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Presidential Party Building

Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush

Dwight D. Eisenhower
George W. Bush
Daniel J. Galvin
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  • Book Info
    Presidential Party Building
    Book Description:

    Modern presidents are usually depicted as party "predators" who neglect their parties, exploit them for personal advantage, or undercut their organizational capacities. Challenging this view,Presidential Party Buildingdemonstrates that every Republican president since Dwight D. Eisenhower worked to build his party into a more durable political organization while every Democratic president refused to do the same. Yet whether they supported their party or stood in its way, each president contributed to the distinctive organizational trajectories taken by the two parties in the modern era.

    Unearthing new archival evidence, Daniel Galvin reveals that Republican presidents responded to their party's minority status by building its capacities to mobilize voters, recruit candidates, train activists, provide campaign services, and raise funds. From Eisenhower's "Modern Republicanism" to Richard Nixon's "New Majority" to George W. Bush's hopes for a partisan realignment, Republican presidents saw party building as a means of forging a new political majority in their image. Though they usually met with little success, their efforts made important contributions to the GOP's cumulative organizational development. Democratic presidents, in contrast, were primarily interested in exploiting the majority they inherited, not in building a new one. Until their majority disappeared during Bill Clinton's presidency, Democratic presidents eschewed party building and expressed indifference to the long-term effects of their actions.

    Bringing these dynamics into sharp relief,Presidential Party Buildingoffers profound new insights into presidential behavior, party organizational change, and modern American political development.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3117-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: A Common Half-Truth
    (pp. 1-16)

    Dramatic differences in the organizational capacities of the Democratic and Republican parties were on full display during George W. Bush’s presidency. The Republican Party was revealed to be a vertically integrated, technologically sophisticated national political machine with impressive capacities to activate local grassroots networks in coordinated, “microtargeted,” get-out-the-vote campaigns.¹ This durable, versatile organization was a source of great pride for Republican leaders: irrespective of the ebb and flow of election outcomes, they remained steadfast in their determination to develop and enhance its structures and operations. After he won reelection in 2004, for example, Bush’s deputies at the Republican National Committee...

  5. 2 A Theory of Presidential Party Building
    (pp. 17-38)

    The pattern of presidential party building introduced in the last chapter challenges some of our most prominent theories of presidential behavior, party organizations, and American political development. It also raises a critical question we never before knew to ask: Why did Republican presidents act constructively toward their party organizations while Democratic presidents did not, at least not until late in Clinton’s presidency? What sets these two groups of presidents apart?

    In this chapter, I argue that Republican and Democratic presidents acted differently on account of the different competitive political environments they faced as well as the different organizational arrangements they...

  6. Part I: The Republicans

    • 3 Building a Modern Republican Party: Dwight D. Eisenhower
      (pp. 41-69)

      Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first Republican president to be elected in twenty-four years. He won with an impressive 55 percent of the popular vote and 83 percent of the electoral votes in 1952, but like every minority-party president, he was much stronger than his party: he received a higher share of the vote than the Republican congressional candidate in 79 percent of all districts. A mere 34 percent of the American public identified with the GOP in 1952, and while his election helped to carry new Republican majorities to Congress, they were slim majorities: a one-seat edge in the...

    • 4 Building the New Majority: Richard Nixon
      (pp. 70-98)

      Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 with only 43 percent of the popular vote and 56 percent of the electoral votes.² Yet like all minority-party presidents, he still ran ahead of a majority of Republican congressional candidates. Only 33 percent of the public identified with the GOP in 1968, and while Republicans made modest gains in Congress—five seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate—they still held under 44 percent of the seats in both chambers and only 43 percent of state legislative seats. Even Nixon’s landslide reelection victory in 1972 (61 percent of the vote,...

    • 5 The Politics of Addition: Gerald R. Ford
      (pp. 99-119)

      When Gerald Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, the Republican Party’s competitive standing was at an all-time low. In the party’s worst showing in the history of the Gallup poll, less than a quarter of the American public identified with the GOP.² In the November 1974 midterm elections, Republicans lost forty-three House seats and six Senate seats, leaving them with a mere 33 percent of House seats and thirty-eight Senate seats. The Republican “farm team” at the state level nearly disappeared: Republicans lost control of fifteen statehouses and six governorships and held only 32 percent of...

    • 6 Building the Republican Base: Ronald Reagan
      (pp. 120-142)

      Reagan called his presidency a “New Beginning,” and in many ways it was: through his rhetoric and policy initiatives, Reagan offered a clear ideological alternative to New Deal liberalism.² What’s more, his two elections durably altered the electoral map: by the end of his eight years in office, the defining features of Kevin Phillips’s “emerging Republican majority”—especially GOP gains in Sun Belt states—were coming to fruition.³ Reagan won over 90 percent of the electoral votes in both of his elections, and in 1980 the GOP won control of the Senate for the first time since 1952 and kept...

