Embracing Campaign-Centered Politics
Professional politicians are like chain smokers, lighting a new campaign off the butt of the old one.
- Steven V. Roberts, 1986
The 1980 election was a shattering experience for Democrats. Winning only six states and the District of Columbia from Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter became the first president to lose a bid for reelection since Herbert Hoover had in 1932. Democrats lost control of the Senate as well for the first time since 1954, as conservative Republicans swept aside a whole roster of senior liberals. Even control of the House of Representatives was threatened when Republicans halved the Democrats' comfortable margin in that body.
In the decade that followed, Democratic leaders and activists involved with their party's national organizations gradually agreed on a common response to the campaign-centered electoral order. Frightened by election losses and predictions of a Republican realignment, members of the Democratic National Committee elected a succession of activist national chairs to lead them back to victory. By 1988, the combined efforts of Chairmen Charles Manatt and Paul Kirk, carried out with ongoing national committee support, had dramatically shifted the headquarters's role, enabling the DNC to reenter national electoral politics as a major force in a presidential campaign. Then, after yet another loss, Chairman Ron Brown picked up where Kirk had left off and helped lead the Democrats to victory in 1992.
These Democratic initiatives, combined with extensive efforts at Republican national party organizations during the 1970s and 1980s, cumulatively defined an emerging third paradigmatic party response to the challenges of campaign-centered politics. The Accommodationist paradigm resembled prior proposals; it resulted