The Race for the White House from Reagan to Clinton: Reforming Old Systems, Building New Coalitions

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T he notion that the Democratic Party is a captive of left-wing extremists is a familiar one to readers of the American press. It has been a staple of conservative Republican doctrine since In itself, this does not make the point incorrect, although it suggests that it is a bit musty. Reminiscent of the analysis that has been nurtured for decades in places such as the National Review , New Democrats have a tendency to argue at a level of abstract generalization that permits them to leap over some facts that would otherwise puncture their case.

The first set of facts is historical. With the exception of McGovern in , in five of the last six presidential campaigns, the Democratic candidates--Humphrey, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis--ran as centrists. Carter ran as a conservative southerner moderate on race. The centerpiece of Mondale's campaign for which Galston served as chief issues adviser was deficit reduction. And Dukakis ran as a technocrat who, until the last two weeks of his campaign, avoided attacking Ronald Reagan because he didn't want to sound too partisan.

Even McGovern didn't run as a "tax and spend" Democrat; a central part of his platform was a proposal for a huge middle-class tax cut. Indeed, the Carter presidency--the failure of which still weighs heavily on the Democratic psyche--was the exemplar of the New Democrat spirit. Well, say New Democrats, it wasn't necessarily the candidate who was too liberal.

In this version, the sin of the liberal fundamentalists is not that they have taken over the party but that they have taken over the convention every four years and forced the candidate to accept a far-out platform that has been an albatross around the candidate's neck. For this theory to be credible, the New Democrats have to argue that the convention was different. Inasmuch as they claim credit for Clinton's victory, they have to claim that was their convention.

True to form, the press generally has obliged by favorably contrasting the convention with the "liberal" conventions of and According to accepted wisdom, these two previous conventions were dominated by demanding minorities, feminists, labor unions, environmentalists, gays, and people with bizarre "styles" of political behavior.

But as media critic Jim Naureckas has pointed out, the press ran the same story of moderation during the previous conventions as well. According to Naureckas, "every convention since has been hailed by journalists as the one where the 'special interests' lost their influence. For using words like "family, community, honesty, patriotism, accountability, responsibility, opportunity" Chicago Tribune. For abandoning "the expansive promises of Democratic Party platforms of earlier years --the crowded bazaar of special interests and special pleading" Washington Post.

No laundry lists that raid our Treasury. N o reasonable reading of history since supports the premise that an extremist coalition of minorities and white liberals has dominated the Democratic Party.

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Nor can one make the case that those on the left of the party have been somehow destructive or disloyal. They ran their candidates and tried to influence the platform. When they failed, they rallied behind the centrist candidate. Certainly the liberals have supported recent centrist candidates, starting with Jimmy Carter, with more loyalty than the conservatives showed to the candidacy of George McGovern. The campaign is a case in point.

The liberal coalition--labor, environmentalists, minorities, fundamentalists, gays--were the shock troops of Clinton's political army. They were the activists who knocked on doors, raised money, and organized precincts. In contrast, many New Democrats seemed to spend their time complaining that Bill Clinton was allowing these people too much say in the campaign.

Liberal loyalty to Clinton continued throughout the troubles of his first seven months in office. They stuck with his budget even after it had been gutted of the domestic spending that was at the heart of their agenda. Senate Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Paul Sarbanes battled for the president's budget, which disappointed their constituencies. At the same time, New Democrats like Boren and Breaux were willing to ruin Clinton's presidency in its first year in order to protect the oil and gas industry.

The liberals' reaction to the creation of an economic inner circle of deficit hawks--Bentsen, Rubin, Panetta, and Rivlin--and the subsequent insulting appointment of David Gergen was silence. The New Democrats' reaction to the appointment of Lani Guinier was to throw a tantrum, forcing Clinton to withdraw his candidate in an embarrassing public defeat. In their New Democrat manifesto, Galston and Kamarck set up and effortlessly demolished a series of straw men, the supposed "myths" through which liberal fundamentalists have succeeded in getting the Democratic Party to evade reality.

One is the argument that greater mobilization of minorities will automatically return a Democrat to the White House.


