In the mid-1940s Senator Burton K. Wheeler was in trouble. He could trace those back to 1937 and his decision to split with FDR over the court packing scheme. In fact, he led the fight against the bill in the U.S. Senate and killed it. It may have been the right thing to do, but it pissed the president off. FDR encouraged Montana’s first congressional representative, Jerry O’Connell, to challenge him in 1938.
Burton K. Wheeler hadn’t gotten to where he was and hadn’t stayed there that long because he didn’t react to threats. When O’Connell made it clear he was going to heed Roosevelt’s words to “fight like hell to defeat Senator Wheeler’s machine so he wouldn’t be back in 1940” Wheeler took action. He marshaled his power in the party and saw that Jerry O’Connell was beaten in his 1938 attempt to win back his U.S. House Seat. The fact that raging anti-Semite Jacob Thorkelson was elected in his place didn’t seem to concern them – staying in power at all costs did.
The reason I mention this is because I worry Tester sees things like the DSCC as a way to stay in power at all costs. But I wonder if that will backfire on him, much like it did for Wheeler.
I admit, I’m making a bit of a stretch here, but there’s things to look at, and things for the Daines camp to exploit. At this point it might be best to compare Steve Daines to Senator Murray, who was first elected in 1934 and then for a full six-year term in 1936. He was sticking more to his Democratic roots, which at that point were entrenched in the New Deal. It was Wheeler that was moving more and more to the right, joining up with the conservatives of the state, who had the governor’s office.
This created all kinds of problems, and if you think our current DINO and RINO politics in Montana is a problem, it was a lot worse then.
The plan of the Murray camp was to get rid of Sam C. Ford in the governor’s office. Already Wellington was gone from the alliance, at least in any power he could wield from an office. The sensible choice was to find someone that could fire up the liberal Democrats, and that person was Leif Erickson, who gladly left the Montana Supreme Court for the chance to run at Ford. He did, but lost the race that November, 56% to 43% with the Prohibition party taking half a percent.
It may have been a loss, but it was sure a good working of that liberal Democratic machine, one that had already been fired up over the split with FDR in the ‘30s. They attacked Wheeler incessantly, and smug in his cult of personality, not feeling he needed a party, the man let his guard down. Erickson came roaring back in 1946 and took an unsuspecting Wheeler out in the primary, 53% to 47%.
In the end, what hurt Wheeler most of all in 1946 was his previous isolationist stance when it came to the war. After Pearl Harbor there was no one in the country that was taking that position, save Jeanette Rankin and her lone vote in Congress. Wheeler wasn’t going to vote against a war that Montanans wanted, but that just wasn’t good enough. “The liberal farmer-labor groups, who had always backed Wheeler until his break with Roosevelt,” historian Michael P. Malone writes, “turned against him as he moved to the right.” And what’s more, they stayed turned against him as the war ended and Montana got back on an even footing. Furthermore, his decision to abandon the core principles of the Democratic party cost him. “His movement to the right turned the liberals, especially the labor unions, against him.”
No other Montana politicians on the scene in the mid-1940s could say they got their start in Montana politics by battling the Anaconda Company. Wheeler was the last, and as Malone states:
“with his departure, a certain vigor and controversy disappeared from Montana’s political life. As his biographer Richard Ruetten observed, no one, before or since, ever wielded such political power in Montana as did Burton K. Wheeler.” (Malone, A History of Two Centuries, p 312)
It’s a disgrace, but more than that, it’s a broken promise. And who do you think these people are going to vote for next go around, when it’s time to choose a new senator or stick with the old one? Daines is safe, but Tester isn’t. He’s up again in 2018, and he stands ready to lose the veteran vote and the votes of their families. That’s a lot of people that feel let down.
I guess he was too busy with the DSCC, just like critics said he’d be. Gosh, Steve Daines must just be sitting back at that big mahogany desk of his. I bet he’s putting his feet up, much like he did after the Walsh plagiarism scandal. And those hands are going behind his head as he leans back and smiles and takes it all in – another Democratic fuck-up that he can exploit for his own advantage, or at least exploit for newbie Zinke’s.
What a mess.
- First of all, I wouldn’t stand around for any of this “coming in spring” nonsense – I’d get that guy here now;
- Then, you need to get long-term funding sealed down, I dunno how, but that’s mainly because I’m not getting paid $175,000 a year to think about it;
- After that I’d say you better do a damn whirlwind tour of the state to gain back the confidence of the veterans after it’s been lost today, and will continue to be lost as the weeks tick by.
If I was in the governor’s office I’d be biting my nails and wondering how the hell I’m going to prevent this shit from happening to me. After all, I’ve go the damn DGA tasks around my neck and they expect results. How is that going to hurt me in 2016, and how are Tester’s problems going to hurt me? After all, we already know there’s a huge split in the Montana Democratic party between coal and enviros and between those that hate dark money and those that hate dark money but have decided to turn the other way.
What is the plan for this?
But there I go again, asking silly questions. After all, I should just be like Wheeler in 1946, riding on my cult of personality to carry me though. Let’s hope to hell some Jon Morrison or Dirk Adams or Franke Wilmer, or God forbid an Amanda Curtis, doesn’t rise up and try to cause a ruckus in the primary. Because if that happens, I dunno. We already know the Montana media is pulling up stakes and off-shoring operations. They can’t help, so what else is there?
Tough questions indeed. I’m glad I don’t have to think about them. Remember, I'm just part of that fringe of the Democratic party that isn't really important. And we know that right now core Democratic principles aren't as important as raising money and sticking to message...whatever that message may be. And let's not ask questions about staff transitions or party operations. And let's certainly not draw parallels between powermongers in the party getting rid of voices they don't like, like happend to O'Connell in '38, or Marcoccio last week.
Nope, everything's just fine and dandy. Just sit back in your place and let the big boys take care of it all.
What a mess.