In the shadow of Herbert Hoover: The Republican Party and the politics of defeat, 1932--1936

Date of Completion

January 2006


History, United States|Political Science, General




Between 1932 and 1936, the Republican Party suffered a series of devastating electoral defeats that shattered its confidence, exposed deep divisions within its ranks, and reduced what had been the nation's dominant political institution to a disorganized, bitter, and impotent minority. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to create a New Deal for America, the leaders of the Republican Party engaged in an unproductive and distracting struggle for control of the party's machinery, policies, and legacy. During this period, the Republican Party consistently misread political currents and underestimated the popularity and political acumen of President Roosevelt. Meanwhile, Roosevelt and the Democratic Party built a new liberal coalition that dominated American politics for the next forty years. Few Americans took note of these internecine squabbles, but they were of vital importance to party regulars who dedicated their lives to the preservation and restoration of the Republican Party.^ This dissertation is a detailed study of political leadership in crisis. It examines the response of Republican leaders and Republican institutions to Democratic landslides in 1932, 1934 and 1936 and to the overwhelming popularity of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. It also examines the efforts of former President Herbert Hoover to exert power and influence over the Republican Party as its titular leader and the party's ultimate rejection of Hoover. Hoover's efforts to achieve vindication were thwarted by the scale of his defeat in 1932, his lack of political skills, his lack of following within the party, and the resistance of the "Old Guard" Republicans led by Republican National Committeeman Charles D. Hilles of New York.^ Despite the nearly unprecedented political catastrophe that assailed them, the leaders of the Republican Party were able to preserve its vital institutions for future battles, but were unable to directly influence national policy or prevent the creation of a nationwide, liberal Democratic political coalition. For four years, at least, the Republicans sat on the sideline of national politics, overshadowed by the legacy of Herbert Hoover.^