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They belabor what people who understand simple addition know: there are not enough potential black and Hispanic voters to outweigh white, working-class Democrats who would be alienated by a campaign aimed at minorities. That is why they are known as minorities. The argument of Jesse Jackson--the primary target of Galston's and Kamarck's attack--was that Democrats should be appealing to the working class as a whole.

One may object that Jackson is not the most effective person to make the appeal, but that is another question. Ironically, Galston and Kamarck divide the working class along racial lines in attacking this class mobilization thesis, and a few pages later they criticize the Left for believing that race is the main reason for the white, working-class departure from the party.

The most interesting of the purported "myths" is the supposed thesis that, as Galston and Kamarck phrase it, "it's all economics. New Democrats insist that noneconomic appeals to the white middle class should take precedence. Writing in , Galston and Kamarck tell us that the next Democratic candidate must be fully credible as commander in chief and "squarely reflect the moral sentiments of the average American.

So next time aroundthe Democrats need a candidate whose strengths lie in social and foreign policy. They got the election dead wrong. Bill Clinton's strength was not as a credible commander in chief -- whether in Vietnam or the Persian Gulf--and he spent the campaign avoiding George Bush's call for debates on morality.

Had the unemployment rate in October been 5. Moreover, Clinton's message on the economy was unmistakably liberal. He constantly attacked the "trickle-down" economics of the Republicans. And after outbidding George Bush with the promise of middle-class tax cuts flopped in the early primaries, Clinton overruled his DLC advisers and shifted to an emphasis on more government investment spending both as a way to jump-start the economy and to create more good jobs over the long run.

He even argued that closing the public investment deficit was every bit as important as reducing the fiscal deficit. But as Naureckas pointed out, the press lets the party conservatives rewrite history every four years, whatever the outcome. T here is some legitimate criticism to be made of the Democratic Party's activist left wing, but the New Democrat critique misses the target.

The central failing of the Left is that it has not come to grips with the question of economic growth and stability in the new global economy. To some degree, the Left still views the world in the framework of the s, when a growing pie of income and wealth could be taken for granted and progressives could focus on how to slice it. Like the "liberal fundamentalists" they criticize, however, the New Democrats have practiced their own "politics of eva-sion" in avoiding the issue.

In his credo for the New Democrat, Al From denounces both the "borrow and spend" policies of the Republicans and the "tax and spend" policies of the Old Dem-ocrats that have failed to solve the country's economic problems. The failure, he says, "has produced two decades of anemic gains in personal income. Again, the "plague on both your houses" stance is at odds with history. Jimmy Carter actually cut taxes in mid-term, a precursor to Reaganomics.

Even Lyndon Johnson was not a "tax and spend" Democrat. In fact, history blames Johnson for not raising taxes to pay for the Vietnam War. Kennedy cut taxes, as did Truman before he raised them to pay for the Korean War. Postwar presidents--Democratic and Republican until Reagan--did use an un-indexed income tax structure that automatically generated accelerating revenues with economic growth, but one has to go back 50 years, to Roosevelt's financing of World War II, to find a Democratic president's economic policy that could be described as deliberately "tax and spend.

Once having set up the false dichotomy to place the New Democrats in that safe haven "beyond left and right," From runs out of gas. Faced with the question of how to reverse this two-decade slide of income and growth, he ducks: "No one has convincingly solved this riddle," he says. Macroeconomic policy aside, it is reflective of how "new" the philosophy of the New Democrat is. Retrieved May 11, American Heritage. August—September Archived from the original on June 13, September 7, Archived from the original on July 17, April 14, Archived from the original on April 25, May 9, Archived from the original on August 12, Gallup Poll.

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Source: Keating Holland, "All the Votes Really," CNN [46]. The American Independent Party , which was established in by Bill and Eileen Shearer, nominated former Alabama Governor George Wallace — whose pro- racial segregation policies had been rejected by the mainstream of the Democratic Party — as the party's candidate for president.

