The book was called “The Future of the Republican Party.”
Published in late 1964, following the landslide defeat of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, that year’s Republican presidential nominee, the book was written by Robert J. Donovan. Donovan, who died in 2003, was the Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times when he wrote the book. Over time he wrote fourteen books, most on politics in the Washington he covered. They included books on presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. In short, Donovan was seen as one of the more astute observers of American politics.
The essence of his book on the future of the GOP boiled down to this. Goldwater’s conservatives had managed to take over the GOP — and then they got clobbered. Unless the Republican Party moved to the center, as its Establishment elites urged, it was finished as a national political force. Donovan recounted the already lengthy battle between conservatives and the GOP Establishment over the years, mentioning familiar names like Ohio Senator Robert Taft and New York’s Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Donovan even had a suggestion as the next GOP nominee — then-New York Mayor John Lindsay. Lindsay, it should be noted, was famously a liberal Republican beloved by the GOP elites.
Donovan, a seriously smart and accomplished guy, would turn out to be wildly wrong. Two years later the GOP scored huge wins in the 1966 elections, and two years after that recaptured the White House with Richard Nixon. (And later, Mayor Lindsay would leave the GOP and run for the presidential nomination — of the Democrats. He lost.)
Notably, one of the GOP successes in those 1966 elections was the victory of Ronald Reagan as governor of California. True to form, the GOP moderates in California were apoplectic that the by-now famously conservative actor would run for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. There were predictions of a landslide defeat for Reagan at the hands of the incumbent Democrat, Governor Pat Brown.
But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, Reagan was elected by a million vote margin, starting him down the political path that would eventually see him win the White House — over the rabid objections of GOP Establishment elites — in two back-to-back landslides in 1980 and 1984.
This history is critical to understanding the state of today’s Republican Party — a party that is now indisputably the Party of Trump.
In fact, the Republican Party has been slowly evolving over the decades from the Country Club Party to the Country Party.
The “Country Party” designation comes from Boston University’s Angelo Codevilla, the university’s professor emeritus of international relations. His 2010 bestselling book, “The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It,” while never mentioning Donovan’s book, illustrated in detail just what was happening to the GOP — a full five years before Donald Trump rode down that escalator and into the race for the White House.
Codevilla describes the distinctly bi-partisan Ruling Class as in agreement on a “narrow, uniform set of ideas” with a “set of habits and tastes, as well as a secular canon of sacred myths, saints, sins, and ritual language.” And oh yes, there is the Ruling Class’s “chief pretension” to its “intellectual superiority.”
The Country Party, Codevilla wrote, “is the party of the Outs.” America’s “Outs” who feel passionately that the Ruling Class is “demeaning” them, “impoverishing” them and routinely “demoralizing” them by looking down on the very “ideas and habits that made America the world’s envy. And they want the Ruling Class off America’s back.”
In retrospect, the Country Party has been growing for decades — and increasingly making its home in the GOP. It began surfacing in the Goldwater nomination battle against the GOP Establishment (Ruling Class) favorite, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Two years later it rallied for Reagan in California. Newly elected in 1968, Nixon was soon referring to what he called the “Silent Majority” — the vast number of Americans who weren’t protesting in the streets about some cause of the moment but rather got up every day and went to work, paid their taxes and raised their kids.
In 1980 Reagan would talk about those who “say that the United States has had its day in the sun; that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems; that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities.” Literally opening his fall campaign with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Reagan said this:
“Let us pledge to each other, with this Great Lady looking on, that we can, and so help us God, we will make America great again.”
To the utter astonishment of the Ruling Class in both parties, not to mention the media, Reagan won two landslides. In no small part, a key to his victory were what became known as “Reagan Democrats” — blue-collar workers who frequently enough were also union members.
In other words, this Country Party sentiment has been on the rise for decades. It helps to explain the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio. It accounts for the record ratings of Fox News, notably its current roster of opinion hosts — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. And it has today totally transformed the Republican Party.
This means something — a very big something — when appealing to voters in states like my own Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians who have lost jobs because of Ruling Class trade or economic policies, whose kids have been sent off to endless wars or received impossibly high tuition bills from Ruling Class elites running America’s colleges and universities, not to mention those sneered at for views on social issues like abortion — those Pennsylvanians have had it.
Thus today they rally, literally and figuratively — to Donald Trump.
In the process definitively re-making the Republican Party into Trump’s Country Party. Something Ronald Reagan would understand instantly.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation or Conservative Daily News.
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