Longtime GOP strategist and political consultant Rove (Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, 2010) examines the rise to power of William McKinley during a fated moment in the country’s history.
McKinley, perhaps best known by Americans for the Alaskan mountain that once bore his name and the infamy of being one of the few American presidents to have been assassinated, was a vital and critical link in the history of the presidency. As Rove argues, McKinley’s rise to power in the election of 1896 resolved many of the issues that had dogged American politics since the end of the Civil War, ushering in a realignment of political priorities and a drive into the modern era. Though this is often attributed to his vice president and successor, Theodore Roosevelt, Rove insists that McKinley laid the foundation for the party’s dominance from 1896 to 1932. As a natural-born leader and orator who quickly rose to the rank of major in the Union Army during the Civil War, McKinley practiced law in Canton, Ohio, before entering his freshman year in Congress at the age of 34 in 1877. Ever loyal to the Republican Party, it was not until the 1894 midterm cycle that McKinley began to forge his image as a possible presidential candidate after a relentless stumping tour that brought him national attention. Rove proves himself a surprisingly nimble and adept writer, juxtaposing shrewd political analysis with narrative verve. He expertly breaks down the challenges of McKinley’s 1896 campaign, which he calls “the first modern presidential primary campaign”—namely, the battle over currency and his policy of protective tariffs. Set against the backdrop of the ongoing recession caused by the Panic of 1893, McKinley’s campaign and defeat of Democrat William Jennings Bryan ensured support of “sound” money (gold) and would lead to the American century.
A well-informed and -researched dissection of McKinley’s overlooked influence.