Reform and the Search for a New Party-Centered Politics
Few national chairmen . . . are philosophers and theorists. Their approach, as well as that of their staffs, is intensely practical where intelligence and all other operations are concerned. The national headquarters, like so many other institutions, has been shaped in a pragmatic spirit. It has been built in a piecemeal and opportunistic fashion, unburdened with theoretical or abstract principles.
- Hugh Bone, 1958
A series of elections in the mid- 1960s exposed the weakness of the national parties for all to see. In 1964 Senator Barry Goldwater captured the Republican presidential nomination, riding on a wave of grassroots conservative organizing within his own party. 1 Despite this surge, and his party's apparent strength in presidential elections since 1948, Goldwater went on to lose to President Lyndon B. Johnson in a record landslide. Johnson, in turn, saw his own Great Society mandate and coalition evaporate only two years later. His party lost forty-seven seats in the House and three more in the Senate in the 1966 midterm election, leaving him even weaker than he had been when he took office after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The Democrats' slide accelerated in 1968, as Republicans regained the White House.
Some partisans looked to their national committees or the White House for help, and those organizations struggled to respond. Seizing the theme of "decline," journalists and political scientists disparaged national party organizations as trivial actors in American elections and the changing political scene. One prominent American politics scholar argued that "in no real sense do the American parties exist at