Favorite

The past is never dead 

click to enlarge Invisible Bridge image

As a political scientist who likes his data equal parts words and numbers, I've been treated to the arrival of insightful examples of both in recent days: the newest book by political historian and journalist Rick Perlstein and the latest incarnation of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press' Political Typology. While the former's focus is a period four decades ago, that key moment in America's politics ties quite directly to the Pew data that provides so much information about the state of American political attitudes today.

For over a decade, Perlstein has dedicated himself to chronicling the story of the modern American conservative movement. His work began with a masterful overview of the rise of Goldwaterism and its demise in the 1964 election in "Before the Storm." Next, in "Nixonland," Perlstein detailed how in just eight years America shifted from a nation where Democrat Lyndon Johnson won one of the largest landslides in presidential history to one where Republican Richard Nixon triumphed even more resoundingly in 1972.

Now, in his third book in the series available in bookstores next week, "The Invisible Bridge," Perlstein tracks the near demolition of the Republican Party as a result of Watergate (the party went so far as to actively consider changing its name) and the planting of the seeds that would grow into the 1980s dominance by the party under President Ronald Reagan. Here we see Reagan continually refuse to acknowledge Watergate as a scandal as it consumes the Nixon White House. Instead, as he leaves the California governorship, he ignores the bizarre events of Watergate-obsessed Washington and focuses his energy on sewing a collection of right-wing populist uprisings (including opposition to court orders regarding school busing, to efforts to revise science curriculum, to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and to the Equal Rights Amendment) into a quilt that became a fervent conservative populist movement that almost wins him the GOP nomination in 1976 and goes on to reshape the party thereafter. While the "Silent Majority" coalesced by Nixon so expertly in advance of Watergate was effective in running up electoral votes in a particular election, it was replaced by a much more vibrant, lasting movement.

Right at 800 pages and covering a mere 42 months from the Nixon 1973 inauguration through the 1976 GOP convention, Perlstein again shows his gift as a chronicler is to use telling details to provide the energy in a familiar story. These details produce a deeper understanding of both key political elites as well as American society during a particularly odd time and remind us that American electoral politics is a dance between political leaders and the masses of voters. When that dancing is in harmony, the result is a transformative movement like Reaganism.

Perlstein's book ends in 1976, but nearly four decades later the seeds planted then continue to bear fruit as shown by the Pew Center's 2014 Political Typology. The survey is updated every handful of years and succeeds in moving beyond the traditional liberal/conservative divide in American life to provide a more nuanced examination of the key subgroups (this year, eight in total) in the U.S. polity. (Notably, the 10 percent that fall in one of the eight — the "Bystanders" — very rarely actually turn out to vote).

The conservative populists that began to coalesce during and after Watergate (Pew's Political Typology calls them "Steadfast Conservatives") remain the cornerstone of the Republican Party's electorate today and make up a full one-fifth of the most politically engaged citizens, according to the survey. "Business Conservatives" (who differ from the conservative populists in that they are more trusting of big business, ready to undertake immigration reform, and ready to move away from the cultural battle over LGBT's role in society) compose only a slightly smaller percentage of the most engaged citizens but are outnumbered in the GOP. Reagan lost the battle of the Bicentennial Year but his coalition won the ultimate war in the GOP, a victory that continues to show itself.

The Pew data clearly shows, however, the growing cost of that defining place for conservative populism for the Republican Party. The groups that are up for grabs electorally — "The Faith and Family Left," "The Next Generation Left," "Hard-Pressed Skeptics" and "Young Outsiders" — are all repelled by the rigidity of conservative populism and its unwillingness to adjust to a changing America. Thus, while Reagan's political children and grandchildren remain the defining force in American politics, the Pew data shows that the bulk of Americans have moved to a very different spot creating a fundamental challenge for the GOP moving toward the 2016 presidential election.

Favorite

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Arkansas Democrats' rocky road forward

    No state political party in the modern era has had a more abrupt fall than Arkansas's Democrats
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Bill Clinton was right

    At the Arkansas Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser in July, Bill Clinton gave the worst speech I've ever heard him give.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Hillary in Arkansas

    She has made her time in Arkansas a major campaign theme, but the state's voters look to overwhelmingly reject her Nov. 8.
    • Nov 3, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Ban the box in Little Rock

    In the latest evidence of the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in shaping the American policy agenda, this past week has become "ban the box" week.
    • Nov 4, 2015

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Tomb to table: a Christmas feast offered by the residents of Mount Holly and other folk

    Plus, recipes from the Times staff.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.

Latest in Jay Barth

  • Arkansas Democrats' rocky road forward

    No state political party in the modern era has had a more abrupt fall than Arkansas's Democrats
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Bill Clinton was right

    At the Arkansas Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser in July, Bill Clinton gave the worst speech I've ever heard him give.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Arkansas 2016: the microclimate election

    In the lead-up to the past four Arkansas election cycles, the forecast has been a fairly simple one: strong winds blowing in the GOP direction.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed

  • Stay the course

    I am frustrated and angry with those who claim the only chance of future success is for the Democratic Party, especially in the South and Midwest, to abandon speaking directly to women and people of color and the LGBT community and instead focus on the economy and other "more comfortable" topics in order to win back some of the center.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Reality TV prez

    • And while we're at it, Runner, the Wisconsin recount isn't finished yet, but as of…

    • on December 9, 2016
  • Re: Reality TV prez

    • In fact, Runner, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million and counting, just…

    • on December 9, 2016
  • Re: Stay the course

    • Thank you Autumn. I agree that we can not compromise an inch on the value…

    • on December 9, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation