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Can the GOP Replicate Nixon’s Resurrection?

One question I am asked while on tour for my new book, “The Greatest Comeback,” [1] on the resurrection of Richard Nixon, is: Does Nixon’s rise, from crushing defeats in 1960 and 1962, and the debacle his party suffered in 1964, to capturing the White House and beginning a string of five victories in six presidential elections, have relevance for today’s GOP?

Can the “Great Silent Majority” of yesteryear be replicated?

The answer is probably not. For while there are similarities between the America of 1968, and of today, the differences are greater.

The similarities: By the late 1960s, as today, the country was pivoting away from a Democratic Party and president that seemed incapable of mastering the crises of the times in which they lived. Then it was LBJ; today, Barack Obama.

In 1968, America turned to the GOP to manage a bloodier war than Iraq, that the Democratic Party could not win or end, and to cope with the social anarchy Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society seemed to have ushered in. And the party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan delivered — eventually — a successful conclusion to the Cold War that had been the unifying cause of that generation.

America is another country today.

The Cold War is over. The nation is no longer united on America’s role. A majority want out of the Middle East wars into which George W. Bush led the nation. And the GOP is itself, like the Democrats of 1968 over Vietnam, divided on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and how to deal with the challenges of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China.

While distrust of government has rarely been greater than today, it is also true that dependence upon government has never been greater. Tens of millions of families rely on the government as a primary source of income, food, health care, housing and other necessities of daily life. Government’s role in education has never been greater. A Republican Party that preaches an anti-Big Government gospel or a rollback of programs is unlikely to be warmly received by the scores of millions who depend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other social welfare benefits. Republican proposals to cut taxes on income, capital gains, estates, and inheritances are unlikely to win standing ovations from folks who pay no income taxes and have no estates or capital gains.


America is another country in other ways.

Nixon’s Silent Majority, which encompassed much of the Greatest Generation and of the Silent Generation born in the 1930s and during World War II, is passing on. And with a birth rate among the following generations below replacement levels for 40 years, the demography of America is markedly different from the days of Ike and JFK.

Newborns who trace their ancestry to Asia, Africa, and Latin America equal those babies born to white Americans today. And these minorities vote between 70 and 90 percent for Democrats in presidential races. Where the natural Democratic constituencies are growing as a share of the population, the natural Republican constituents — older, whiter, more religious — are declining in real and relative terms.

Moreover, the cultural revolution of the 1960s, against which Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew, inveighed so successfully, is now dominant in the arts, the academy and the media. George McGovern could not overcome the perception that he was the candidate of “acid, amnesty and abortion.” Since McGovern in 1972, abortion has become a constitutional right and is championed by half of America as “freedom of choice.” And while “acid,” or LSD, is little heard of, legalizing marijuana is a popular cause, and not only among the young.

As for amnesty, that was granted to the Vietnam-era draft-evaders by Gerald Ford. Three million illegal aliens were given amnesty by Ronald Reagan. Now, Big Business, Big Labor, the churches, the Hispanic community, the Democratic Party and a slice of the GOP are all calling for amnesty for the 12-20 million illegal aliens in the country.

Wherein lies the Republican opportunity? It resides in a political reality that was present in 1968 as well.

Even if the country was not wildly enthusiastic about Richard Nixon that year, America knew the Johnson administration was failing, that it was devoid of ideas, that in that year of turmoil, 1968 — a year of assassinations, war, riots, and social revolution, and a Democratic Party that could not hold itself together, let alone the country — we needed new leadership. We needed new ideas.

America is approaching a similar point now. And therein lies the Republican Party’s last best chance to be entrusted with national power. The GOP needs to offer a credible alternative to a party, a president, and a political philosophy, that seem everywhere to be failing the nation.

Nixon did it in 1968, to the amazement of even some of his friends. Can the GOP replicate 1966 and 1968, in 2014 and 2016?

The answer to that question will determine our future.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.” [1] Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

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#1 Comment By balconesfault On July 11, 2014 @ 7:00 am

Even if the country was not wildly enthusiastic about Richard Nixon that year, America knew the Johnson administration was failing, that it was devoid of ideas, that in that year of turmoil, 1968 — a year of assassinations, war, riots, and social revolution, and a Democratic Party that could not hold itself together, let alone the country — we needed new leadership. We needed new ideas.

America is approaching a similar point now.

Not so much. Granted, the conservatives in America will never allow themselves to be led by a black Democrat in the White House … and granted that even when he proffers centrist or even conservative ideas as a way of achieving his policy goals (eg – mandates and tax credits to expand private insurance coverage … market based pollution trading aka Cap and Trade for environmental control … tax incentives to stimulate economic growth) the GOP has been rejecting them out of hand.

