I remember sitting in a hotel lobby after the Reagan landslide in 1980 and watching one liberal Democrat after another going down in defeat. It was a good feeling, but I knew it wouldn’t last. It wouldn’t be long before the GOP establishment would co-opt the Regan Revolution.
By 1988, the warm glow of Reagan’s trouncing of Jimmy Carter and a near sweep of all 50 states against Walter Mondale in 1984 dimmed to a burned out cinder when Vice President George H. W. Bush started his presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis.
Bush was far behind Dukakis after the Democrat convention in late July. The following material is taken from Pat Buchanan’s fascinating book Suicide of a Superpower (2011):
Bush and campaign chief Lee Atwater turned a 17-point deficit on August 1 into an 8-point lead by Labor Day that Bush never lost. How did they effect a 25-point turnaround in five weeks? They eviscerated Michael Dukakis on social and cultural issues: specifically, Dukakis’s veto of a bill that mandated recitation of the pledge of allegiance in schools, his opposition to the death penalty, his pride in being “a card-carrying member of the ACLU,” and his weekend furloughs for convicts and killers like Willie Horton.
In a word, they appealed to the conservative base in America, a majority of the population that is denigrated by liberals and dismissed by establishment Republicans. The results told the tale of the strategy: Bush 53.4%, Dukakis 45.7%.
Like a football team that tries to protect its lead rather than staying aggressive, President Bush “recoiled from social and cultural issues and sought to win on foreign policy and the economy, where his approval rating was only 16 percent. The social issues could have derailed Clinton, which is why James Carville told the War Room to stay laser-focused: ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ Bush and James Baker seemed to think social and cultural issues beneath the dignity of a president. So it was that George H. W. Bush ceased to be president.”
It didn’t help that Bush broke his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge. It’s the economy (no new taxes, cut existing taxes, and cut spending) and cultural issues that energize conservatives.
The Reagan and Bush presidencies were sabotaged by Republican insiders who had no regard for conservative values. It was economic adviser Richard Darman who opposed the no new taxes pledge and was also one of the architects of Reagan’s 1982 tax increase.
Buchanan continues with his sweep of how the GOP loses elections by a consideration of the younger Bush:
Under Bush II, the GOP sought to broaden its base by pandering to liberal minorities at the expense of its base. In July 2005, Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, traveled to the NAACP convention in Milwaukee to apologize for a Southern Strategy that from 1968 to 1988 produced five GOP victories in six presidential elections and two forty-nine-state landslides.
Did Mehlman’s apology net any more Black votes? It did not.
I’ve lived in the South (Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia) since the mid-1970s. It’s more racially diverse than many states up North. The South is not a monolithic culture. Many northerners moved south to get away from union shop labor, high taxes, high prices, and cold winters. Having grown up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the South is more racially integrated than most northern cities. How many recall the busing controversy in Boston and how the Boston Red Sox were one of the last Major League baseball teams to integrate? Like the South, Northern cities have their racial issues.
For more than a decade Boston’s school system was degraded by violence, hatred and a breakdown of education. The results of this struggle for equality were not lasting. As late as 1989 Boston’s School Committee continued to circumvent racial balance regulations. . . . In the 2003–2004 school year the majority of black and Latino students in Boston attended schools that were on average approximately 10 percent white. In addition to this, in 2003 of all the Boston schools found to be struggling and in need of “corrective action,” 90 percent were non-white. While white flight certainly accounts for much of this “resegregation,” it was also found that since 1999 white students had attended schools that had become progressively whiter every year (source).
Blacks have been duped into believing that confiscatory taxing policies and wealth redistribution – the basis of Democrat political strategy to garner the minority vote – will increase their economic fortunes. Consistent conservative economic policies run contrary to what Blacks have been used to in the Democrat Party. Until Blacks realize that what the Democrats have been offering is a fool’s errand, there is no way to appeal to the majority of Black voters.
A month after Mehlman’s apology, Katrina struck, and some in the black community charged that Bush had failed to act swiftly to rescue New Orleans because most of the victims were black. Bush had won 9 percent of the black vote in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004. He saw his approval among African Americans plunge to 2 percent.
Mehlman did no better when in 2006 the GOP lost both houses of Congress. In 2008, McCain lost the African-American vote 24–1.
Mehlman was a liberal mole masquerading as a conservative. “In 2010, Ken Mehlman came out of the closet and went to work in support of same-sex marriage.” Mehlman reached out to so-called conservative donors in an effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York.
Like George H. W. Bush in 1992, “McCain recoiled from cultural and social issues” in the 2008 election and got walloped by Obama. Of course, there wasn’t much any Republican could do against Obama considering the disaster the Bush presidency was. The conservative base had been ignored and pushed to the side in the belief that the winning strategy was to appeal to moderates and independents. Where else could conservatives go? They stayed home.
It remains to be seen if the GOP has learned anything from this history. Historian Eugene Genovese “once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe.” Big mistake, as George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain can attest.