Ickes the Progressive Republican was always backing a candidate who he hoped would not be in the pockets of big business doing its bidding rather than the peoples and the candidates he backed always seemed to lose, although he seemed to believe that they would have done much worse had he not helped organize their campaigns. He cared about winning but thoroughly enjoyed the battle even when losing.
Over time he came to recognize a few truths about the people. He found: “once again that the public was less responsible to demands for political purity than to the need for party regularity. What seemed to surprise Ickes was not that [his candidate] lost. But that his vote was so small, that such blatant corruption failed to shake party loyalty.”
After seeing municipal reforms he and his friends sought to bring about were mostly rejected he cynically noted: the people, “did not resent a suppression of their civil liberties; they do not object to misgovernment; they can condone even vice and crime. Give them their movies and jazz, radio, baseball and golf links and what the Hell!”
Ickes always supported the candidates that were against the machine and he expended great effort in assisting them especially in the local politics in Chicago. As time went on, he became disenchanted with the Republicans becoming a mugwump supporting those he thought the least corrupt. He had backed Hiram Johnson a Republican Senator from California in his attempt to be the nominee for the Republican Party at the time Warren Harding received the nod. Having done that he became close to Johnson over the years even urging him to run against Calvin Coolidge.
In 1920 Republican convention Ickes ended up supporting Hiram Johnson as its nominee. The Old Guard was able to nominate Warren Harding who Ickes told a friend that Hardin was little more than a ”complacent instrument ready for manipulation by the big special interests. He’s a platitudinous jelly fish . . . I can’t let you tell me I ought to be a good boy and support for president a man upon whom the Lord conferred a bunch of wet spaghetti instead of a back bone. . ..” He would later say: “Frankly I wouldn’t believe Harding under oath. I think he is a double-dyed political crook.” Ickes began to work for the Democratic nominee James M. Cox. He urged Johnson to do the same but Johnson did not follow his suggestion.
Harding died in office in 1923. The rumor that his wife had poisoned him was false. His vice-president Calvin Coolidge became president. Ickes urged Senator Hiram Johnson to run against him in 1924 for the Republican nomination. Ickes worked feverishly for Johnson but Johnson’s heart wasn’t into the battle. He lost in critical primaries. Coolidge got the nomination. Ickes said of him, “mediocracy is king and it is a virtue to be lacking in initiative, forcefulness, qualities of leadership or even average ability. That president is the greatest in our history who can almost qualify as deaf mute.”
[This series started on December 17 and will appear on 18th, 21st, 22 th, and 23rd]