The description of the 1880 Republican convention in “Murder of a President” sure sounds like a possible future for both major parties as they choose their 2016 presidential candidates.
The delegates were about evenly divided between Senator James G. Blaine and the former president, Ulysses S. Grant. The two sides held significantly different visions and were not much interested in compromise or unification. But a third guy who wasn’t a candidate gave a speech and changed everything.
“As Garfield was delivering his address to the delegates,” the program’s narration says, “he shouted, ‘And now, gentlemen of the convention, what do we want?’ From the midst of the crowd came an unexpected answer: ‘We want Garfield.’”
The speaker, of course, was James A. Garfield, a congressman from Ohio, and on the convention’s 36th ballot he became the surprise nominee. Might such high drama await at a 2016 convention? The precedent is there to be followed.
For Garfield, though, the convention triumph was good news-awful news, because this “American Experience” is called “Murder of a President,” and its real focus is his assassination just months after he took office. The program, a particularly engrossing installment of the series, portrays Garfield as the John F. Kennedy of his century — a president who embodied a lot of hopes and potential that were never realized.