The Atlantic

My Grandfather Was a Republican Nominee Who Put Country First

Wendell Willkie has been compared to Donald Trump, but he powerfully articulated liberal ideals of political and economic freedom.
Source: Murray Becker / AP

I didn’t know my grandfather. He died in 1944, before I was born, felled by a heart attack at 52. This was but four years after his dramatic, unanticipated nomination for president, on the sixth ballot at the bitterly contested Republican convention in Philadelphia in June 1940. His ensuing campaign was the most serious election challenge that Franklin Roosevelt ever faced.

Wendell Willkie is little-remembered now. But as his namesake—growing up in his Rushville, Indiana, home, still fresh with his memories, surrounded by those who knew him intimately as well as artifacts of his extraordinary career—I was keenly aware of his presence. Six decades later, the ideas he advanced, and examples he set, have renewed significance. In a time as bitterly divided as our own, Willkie rejected partisanship and sacrificed political advantage to advance liberal democracy.

Willkie’s nomination in 1940 inevitably prompts comparisons to the GOP’s 2016 nomination of Donald Trump. Trump, like Willkie, was a former Democrat and prominent business executive who won the presidential nomination of a major political party without ever having held public office. In capturing the party’s leadership, each substantially challenged and redefined then-prevailing Republican Party doctrine.

The parallels end there. Indeed, the contrast between the Trump and Willkie worldviews could not be more profound. Willkie is remembered for his optimistic, inspiring vision

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