Both Lincoln and FDR used this tactic in our last two great crises. Three members of his wartime cabinet--Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair--came from the opposition Democratic Party. In 1864, facing what looked like a difficult re-election campaign, Lincoln replaced his first Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, with Tennessee Demorat Andrew Johnson, the only Senator from the Confederacy to remain in his seat and support the war for the Union after secession. That selection, of course, turned out disastrously after Lincoln's assassination, when Johnson moved to allow the South to restore white supremacy without slavery, but it did help re-elect Lincoln and make victory possible. FDR also drew on progressive Republicans from the beginning of his Administration, including Harold Ickes, his Secretary of the Interior and head of the Public Works Administration. He took another critical move in June 1940, when the fall of France and the threatened defeat of Britain had forced him to make serious preparations for war.
In that month, Roosevelt replaced his Secretaries of War and of the Navy with two very prominent Republicans. His fellow New Yorker Henry M. Stimson had already served as Secretary of War under Taft and Secretary of State under Herbert Hoover, and he was now a key figure in efforts to sanction Japan for its war on China, and an advocate of a peacetime military draft. Roosevelt's selection of him confirmed his own interest in a sudden, vast increase in the US Army. Even more interesting was his choice of Chicago newspaper publisher Frank Knox as Secretary of the Navy. Knox, who had served in both the Spanish-American and First World Wars, had run for Vice President on the Republican ticket in 1936, violently attacking the whole New Deal in general and the new Social Security Act in particular. Two years later, he had published an anti-New Deal Polemic, We Planned it that Way, "Without fully recognizing it," he wrote, "Mr. Roosevelt has taken us far along the path of socialism. This path leads straight into Communism, Nazism, Fascism, or whatever 'ism' the fancy of the moment dictates it be called." But Knox also believed in a strong US Navy, and he and Roosevelt had maintained friendly relations. About 8 months earlier, in the fall of 1939, Roosevelt had offered him the Navy Department, but Knox had declined so as not to anger his fellow Republicans. Now he accepted. Senior Republicans blasted both men of joining the hated New Deal Administration, but Roosevelt won another smashing election victory in November 1940, and Stimson and Knox remained at their posts through all or most of the war. Meanwhile, Britain had moved in the same direction. Winston Churchill took office as Prime Minister in May 1940 partly because Britain obviously needed a truly national government in its time of trial, and the leaders of the Labor and Liberal Parties would not serve with Neville Chamberlain. Ministers from those parties sat in the Cabinet all the way through the war.
This year's Democratic candidate, whoever it turns out to be, might take a comparable step by selecting Mitt Romney as his vice presidential candidate. Since his decision to vote to convict President Trump of abusing his powers, Romney has become a symbol--almost our only one--of nonpartisan commitment to our fundamental civic values. He decided that the fate of the country was more important than his standing with his fellow Republicans--and the Democrats' chances in November depend to some extent on convincing Republican voters of the same thing. His policy stances in 2012 were those of a mainstream 21st century Republican and there were few if any of them that I agreed with, but he showed a lot of political flexibility as governor of Massachusetts, and he need not have any great influence upon policy in a Democratic administration in any event. Alas, one aspect of the current situation militates against such a choice. 538.com now lists Bernie Sanders as a narrow favorite to win the most delegates (although not necessarily to win a majority before the convention.) Sanders will turn 79 this year and recently had a heart attack, and many Democrats would oppose the risk of Romney succeeding him should he become the candidate. Vice President Biden is nearly as old, although his chances have taken a big hit and may well take another next Tuesday in New Hampshire. The process of selecting a presidential nominee threatens to be long and difficult. Whoever wins, the party and the nation might benefit from a selection clearly designed to foster greater national unity.
Both sides, in our current political struggle, cherish the fantasy that it can end with a complete victory of the competing ideas of either Republicans or Democrats. I do not believe that it can. We need more of a consensus and we may need to build it upon genuine respect for our institutions, rather than specific policy outcomes. This week, Mitt Romney did his part to contribute to that process.