Friday, May 8, 2009

Nixon's New American Majority

Republicans need a new Nixon, says Daniel Frick:
In the 1960 presidential election, Nixon had faced a nearly impossible challenge. Forget about the stubble, jowls, and sweaty upper-lip, or the reports of vote fraud in Chicago and Texas. Nixon's real obstacle was the Republican party's inability to capture the imagination and loyalty of mainstream America. Only three out of ten voters identified themselves as Republicans, while nearly five out of ten said they were Democrats. More than anyone else, Richard Nixon worked to alter this dynamic. By soliciting the support of the white working-class, people who had been loyal Democrats since the New Deal, Nixon spoke boldly of crafting a New American Majority. Come election day 1972, Nixon had secured a 61 percent landslide victory, with one exit poll suggesting that he had stripped away at least 36 percent of the Democrats' base of support. In eight short years, Nixon had taken a GOP sourly lecturing that "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" and had made it, on the national level at least, a place for Democratic moderates who felt deserted by their party.

Nixon's political groundwork made possible the renaissance conservatives enjoyed beginning in the 1980s. Historian James T. Patterson's description of the key elements of Reagan's winning coalition -- "white blue-collar workers, southern white foes of civil rights, Republicans who had opposed big government, and socially conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants" -- sounds like language that could have been cribbed from Nixon's 1972 campaign strategy memos.

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