Or, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
In this hefty companion—and at turns rejoinder—to Jules Witcover’s Party of the People (below), political historian Gould (American History/Univ. of Texas at Austin) writes that at its origins the GOP “consisted of disparate groups with different visions of what the party should be and where it ought to go.” Some early members favored an anti-immigrant, nativist stance; others, more liberal, pressed for a coherent antislavery platform. Whatever the case, most suspected that the majority Democrats and Whigs of the 1840s and ’50s were agents of “schemes of aristocracy the most revolting and oppressive with which the earth was ever cursed,” in the words of the Michigan party’s charter. Gaining national prominence with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the party was tested, following the Civil War, by episodes of ineptitude and corruption—to say nothing, writes Gould, of northern voters’ suspicion that something deeply radical underlay Republican efforts to “achieve suffrage for blacks in the South.” If soft on big business, Gould demonstrates, Republicanism from the late-19th to the mid-20th century was eminently moderate, and dominantly urban and suburban, fielding solidly middle-of-the-road candidates such as Wendell Wilkie and Nelson Rockefeller. (The latter, Gould writes, “was not a very good national politician,” in part because he “seemed to think that his money and celebrity appeal entitled him to leadership.”) Enter the rise of Cold War conservatism, led by the likes of a comparatively soft Richard Nixon and a comparatively hard Barry Goldwater, on whose heels came Ronald Reagan and his hard-right cohort. The subsequent realignment of the party essentially pushed out moderates; as Gould writes, come 1992, “the trouble with [GOP presidential aspirant Pat] Buchanan was not that he rejected core Republican values but that he articulated them with damaging clarity.” Whence the current leadership, at turns antifederalist and imperialist, isolationist and unilateralist—all characteristics of a GOP past, present, and presumably future.
Quite lluminating, and at times even entertaining (as when Gould offers his take on the four presidents most representative of the GOP’s core). Just the thing for the 2004 election.