The mugwumps were genuine maverick Republicans as opposed to the media-created false image of a maverick Republican like John McCain or Sarah Palin. The mugwumps directly affected the election of 1884 by actually abandoning the Republican status quo rather than embracing it and pretending like they were agents of change. The word mugwump derives from a slang word for kingpin. These independent-minded Republicans saw in the GOP’s nominee James Blaine from Maine nothing more than a political machine stalwart that talked a good game, but was essentially interested in nothing more than continuing the corruption that had become a vital part of the powerful Republican machine. Sound familiar?
The mugwumps decided to hell with Party loyalty (something you would never see in the Republican Party today which places Party First rather than their newest empty slogan of America First) and tossed their backing to the Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland. Of course, we are talking politicians and nobody ever accused many political hacks of being born with a brain that works overtime. The mugwumps somehow got the bizarre idea that Grover Cleveland was on track to be a big time reformer who would clean up the massive corruption taking place in Washington. The fact is that while James Blaine was probably a far worse choice since he was neck-deep in the big muddy of political corruption during the late 1800’s, Grover Cleveland turned to be somewhat less than the elephant charging across the field himself.
Of course, you probably remember this much about Presidential history from this era: Grover Cleveland is the only man to ever serve two non-consecutive terms. After four years of watching Grover Cleveland not exactly fulfill their hopes and dreams of reform, the mugwumps returned to the fold in the election of 1888 and woefully cast their vote for Benjamin Harrison. Harrison proved to be even more of a disappointment, however, so mugwump Republicans again put country over party and backed Grover Cleveland. The support or lack thereof from independent minded Republicans is probably the difference between Grover Cleveland being simply a one-termer, a straight two-termer and the non-consecutive two-termer that makes his undistinguished Presidency memorable today.
Over the course of the second Grover Cleveland term, the mugwump Republicans were enough to create a coalition with the Democrats to pass through a bare minimum of reformist measures. If only there were really some maverick Republicans today other than those abandoning the sinking ship.