History of GOP’s 1940 Pick of Wendell Willkie Is Porn for the #NeverTrump Crowd

Candidate Wendell Willkie
Wendell Willkie, the “barefoot boy from Wall Street,” won a GOP nomination by the kind of coup #NeverTrump activists can only imagine. Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The pathetic nature of the wheezing effort to convince a Republican convention to dump putative nominee Donald Trump was best illustrated late last week by breathless reports that “dozens” of delegates were ready to back a revolt. With that and $5 you can get a pretty good cup of coffee at Starbucks. 

But mandarin columnist George Will has come to the emotional rescue of impotent #NeverTrump stalwarts with a fond reminiscence of those days when the GOP Establishment walked tall — so tall that it brushed aside distinguished presidential candidates and imposed a relative nobody on a Republican convention, 76 years ago this week 

Yes, in 1940 Wendell Willkie was, in Will’s terms, a “nominee ex nihilo” whose “base” was the “grass roots of a thousand country clubs.” He swept the convention on a wave of hype from leading newspapers and magazines, a sea of cooked-up “spontaneous” telegrams to delegates, and a tempest of noise from packed galleries full of Ivy League–ish Young Republican types chanting “We Want Willkie!” Willkie was more prominent than, say, David French, but had never run for or occupied any public office. His main appeal to Establishment pooh-bahs was his internationalism at a time when most Republican-elected officials (and, for that matter, voters) were firmly isolationist. 

What made Willkie’s elevation more astounding is that he was not an instrument for disposing of a dangerously heretical or potentially impolitic nominee like Donald Trump. The three candidates pushed aside for Willkie were Thomas Dewey, subsequently nominated at the next two conventions; Republican foreign-policy maven Arthur Vandenberg; and Mr. Republican himself, Robert Taft. No, Willkie was the favorite of the Establishment on relatively narrow grounds, but they were grounds enough for a coup.  You can just imagine, all across America, country-club Republicans reading Will’s account of that coup and for a moment imagining it could all happen again. It’s #NeverTrump porn.

#NeverTrumpers Look Back Wistfully at Willkie