Editorial Note: This column is part 3 of 4 part series that was published in The Kutztown Area Patriot in November, 2013. This column was unintentionally omitted from being published online but was published in print.
How can a Republican loss of an election almost 50 years ago define a nation and party for half a century? As discussed in the previous column, by 1964 there was a growing backlash to the Great Society, and the election of 1964 would later bring the Tea Party to prominence.
In 1964, Berry Goldwater won the Republican nomination for President. His nomination established the control of the party by free market, anti-great society, personal responsibility, crime control model, limited federal government, strong military, low taxes, anti-integration and social conservative traditional-family-values oriented voters and operators. They lost the 1964 election but they won the war in defining and controlling the Republican Party. To them the point was control of the party not the White House. Election to the White House would come later. First things first.
By 1968 (especially after the urban riots of 1967) the civil rights movement was merged with civil disobedience, which was merged with white middle class fear of crime, which was merged with blacks in general and black males specifically within the American political and social mind. By the end of 1968 JFK, MLK and RFK were dead, and the civil rights movement had taken a militant approach to American society. The women’s liberation and the gay rights movements were at their dawn, and Nixon took office in 1969 on a law and order platform in which the silent majority sought to turn back America and American society from the influence of the sixties, the counterculture and the decade of Woodstock -- a theme that found support with Reagan but came to fruition and found a champion in Pat Buchannan in the 1990s (remember his 1992 “take back our country” speech at the 1992 Republican Convention after his unsuccessful challenge to the incumbent George Bush).
The re-election of Nixon in the 1972 continued to centralize conservatism in the Republican Party because that election solidified liberal control of the Democratic Party. As the 1964 election gave traditional conservatives control of the Republican Party during their convention, the 1972 divided and cantankerous Democratic convention established control of the Democratic Party to the social liberals. The nomination of McGovern split the Democratic Party and forced out many conservative democrats (social moderates but foreign policy conservatives / Wilsonians (neo-cons), the Nixon “hard hats” (urban and suburban working class white males) and middle class educated white males) who joined the Republican Party. The democrats lost the election, but now the parties were divided both in policy and ideology. The Republican Party, due to the Watergate disaster and general internal disputes over foreign and social policy, lost control of the White House in the 1970s.
By the election of Reagan in 1980, a coalition of the various strands of conservative thought found a unifying figure in Reagan and found a figure who could win. To this day, all conservatives regardless of approach revere Reagan because of his accomplishment in 1980 and his re-election in 1984 (winning 49 out of 50 states). This was an accomplishment that has not been repeated (keep this point in mind for later).
Both Bush Administrations not only failed to repeat the achievement of Reagan (defend conservative principles and govern within the ball park of those principles), but both administrations revealed the serious differences between the wings of conservatism that Reagan was able to paper over. The Republican Party found limited unanimity under Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution of 1995 when they took control of the House of Representatives after 40 years in the minority. After losing the government shutdowns (November 14-19, 1995 and December 16, 1995-January 6, 1996), when the blame was laid at the Republicans’ feet (just as the October 2013 shutdown was), the schism between establishment republicans and conservative republicans erupted, which in part led to Gingrich resigning in 1999 after the Republicans barely held control of the House in the 1998 midterm elections.
The failure of the conservatives in the 1990s to achieve control of the Republican Party and the White House would provide the final piece in understanding the rise of the Tea Party. In next week’s column, the rise of the Tea Party and its historical context to the 1964, 1980, 1992 and 2010 presidential elections will be discussed.
Dr. Arthur Garrison is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University. This piece is the work of Dr. Garrison and does not reflect the opinions of Kutztown University or its faculty, staff, students or alumni.