Karl Rove and George W. Bush were right to look to William McKinley and his campaign manager Mark Hanna for inspiration. In their two winning campaigns against the charismatic and populist “boy orator,” William Jennings Bryan, the two pioneered many of the techniques political consultants and their clients have employed ever since. As president, McKinley introduced them into the art of governance.
A strong “sound money” and high-tariff man, McKinley helped make the United States a world power. The Spanish-American War, commenced and ended upon his own terms, proved a trial run for American participation in World War I. Woodrow Wilson’s presidency might have ended on a better note had he followed McKinley’s example of including the opposition party in the peace negotiations. Had he gone on reading, George W. Bush might have drawn some lessons from McKinley’s experience with the occupation of the Philippines. Unprepared for the insurrection that followed and unwilling to pay the price in manpower, money, and loss of standing in the world, Theodore Roosevelt put the archipelago on its path to independence.
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— Alvin S. Felzenberg is the author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.