Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority

By Robert Mason | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The Nixon administration marks a turning point in recent American history, when political conservatism achieved new dominance following a long period of liberal ascendancy. But it does not mark a realignment of American politics. The quest for a new majority did not find one; despite Nixon's success in persuading supporters of the Democratic Party to vote for his presidential candidacy in 1972, he did not enjoy any similar success in boosting the fortunes of the Republican Party as a whole. Not until the 1980s and 1990s would Republicans challenge the Democrats in terms of the proportion of Americans who preferred the party and in terms of representation in Congress. Indeed, the absence of a realignment encouraged many scholars to question the para- digm's utility in understanding electoral change.1

Nixon's quest for a new majority was thoughtful. With the help of his aides, he carefully analyzed social and political trends. A belief in the realigning potential of these trends animated his administration, informed the creation of public policy, and encouraged the development of many initiatives to forge better relationships with individual groups within his target constituency. To argue that the search for a new majority should be central to any understand- ing of the Nixon White House is not to argue that electoral expediency was the key factor that determined its policies, however. A compelling feature of the new-majority project was Nixon's belief that his political concerns matched those of the middle Americans whose votes he sought. His rhetoric about the importance of traditional values, for example, reflected a conviction that the questioning of those values in contemporary society was a destructive force. Most significantly, Nixon believed that the public would support his reinven- tion of internationalism in foreign policy provided that he packaged his ideas with an appropriate emphasis on their patriotic rationale. To a great extent, the silent majority that provided essential backing for his Vietnam policy became the cornerstone of his new majority. In general, then, Nixon did not need to

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