Records show a hearty tradition
Things were less harmonious by 1912, when Roosevelt, running on a progressive platform, vied with Republican incumbent William Howard Taft for a third term in the White House. Old friendships forgotten, the convention turned contentious.
“Fearless of the future, unheeding of our individual fates, with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes, we stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord,” Roosevelt hollered in a speech on the eve of the Chicago gathering.
Taft won the nomination, Roosevelt launched a third-party bid, and both lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
In decades to follow, Republican conventions continued to generate singular moments.
Party leaders who determined the presidential nomination within the dim recesses of Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel gave rise to the phrase “smoke-filled room” during the 1920 event. The Republican convention was broadcast on radio for the first time four years later. That convention also saw women on the national committee for the first time. Although World War II loomed, one hopeful nominee managed to arrive at the 1940 convention in Philadelphia with not one, but three live elephants in tow.
Big names dominated the ensuing conventions. World War II hero Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the star in 1952, and Richard M. Nixon, Ike’s vice president, dominated in 1960 - although it was during this convention that Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater stepped up to the dais and barked, “Let’s grow up, conservatives. … Let’s get to work” before throwing his support behind Mr. Nixon.
Do conservatives wax nostalgic over any convention in particular? Could be. The 1980 convention provided a forum for former California Gov. Ronald Reagan to deliver a heartfelt acceptance speech which resonated with the nation and helped fuel his landslide win over President Jimmy Carter that November.
“I’m very proud of our party tonight,” Mr. Reagan said in accepting the nomination. “This convention has shown to all America a party united, with positive programs for solving the nation’s problems, a party ready to build a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embodied in these words: family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.”
He added, “The time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny, to take it into our own hands. But to do this will take many of us, working together. I ask you tonight to volunteer your help in this cause so we can carry our message throughout the land.”