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The Race for the White House from Reagan to Clinton

The impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial, winning the electoral votes of several states in the Deep South. He appeared on the ballot in all fifty states, but not the District of Columbia. Although he did not come close to winning any states outside the South, Wallace was the most popular presidential candidate among young men. Wallace did not expect to win the election — his strategy was to prevent either major party candidate from winning a preliminary majority in the Electoral College. He had his electors pledge to vote not necessarily for him but rather for whomever he directed them to support — his objective was not to move the election into the U.

House of Representatives , but rather to give himself the bargaining power to determine the winner. Wallace's running mate was retired four star General Curtis LeMay. Prior to deciding on LeMay, Wallace gave serious consideration to former U. Senator, Governor, and Baseball Commissioner A. Happy Chandler of Kentucky as his running mate. Paradoxically, Chandler supported the segregationist Dixiecrats in the presidential elections.

But, after being reelected Governor of Kentucky in , he used National Guard troops to enforce school integration. LeMay embarrassed Wallace's campaign in the fall by suggesting that nuclear weapons could be used in Vietnam. Also on the ballot in two or more states were black activist Eldridge Cleaver who was ineligible to take office, as he would have only been 33 years of age on January 20, for the Peace and Freedom Party , Henning Blomen for the Socialist Labor Party , Fred Halstead for the Socialist Workers Party , E.

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Harold Munn for the Prohibition Party , and Charlene Mitchell — the first African-American woman to run for president, and the first woman to receive valid votes in a general election — for the Communist Party. Comedians Dick Gregory and Pat Paulsen were notable write-in candidates. A facetious presidential candidate for was a pig named Pigasus , as a political statement by the Yippies , to illustrate their premise that "one pig's as good as any other.

Nixon developed a " Southern strategy " that was designed to appeal to conservative white southerners, who traditionally voted Democratic, but were opposed to Johnson and Humphrey's support for the civil rights movement, as well as the rioting that had broken out in the ghettos of most large cities.

Wallace, however, won over many of the voters Nixon targeted, effectively splitting the conservative vote. Indeed, Wallace deliberately targeted many states he had little chance of carrying himself in the hope that by splitting the conservative vote with Nixon he would give those states to Humphrey and, by extension, boost his own chances of denying both opponents an Electoral College majority.

Since he was well behind Nixon in the polls as the campaign began, Humphrey opted for a slashing, fighting campaign style. He repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — challenged Nixon to a televised debate, and he often compared his campaign to the successful underdog effort of President Harry Truman , another Democrat who had trailed in the polls, in the presidential election.

Humphrey predicted that he, like Truman, would surprise the experts and win an upset victory. Nixon campaigned on a theme to restore " law and order ," [60] which appealed to many voters angry with the hundreds of violent riots that had taken place across the country in the previous few years. Following the murder of Martin Luther King in April , there was massive rioting in inner city areas.

Hardest hit were Detroit and Washington. The police were overwhelmed and President Johnson had to call out the U. Nixon also opposed forced busing to desegregate schools. During the campaign, Nixon proposed government tax incentives to African Americans for small businesses and home improvements in their existing neighborhoods.

During the campaign, Nixon also used as a theme his opposition to the decisions of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Many conservatives were critical of Chief Justice Warren for using the Supreme Court to promote liberal policies in the fields of civil rights , civil liberties , and the separation of church and state. Nixon promised that if he were elected president, he would appoint justices who would take a less-active role in creating social policy. Anderson had argued in the paper for an end to the draft and the creation of an all-volunteer army.

Humphrey, meanwhile, promised to continue and expand the Great Society welfare programs started by President Johnson, and to continue the Johnson Administration's "War on Poverty. However, Humphrey also felt constrained for most of his campaign in voicing any opposition to the Vietnam War policies of President Johnson, due to his fear that Johnson would reject any peace proposals he made and undermine his campaign. As a result, early in his campaign Humphrey often found himself the target of anti-war protestors, some of whom heckled and disrupted his campaign rallies.

