Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

Synopsis

In recent years historians have paid substantial attention to the origins of modern political conservatism and the record of the Nixon administration in building a Republican majority in the late twentieth century. In Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority, Robert Mason analyzes Nixon's response to the developing conservative climate and challenges revisionist claims about the activist nature of the Nixon administration. Nixon was an activist in intent, Mason contends, but not in deed.

Nixon's "silent majority" speech of 1969 not only undermined the growth of the antiwar movement, Mason shows, it also identified a constituency for Nixon to cultivate in order to secure reelection. However, the implementation of his new-majority project was hindered by the resort to dirty tricks against political opponents and the ineffectual pursuit of a policy agenda. Although some Nixon initiatives were enacted, says Mason, they were not substantial enough to rival the Democrats' bread-and-butter issues. While Nixon built Republican strength at the presidential level, Mason argues that he did not succeed in mobilizing popular support for broad-based political conservatism.

Excerpt

Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority is the study of an effort to shift the mass politics of the United States at a potentially crucial moment in recent history. The late 1960s and early 1970s represented a period of upheaval in American society, when opportunities for political change seemed more sub- stantial than at any time since the Great Depression. This is the story of bold political ambition in response to the perception of a great political possibility.

For a generation, Democrats had dominated national politics. This era of Democratic dominance began with the economic crisis that took hold under Herbert Hoover, a crisis that discredited the Republican Party in the eyes of many Americans. Franklin Roosevelt then mobilized an electoral majority for the Democratic Party in support of his administration's New Deal. This major- ity included many of America's less privileged people, and the Roosevelt coali- tion had remarkable endurance. In the years that followed, Republicans won no more than passing success in elections for the presidency and for Congress. Their moments of triumph were few and brief. In both 1946 and 1952, they took control of Congress, but in each case for two years only; Dwight Eisen- hower won the two presidential elections of the 1950s but did so because of his public standing as a great leader rather than because of his Republican identity. As a political entity designed to win elections, the Republican Party was a disaster. More Americans consistently preferred the Democratic Party. Follow- ing Hoover came a generation that rarely offered Republicans anything but frustration.

Decades after Roosevelt's defeat of Hoover in 1932, prospects at last looked brighter for the Republican Party. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, many people believed that this record of disappointment was about to change, that the country stood on the verge of a conservative realignment that would completely transform American politics. A new generation of Re- publican success might replace the generation of Democratic dominance.

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