But it is clearly the GOP that has no ideas other than “reject what Obama and the Dems are proposing” … and “leaders” who try to establish their bona fides primarily by the degree to which they are willing to reject what Obama and the Dems are proposing.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that in 1968 the country could look back to the last GOP President as a man who largely led the country in a positive direction. Right now, the GOP is stuck looking back to 1992, or perhaps 1988, for the last GOP President who wasn’t a wrecking ball. And for all the rhetoric of today’s Republicans, their leaders are still a lot closer to GW Bush than to GHW Bush or Ronald Reagan in temperament and ideology.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 11, 2014 @ 7:57 am

The Republicans need to recapture the concept of “The Common Good.” Eisehower did this, with the interstate highway system, which benefited everyone. Our infrastructure is crumbling, especially in the Northeast, and needs massive repairs. This would be of benefit to the common good, but the Republicans will of course, oppose it. It seems that the only things that we get from the Republican Party today, are calls for tax cuts for the rich and gay bashing. We let the billionaires and the bible thumpers take over the party. The current powers that be are people like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other ranting idiots. No thanks.

#3 Comment By collin On July 11, 2014 @ 8:51 am

What are other differences of 1968 to 2014?

Probably the main difference of 1968 to 2014 is most social issues outside of single motherhood are improving and getting better. Crime is way down, the country has not had race riots or political assassinations for decades. Despite less gun control laws, a smaller percentage of the population has less guns and murder rates are reaching historic lows. Even hard drug usage continues to decrease despite states legalizing marijuana. On the global stage, people killed from foreign and civil is also at historic lows and there is no Cold War. The main economic problem is there is a global glut in labor which will pass evidently.

In all reality, if you mentioned all these items to people in 1968, they would have thought 2014 populations lived in a better world.

#4 Comment By Mr. Patrick On July 11, 2014 @ 10:57 am

The Eisenhower Administration gave the American people every reason to believe the GOP was a credible alternative to the Kennedy/Johnson years. For all the talk of W. nostalgia and young amnesiac voters, who really sees 2005 as a Golden Age besides mortgage processors and Dick Cheney?

#5 Comment By gntr On July 11, 2014 @ 11:30 am

Wow, talk about an anticlimactic ending!
Pat, what are your suggestions?

#6 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 11, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

The trouble with this is, the last thing the Tea Party in the US wants is the Silent Majority to wake up and vote. The Tea Party isn’t in the position of Nixon; they’re in the position of McGovern.

The Silent Majority, these days, thinks the Tea Party are a bunch of loons, every bit as much as they silent majorities in 1968 and 1972 thought the hippies and McGovernites were.

The silent majority supports same-sex marriage, contraceptives, isn’t overtly hostile to the welfare state, and considers the histrionics of the religious right to be fatuous nonsense.

The GOP may well pick up seats this November, but that outcome requires the Silent Majority to stay silent, and stay home on election day, leaving the vote to be determined by activists.

If turnout this November is anything resembling turnout for a presidential election, the GOP may well lose seats. Certainly quite a few “safe” GOP seats appear to be in play (Kentucky, Georgia, and even Mississippi).

#7 Comment By Niels Hoogeveen On July 11, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

Nixon’s election in 1968 fits well with a reaction against the counter-culture of the day. Even though that counter-culture received much attention in that era, it was relatively small compared to the rest of the nation that didn’t necessarily feel attracted to it.

On top of that, the civil rights legislation pushed by Johnson, and the war in Vietnam made the Democrats an unattractive option.

Reagan was even better equipped to take advantage of these sentiments, essentially railing against the silly ideas of the left.

Now, some forty years later, society is more or less absorbing some of the demands of that counter culture. Acceptance of homosexuality is no longer confined to a niche, but has mainstream appeal. The opposition against marijuana is fading away. Being opposed to unnecessary wars doesn’t necessarily equate being unpatriotic.

The Republican party over the last 40 years has been successful putting cultural issues on the agenda and win elections that way, but they have only been able to delay the cultural transformation, not stop it from happening.

Society at large, took from the 1960s what was useful and reasonable and discarded the extremes.

During the Reagan years many constituents had grown up in era where sexuality let alone homosexuality was not talked about, where the use of drugs was outside their worldview for many, and where not having religion was unthinkable for large part of society.

For nearly everyone under the age of 50 the world of their youth was very different. Sexuality has been part of discourse throughout their lives. The fact that people have sex before marriage has not been a secret for the generations born since the mid-1960s.

Homosexuality may not necessarily be accepted by all under 50, but it has not been hidden for most throughout their lives.

There are also very few under the age of 50 who have not been exposed to drugs, and with that many know the difference between occasional recreational use and out-of-control substance abuse. For people under 50, drugs are much less demonic than to generations that never were exposed to it in their youth.

Despite fierce attempts, the genie cannot be put in the bottle again.

If Republicans want to regain ground based on cultural issues, they will have to accept the realities of the 21st century.

The idea that we can undo the cultural development of the past 50 years was foolish all the time, but is even ridiculously foolish in this day and age.

Culturally, the Republican party will have to transform from a party that says no to certain developments to a party that is cautious about developments.

Instead of trying to make abortion illegal, move to a policy where abortion is needed less often, to a policy where we work towards the reduction of teen-pregnancy.