After the Democratic Convention in late August, Humphrey trailed Nixon by double digits in most polls , and his chances seemed hopeless. According to Time magazine, "The old Democratic coalition was disintegrating, with untold numbers of blue-collar workers responding to Wallace's blandishments, Negroes threatening to sit out the election, liberals disaffected over the Vietnam War, the South lost. The war chest was almost empty, and the party's machinery, neglected by Lyndon Johnson, creaked in disrepair.

In order to distance himself from Johnson and to take advantage of the Democratic plurality in voter registration, Humphrey stopped being identified in ads as "Vice-President Hubert Humphrey," instead being labelled "Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey. Curtis LeMay's suggestion of tactical nuclear weapons being used in Vietnam conjured up memories of the Goldwater campaign. Polls that showed Wallace winning almost one-half of union members in the summer of showed a sharp decline in his union support as the campaign progressed.

As election day approached and Wallace's support in the North and Midwest began to wane, Humphrey finally began to climb in the polls. In October, Humphrey—who was rising sharply in the polls due to the collapse of the Wallace vote—began to distance himself publicly from the Johnson administration on the Vietnam War, calling for a bombing halt. The key turning point for Humphrey's campaign came when President Johnson officially announced a bombing halt, and even a possible peace deal, the weekend before the election. The "Halloween Peace" gave Humphrey's campaign a badly needed boost.

In addition, Senator Eugene McCarthy finally endorsed Humphrey in late October after previously refusing to do so, and by election day the polls were reporting a dead heat. The Nixon campaign had anticipated a possible " October surprise ," a peace agreement produced by the Paris negotiations, to boost Humphrey and thwarted any last-minute chances of a "Halloween Peace. Haldeman to put a "monkey wrench" into an early end to the war. Bryce Harlow , former Eisenhower White House staff member, claimed to have "a double agent working in the White House I kept Nixon informed.

Nixon has been told of it," Democratic senator George Smathers informed Johnson. Nixon asked Anna Chennault to be his "channel to Mr. Thieu " in order to advise him to refuse participation in the talks, in what is sometimes described as the "Anna Chennault Affair. On November 2, Chennault informed the South Vietnamese ambassador: "I have just heard from my boss in Albuquerque who says his boss [Nixon] is going to win. And you tell your boss [Thieu] to hold on a while longer. William Bundy stated that Kissinger obtained "no useful inside information" from his trip to Paris, and "almost any experienced Hanoi watcher might have come to the same conclusion".

While Kissinger may have "hinted that his advice was based on contacts with the Paris delegation," this sort of "self-promotion Humphrey later regretted this as a mistake. The election on November 5, , proved to be extremely close, and it was not until the following morning that the television news networks were able to declare Nixon the winner. The key states proved to be California, Ohio, and Illinois, all of which Nixon won by three percentage points or less. Had Humphrey carried all three of these states, he would have won the election.

Had he carried only two of them or just California among them, George Wallace would have succeeded in his aim of preventing an electoral college majority for any candidate, and the decision would have been given to the House of Representatives, at the time controlled by the Democratic Party. Nixon won the popular vote with a plurality of , votes, or a victory margin of about one percentage point. In the electoral college Nixon's victory was larger, as he carried 32 states with electoral votes, compared to Humphrey's 13 states and electoral votes and Wallace's five states and 46 electoral votes.

Out of all the states that Nixon had previously carried in , Maine and Washington were the only two states that did not vote for him again; Nixon carried them during his re-election campaign in He also carried eight states that voted for John F. This was the last time until that the state of Washington voted Democratic and until that Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan voted Democratic in the general election.

Nixon was also the last Republican candidate to win a presidential election without carrying Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This is the first time which the Republican candidate captured the White House without carrying Michigan, Minnesota, Maine and Pennsylvania. He would be the last Republican candidate to carry Minnesota four years later, in , as of Remarkably, Nixon won the election despite winning only two of the six states Arizona and South Carolina won by Republican Barry Goldwater four years earlier.

He remains the only presidential candidate to win in spite of defending such a low number of his own party's states. All of the remaining four States carried by Goldwater were carried by Wallace in They would be won by Nixon in Wallace was victorious in counties Nixon said that Humphrey left a gracious message congratulating him, noting, "I know exactly how he felt. I know how it feels to lose a close one. Nixon's victory is often considered a realigning election in American politics.