    • 7 Leveling the Playing Field: George H. W. Bush
      (pp. 143-160)

      When George H. W. Bush assumed the presidency in 1989, the Republican Party had won five of the previous six presidential elections and enjoyed eight years with a popular Republican in the White House. Yet the GOP still held only 175 seats in the House, 45 seats in the Senate, a minority of governorships, and less than 40 percent of state legislative seats. Over the course of Bush’s four years in the White House, an average of only 38 percent of the public identified with the Republican Party. Like all other minority-party presidents, Bush ran ahead of the Republican congressional...

  7. Part II: The Democrats

    • 8 Operation Support: John F. Kennedy
      (pp. 163-181)

      When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, the competitive standing of the Democratic Party was strong and secure. Though the party was regionally and ideologically divided, Democrats held 260 seats in the House and 64 seats in the Senate, controlled 61 percent of state legislative seats and two-thirds of governorships, and a solid majority in the electorate favored the Democratic Party. Kennedy, however, won only 49.7 percent of the popular vote, and his margin of victory over Richard Nixon was less than five percentage points in thirteen of the twenty states he won. Thus, while Kennedy’s party represented...

    • 9 The President’s Club: Lyndon B. Johnson
      (pp. 182-203)

      Throughout Lyndon Johnson’s five years in the White House, Democrats enjoyed dominant majorities in the House and Senate, at the state level, and among self-identified partisans in the electorate. In 1964, when Johnson received the highest share of the popular vote in the history of American twoparty politics, the Democratic Party secured 68 percent of the seats in both the House and the Senate and reached 61 percent of party identification in the electorate. Even after suffering major across-the-board losses in 1966, the Democrats’ majorities remained strong and secure.

      Under these conditions, Johnson had the luxury of looking beyond his...

    • 10 Alternative Priorities: Jimmy Carter
      (pp. 204-224)

      When Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Gerald Ford in the 1976 election, the Democratic Party held onto its strong majorities at all levels of government. With 292 House seats, sixty-one Senate seats, 68 percent of state legislative seats, thirty-eight governorships, and 52 percent party identification in the electorate, the Democratic Party was the undisputed majority party in American politics. Under these conditions, Carter perceived no need to build a new majority; he viewed his primary task as translating his party’s existing majorities into effective government action.

      During the eight years between Johnson’s presidency and Carter’s inauguration, “out-party” chairmen had done little...

    • 11 Culmination and Reversal: Bill Clinton
      (pp. 225-246)

      When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Democrats held almost 60 percent of House seats, fifty-seven Senate seats, 59 percent of state legislative seats, thirty governorships, and a twelve-point advantage over the Republicans in party identification. The competitive standing of the Democratic Party appeared, by these measures, to be only marginally weaker than it had been under Carter: its majorities seemed strong and secure. Under these conditions, Clinton had no reason to act any differently from his majority-party predecessors. Indeed, available evidence suggests that he did not. Like Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter before him, Clinton did not seek to build...

    • 12 Conclusion: Presidents, Parties, and the Political System
      (pp. 247-254)

      In the previous chapters, we have seen that every Republican president since Eisenhower worked to strengthen his party organization, while every Democratic president since Kennedy—until Clinton in his second term—neglected, exploited, or undercut his party’s organizational capacities. The best explanation for this variation in presidential behavior, I have argued, is that each president was responding to different challenges derived from his competitive political environment. With their party stuck in the perpetual minority, Republican presidents had a strong incentive to adopt a constructive approach toward their party organization; with deep and durable majorities, Democratic presidents perceived no pressing need...

  8. Afterword: George W. Bush and Beyond
    (pp. 255-262)

    From the 1950s until the 1990s, presidents had no trouble identifying which party represented the “majority party” in American politics. Democrats led in party identification in the electorate by a comfortable margin and controlled both houses of Congress, most state houses, and most governors’ mansions for nearly the entire time. Despite losing more presidential elections than they won, the Democrats’ advantage at the local, state, and congressional levels was strong and stable. As I have discussed, this durable competitive imbalance was of real consequence: it directly shaped how presidents from both parties pursued their ambitions.

    The 1994 elections destabilized this...

  9. Appendix: Methods and Sources
    (pp. 263-266)
  10. Abbreviations
    (pp. 267-268)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 269-328)
  12. Index
    (pp. 329-338)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-340)