Richard R. John: When a Plutocratic Dinner Doomed a Presidential Campaign

Roundup: Historians' Take

Richard R. John is a historian who teaches in the doctoral program at Columbia Journalism School.

Media debacles are a recurrent nightmare for presidential candidates. Yet few have ever confronted a more devastating publicity firestorm than the Republican candidate James G. Blaine did on a fateful day in October 1884.

Not even Mitt Romney -- who is now facing the blowback from some arrogant remarks that he made in private at a fundraiser with high-rolling supporters -- has had a day quite as damaging as the one “the Plumed Knight” (as Blaine was known in the press) suffered in the final days of his presidential campaign....

Running neck-and-neck with Democrat Grover Cleveland, Blaine had to win [New York] state. To help fill his campaign coffers, Blaine agreed to attend a sumptuous fundraising dinner, organized by 200 prominent Republican supporters, on Oct. 29. The venue was the ballroom at Delmonico’s, a swank restaurant in the financial district. Among the guests were several of the richest, best-known and most politically connected businessmen in the country, including the Navy contractor John Roach and the financier Jay Gould....

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