The Democrats lost the white working class. The Republicans exploited it. Can Clinton win it back?

From to , the Democratic Party was undoubtedly the majority party, winning seven out of nine presidential elections, and their agenda influenced policies undertaken by the Republican Eisenhower administration. The election reversed the situation completely. From until , Republicans won seven out of ten presidential elections, and its policies clearly affected those enacted by the Democratic Clinton administration via the Third Way.

The election was a seismic event in the long-term realignment in Democratic Party support, especially in the South. Democrats could no longer count on white Southern support for the presidency, as Republicans made major gains in suburban areas and areas filled with Northern migrants. While Democrats controlled local and state politics in the South, Republicans usually won the presidential vote. In , Humphrey won less than ten percent of the white Southern vote, with two-thirds of his vote in the region coming from blacks, who now voted in full strength.

Another important result of this election was that it led to several reforms in how the Democratic Party chose its presidential nominees. In , the McGovern—Fraser Commission adopted a set of rules for the states to follow in selecting convention delegates. These rules reduced the influence of party leaders on the nominating process and provided greater representation for minorities, women, and youth.

The reforms led most states to adopt laws requiring primary elections, instead of party leaders, to choose delegates. After , the only way to win the party's presidential nomination became through the primary process; Humphrey turned out to be the last nominee of either major party to win his party's nomination without having directly competed in the primaries. This was also the last election in which any third party candidate won an entire state's electoral votes, with Wallace carrying five states.

This election was the last time until that the Democratic nominee won Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan and the last until when Washington voted Democrat, and the last time a Republican won the presidency without winning Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Despite the narrow 0. This disparity prompted the introduction of the Bayh—Celler Constitutional amendment in Congress, which would have replaced the Electoral College with a direct election of the presidency.

The effort was not successful and the Electoral College is still in force. Source Popular Vote : Leip, David. Dave Leip's Atlas of U. Presidential Elections. Retrieved August 7, National Archives and Records Administration. Cartogram of presidential election results by county. Cartogram of Republican presidential election results by county.

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Cartogram of Democratic presidential election results by county. Cartogram of American Independent presidential election results by county. Cartogram of "Other" presidential election results by county. States where margin of victory was more than 5 percentage points, but less than 10 percentage points electoral votes :. Notes: In Alabama , Wallace was the official Democratic Party nominee, while Humphrey ran on the ticket of short-lived National Democratic Party of Alabama , loyal to him as an official Democratic Party nominee [98] [99].

Source: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For related races, see United States elections. Presidential election results map. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state. Main article: Republican Party presidential primaries. Ronald Reagan : 1,, Rhodes : , Kennedy write-in : 14, 0. Johnson write-in : 4, 0. Romney : 4, 0. Shafer : 1, 0. Percy : 0. Spiro T. Edward Brooke , U. Bush , U. Evans , Governor of Washington Robert H.

Javits , U. Love , Governor of Colorado Rogers C. Morton , U. Percy , U. Romney , Governor of Michigan John G. Tower , U. Volpe , Governor of Massachusetts. Main article: Democratic Party presidential primaries. Eugene McCarthy : 2,, Kennedy : 2,, Young : , 7. Johnson : , 5. Lynch : , 5. Branigin : , 3. Fisher : 0. Crommelin : 0. See also: George Wallace presidential campaign, Richard Nixon. Hubert Humphrey. George Wallace. Popular vote Nixon. Electoral vote Nixon. Results by county, shaded according to winning candidate's percentage of the vote.

Missouri , 1. Kentucky , 5. Presidential Elections". Retrieved October 21, Presidential Elections ". Retrieved February 1, Stackpole Books. Wattenberg November 2, Archived from the original on January 15, Retrieved November 24, The New York Times. September 26, Retrieved August 25, September 29, Retrieved June 17, July 5, Retrieved November 27, The Washington Post.

November 24, The Chicago Tribune. Johnson, The Paradox of Power". Time Magazine. January 5, Retrieved June 22,

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