The 1940 presidential campaign was every bit as fraught and divisive as that of 2020, with one important difference: the Republican contender was a man of principle, unafraid to act on his convictions.
Much of the world was already at war, with most of Western Europe in German hands. Only Great Britain remained unconquered, and its only hope of continued survival was assistance from America. Although Franklin Roosevelt wanted to provide that assistance, many Americans remained strongly isolationist, and his hope for reelection rested on keeping their support. It was his Republican rival, Wendell Willkie, who made it possible for him to both provide Britain the support it so desperately needed and win reelection.
Willkie’s first assistance was his tacit support for Roosevelt’s plan to provide Britain with U.S. destroyers to protect its strategic shipping lanes from German submarines. Willkie informed FDR that, because of his need to keep the impression of unity within his party, he would not make a public statement, but neither would he attack the deal once it was announced.
Second was his emphatic support for legislation to create America’s first peacetime draft, which he announced publicly in his hometown of Elwood, Indiana. This provided Republicans in Congress the freedom to vote their conscience and Roosevelt the political cover he needed to urge immediate passage of the bill.
President Biden only needs ten similarly principled, patriotic Republican senators to support his For the People act, which would provide the free, fair, and secure elections the GOP claims it wants. Unfortunately, “only ten” seems to be entirely out of reach of a party still in thrall of Trump.