Matters only got worse for Root and Stimson following World War I, when the GOP, after repudiating U.S. entry to the League of Nations, lurched toward isolationism. Stimson and Root, who had always been viewed with misgivings within the party for their reformist instincts, were now relegated to the sidelines. As Stimson tartly observed in his memoirs, he "shared the oblivion which overtook most of the Eastern Republicans during the early 1920's." Stimson became secretary of state in 1929, but once again disappointment loomed: In 1930, Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which flouted free trade precepts. Stimson felt betrayed. By October 1937, when he condemned "the wave of ostrich-like isolationism which has swept over us" in a letter to the New York Times, he was condemning his own party.
It was the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, viewed as a traitor to his class by many wealthy patricians, who improbably rescued the surviving remnants of the Republican establishment. Under Roosevelt, Stimson became secretary of war and Frank Knox, who had been the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 1936, became secretary of the Navy. The wise men viewed doing so as a matter of duty, in accordance with their belief in serving the president over political interests. The GOP, however, would have none of it, and at the 1940 Republican convention, Stimson and Knox were officially booted out of the party. Stimson voted for Roosevelt and mused that "once the central issue of partisan opposition is removed, there are few roses so sweet as those that grow over the party wall."
World War II offered a chance at redemption for the wise men. The conflict relegated the isolationist right to a cranky and often anti-Semitic fringe that commanded no public credence. The establishment was in charge, able to carry out a grand strategy -- the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO -- to transform the United States into a global power and counter Soviet expansionism, both in Asia and Europe. President Harry Truman's advisors -- Dean Acheson, George C. Marshall, George F. Kennan, Averell Harriman, Charles Bohlen, John McCloy, and others -- represented the second generation of the establishment and one that largely emanated from the same influential New York law and business circles that Root and Stimson had emerged from half a century earlier. In his memoir, A Thousand Days, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. astutely noted that Roosevelt and Truman relied on Republicans in part to "avail themselves of Establishment competence, partly to win protective coloration for policies which, with liberals in front, would have provoked conservative opposition. It was never clear who was using whom; but, since it was never clear, each side continued to find final advantages in the arrangement."
But even being a Cold Warrior was no protection from the likes of Joseph McCarthy, William Jenner, and other conservative Republican senators who noisily blamed the Truman administration for losing China following the country's 1949 communist revolution. Acheson scornfully referred to these critics as "the primitives," and indeed, the fight was as much cultural as it was political. McCarthy called Acheson a "pompous diplomat in striped pants." Nebraska Sen. Hugh Butler declared, "I look at that fellow, I watch his smart-aleck manner and his British clothes and that New Dealism in everything he says and does, and I want to shout, 'Get out! Get out! You stand for everything that has been wrong in the United States for years.'" When the archconservative John Foster Dulles took the reins of the State Department in 1953, the purges of the Asia division began. Kennan was banished. Acheson's name was mud.
The wise men's years in the wilderness were ended, once again, by a liberal Democratic president: John F. Kennedy. Kennedy appointed Kennan ambassador to Yugoslavia, gave Harriman a berth in the State Department, and made Dean Rusk secretary of state and McGeorge Bundy -- former amanuensis to Stimson and dean of Harvard University -- head of the National Security Council. But the establishment's moment of rejuvenation set the stage for its splintering: The Vietnam War devolved into a bloody catastrophe, the establishment turned against itself, and the Democratic Party moved left.