How an Outsider Became President of the United States

Nobody expected Warren G Harding to win the presidency of the United States; his candidacy was so unlikely to succeed that he was mocked in the nation's newspapers. So, how did this outsider become president? Hear the whole story in Giles Milton's Unknown History podcast.

Giles Milton
2-minute read
Episode #23
how an outsider became president

He was the presidential candidate who no one expected to win. He spoke in clichés, talked tough on immigration, and gave off-the-cuff speeches that seemed to make very little sense.

Warren G Harding’s attempt to win the American presidential election of 1920 was deemed so unlikely to succeed that he became a subject of mockery and scorn in the nation’s newspapers.

The New York World said that he was one the least-qualified candidates ever to run for president, labeling him a "weak and mediocre" man. The New York Times’ opinion was not much better. It called the Republican presidential candidate  "a very respectable Ohio politician of the second class."

Yet Warren G Harding had an electrifying appeal—one that was underestimated by his political enemies. He liked to play the outsider—a newcomer to Washington who was prepared to speak the unspeakable—criticising the previous administration for its handling of World War I. He also opposed Wilson’s idea of forming the League of Nations.

In doing so, he was to electrify America and sweep himself to victory in the 1920 election. 

It was an extraordinary political turn-around, for no one expected Harding to gain the Republican nomination when he pitched up at the Chicago convention in 1920.

No one, except his close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty.

Daugherty felt sure that none of the front-runners would carry the nomination on the first ballot—leaving Harding in with a chance. Harding had no political enemies and a clean record—he had opposed neither prohibition or suffrage. More importantly, he was one of the best-looking politicians in the nation—a sure plus in an election when millions of women would vote for the first time.

To hear the full story, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook


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About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.

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