progressivism in its best sense is not a politics of the Left. Or better, not just a politics of the Left. The 20th Century politician who struck the fatal blow to Republican William Howard Taft’s presidency was not a socialist, or a Democrat. It was another Republican: Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette. La Follette was among a band insurgents in the Republican Party of 1910 who believed the party had been taken over by corporate interests. In April, 1911, he launched a challenge to President Taft, pushing five principles of “The National Progressive Republican League.” The League had been founded upon the recognition that “popular government in America has been thwarted … by the special interests.” And all five of the principles responded to this “thwarting” with anti-corruption ideals: Four calling for stronger democratic checks on government. The fifth demanding an anti-corruption law with teeth.
La Follette failed to beat Taft, but his partial success encouraged Teddy Roosevelt to return from the wild and try his own hand at ousting a sitting president. Roosevelt too failed to win the Republican nomination, but he continued his campaign as a third party candidate, leading the “Bull Moose Party.”
How will our current version of this play out today?