Conservatives in an Age of Change: The Nixon and Ford Administrations

By James Reichley | Go to book overview

5
Nixon and the Ninety-first Congress: The Floating Coalition Strategy

"CONGRESS is not a milling mob of people," Bryce Harlow, Nixon's first director of congressional liaison, has said. "There are power levers, and one must know where the levers are, and how to pull them."1 The strategy that the new administration would develop for moving these levers would reflect both its own goals and its evaluation of the balance of political and ideological forces in Congress.

The distribution of power in the Ninety-first Congress, which took office seventeen days before Nixon was sworn in, was still fundamentally affected by the political realignment of the 1930s that had made the Democrats the national majority party. Only twice since 1930--in 1946 and 1952--had the Republicans managed to win control of Congress. During the 1960s the growing advantages enjoyed by incumbents in most congressional elections, particularly for the House, provided added insulation for Democratic majorities. 2 As a result, Nixon entered the White House as the first president since Zachary Taylor in 1849 (the last Whig elected to the presidency) to face opposition majorities in both houses of Congress at the beginning of his first term.

Party alignments, however, did not fully measure either the president's potential influence in Congress or the number of congressmen who might share his general ideological outlook. The most important distinction in Congress was still party, which determined the selection of leadership, the control of committees, and the recruitment of the majority of staff. But within each of the parties there had grown up loosely formed factions, resembling in some ways separate parties

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