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A Roosevelt And An Eisenhower Weigh In On the Future of the Party

We’ll be reporting from Cleveland all week and live blogging each night. Check out all our dispatches from the GOP convention here.

CLEVELAND — “The Republicans have to decide what direction they are going into — whether it’s the demagoguery, or whether it’s positive,” Tweed Roosevelt said on Monday. “In my view, the Republican Party has spent several years complaining and being obstructionist. If they become the party of forward motion, we’ll all benefit from it.”

Tweed, the chairman of Boston-based Roosevelt China Investments, is the great-grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt. He joined the descendent of another prominent U.S. president, historian David Eisenhower, to discuss with me how their ancestors helped redefine party leadership and what lay ahead for today’s GOP. (These are the kind of political constellations that happen at party conventions. I talked to them after they participated in a Bloomberg panel for students from the University of Pennsylvania, where Eisenhower teaches, and the University of Southern California.)

Today, “progressives” is used to mean roughly Bernie Sanders-adjacent. But a century ago, Progressives referred to a reform-minded faction of the Republican Party — people, like Theodore Roosevelt, who supported labor laws, trust busting and food and drug regulation.

Eisenhower said that in 1912, when Roosevelt ran (and lost) as a Progressive in a multiparty race against both Republican and Democratic candidates, he saw that “we were entering an era of free trade, not protectionist trade, and so he opposed the establishment, protectionist, pro-business wing of the Republican Party.” Today, said Eisenhower, “this question of trade and where we fit in an international system is an issue that Republicans can’t ignore. This is something that will set a direction for at least 20 years.”

Roosevelt added, “We can’t become an isolationist country and expect to continue our growth. The Republicans are going to have to find a way to deal with the problems people face, the job uncertainty and flat income; if they deal with those problems, then nobody cares about internationalization and these various trade deals. They’re just symbols.”

Farai Chideya is a former senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.