Bill Kristol, editor, The Weekly Standard, tweeted: Always wanted to be a Mugwump (Not that I really knew what one was)…5/9/16.
Kristol could be accused of self-deprecation with his wry observation. The famous editor, an avowed “Never Trump” leader, takes me back to my Mills Godwin H.S. American History classroom – full of students who delighted with the newly-learned term: Mugwump.
Mugwump was derived from the Algonquian Indian word, mogkiomp (“great man” or “big chief”), first used by Charles A. Dana in the New York Sun. Over a century ago, Mugwumps were Republicans of a more idealistic nature. In the 1884 election, they supported Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland (D), because they viewed their own candidate, James G. Blaine (R), as corrupt. It is believed that Mugwumps redefined political parties in the 1880s.
The slogans then were equivalent to those we hear today in the Election of 2016. Donald Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” equaled the Democrats screaming: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blain, continental liar from the state of Maine.” Hillary’s “Donald Trump is racist” supports the tradition of Republicans screaming: Ma, Ma, Where’s My Paw? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha. It appears today that certain groups of “Republicans” hate Trump’s crude, almost hostile invective…more than Hilliary Clinton’s smooth, refined lying and dishonesty.
In this helliacious storm of the 1884 election, it was widely believed Grover Cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock prior to his run for, and eventual election to the White House. Human behavior appears to struggle with a seamy side in both centuries and political party campaigns. Obviously, in 1884 the nation was not entangled with this massive global economic challenge – not even involved in email, nor tweet-driven dynamics – so both candidates avoided the technological traps that plague our culture today.
In that election of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” yell, many historians came to believe the Mugwumps actually swung the 1884 election to Grover Cleveland (D) by helping him win New York and its 36 electoral votes. Those Republicans who refused to support James G. Blaine (R), changed sides – the New York Sun labeled them “little Mugwumps”. Often they experienced a difficult time of it. The word, Mugwump, was not especially complimentary as the sense of the term morphed into “turncoat”.
Eventually “Mugwumps” became a bulls eye for critics who saw them as politicians, who, either could not, or would not; make up their mind on some important issues. They appeared unable to take a stand or hold a view when their position demanded that they did so. Lastly, the old joke began to embed the culture not unlike “Kilroy Was Here” in World War II: a Mugwump was a person sitting on the fence, with his mug on one side and his wump on the other. It generated Mugwumpary. As now, sloganeering had a sizeable influence conveying a political dynamic in 1884, and 2016.
In U. S. political slang ‘mugwump’ came to mean any independent voter – later the term was adopted in England. In the 1880s, fresh Mugwumps carried impressive names: a young Theodore Roosevelt, George Curtis, and Henry Cabot Lodge: all to return to the Republican ranks after the defeat of James G. Blaine. Even the highly respected William Dean Howells reservedly supported them in limited fashion.
It is a reminder of what’s rippling now in Donald Trump’s direction with the likes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brent Scowcroft, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. Theirs’ is deeply personal….but their dispute over issues carries legitimacy. Half have avoided the Hilliary train so far, so their mugwumpery appears slightly detached and sparsely integrated.
The larger point of Mugwump tradition is that certain political times make that bend in the road so torturous for some sensitive loyalists – in both parties, that they simply cannot bring themselves to conform. Democracy does this with impunity and seeming delight.
Mugwumpery is a historic decoupling between factions within the political parties…both struggle with it, and will for years to come. Ah, for the good old days of “Lord Roscoe”. “Stalwarts”, “Half Breeds”, and ”Conklingites”.