Policies that are against abortion, against contraception and against sexual eduction leave no room for improvement and are more and more seen as causing problems as a means to be punitive.

Opposition to gay rights also makes Republicans come off as only mean, and in that sense again, demographics are not on their side.

Sustaining a policy of locking people up for the possession of small amounts of marijuana is another case of meanness.

Generations above the age of 50 may make less of a distinction between toughness and meanness than generations under the age of 50.

I think very few are opposed to an appeal of a certain toughness, and there seems to be a general respect for people that demonstrate a level of toughness, but when toughness no longer equates with meanness then some things that masqueraded as toughness are now seen as meanness, a much less appreciated quality.

Most Republican policies are viewed as mean by a significant portion of society, not only on social issues, but also in the economical realm.

There is very little in Republican rhetoric that unnerves the notion that Republicans want to benefit the well off at the expense of the rest.

Income tax cuts for the rich, reduction of capital gains tax, introduction of a flat tax, reduction of unemployment benefits, opposition to minimum wages, all can easily be perceived as an attempt to transfer wealth from the bottom of the income pyramid to the top.

All that leaves the Republican party in a tough situation. President Obama may not be popular, but I can’t think of any Republican coming even close.

It’s sad it has come this way. In a world that is and always will be in a flux, it is important to have a force of caution, a force that doesn’t buy into what is fashionable today. Unfortunately the Republican party is not willing to accept the mantle of caution and keeps moving towards ever more reactionary goals.

#8 Comment By Roland Kayser On July 11, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

Eisenhower and Nixon understood something that today’s Republicans seem to have forgotten: To have a stable society, working people need to be able to earn a decent living. The Republican answer to all economic issues is tax cuts, less regulation, and more free trade. We have been pursuing these policies for thirty-five years now and conditions for working class Americans just keep getting worse.

#9 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 11, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

There was another dynamic at work then, and at work now. Nixon and the GOP benefited from an influx of former Democrats displaced by a counterculture that was foreign to them. As the rowdy left made inroads into the Democratic party, more conventional Democrats found a new home with the more mature-acting GOP.

This time around, the GOP has ingested a counterculture of its own. While reform is badly needed, much of the new crew’s actions are destabilizing and un-businesslike. They insist on one-play touchdowns instead of advancing the ball ten or twenty yards at a time.

And on the other hand we have the crony machine foisting the sons of princes on us; that doesn’t work either; putative Romney voters styed home in record numbers in 2012.

I don’t know if the GOP can make a Nixon style comeback this time. The old machine is corrupt but still powerful and the newcomers are largely incompetent. The one thing they have in common is that with few exceptions they believe in Empire.

The only chance I see for them is if they abandon that last part. I’m not holding my breath.

#10 Comment By Rachmiel Ariel On July 11, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

The difference between now and then?

Then: Martin Luther King argued that his natural, creator given, inalienable rights, guaranteed for all Americans by the Constitution, were being violated. He did not argue his case on the basis of skin color, he made it instead on the fact that he is a man, a human being. The court ruled in his favor!

Now: After King’s assassination, however, things changed. The civil rights movement was hijacked. It became radicalized. No longer was it a struggle for rights as human beings, guaranteed by law under the Constitution; rather, now it became a movement for Black rights, Women’s rights, Chicano rights, Native American rights, homosexual rights, disabled persons rights, and on and on. As a result, truth was now interpreted to be a relative thing. Inalienable natural rights via the Constitution were to no longer be the condition for a free society; rather, the “fallacy of unification in the relativism of truth” became the new morality. “Openness and the relativism that makes it” became the only position in the plethora of vacuous claims to truth. It became the only acceptable virtue. The person who knows what he believes and why he believes it now became society’s real danger. “The mistakes of the past became meaningless and society’s highest appetition was to produce a mindset of even more openness.” Consequently, the person not agreeable to everything now became the enemy. “Instinct and intellect were suppressed with the natural soul replaced by an artificial one.” Fanaticism was given “special rights and attention” for its “commitment” and “intensity.” Assaulting the majority became commonplace and acceptable.

Over the years it became obvious that the supporters of openness never had a place in their worldview for Constitutional democracy in the United States of America. As time moves on, it becomes even more obvious that they never will.

Read Allan Bloom for more details.

#11 Comment By RadicalCenter On July 11, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

Roland: the level of regulation has certainly not gone down, and I doubt that the total tax burden gone down for about the top half of income earners, over the period you’re talking about.

But “free trade”, yeah they’ve stuck to that like a religion while it eviscerates our manufacturing and assembly base and forces American workers to compete with people earning several dollars per day and working in factories which lack rigorous environmental and safety regulations to say the least. Agree with you there.

A GOP which stood for free enterprise (not crony capitalism), a strong military sparingly used, tax reduction overall but elimination of favoritism for the rich, tolerance (including the removal of the federal government from involvement in “laws” regarding marriage and marijuana) — that’s a GOP which could win back the hearts and votes of younger people, and middle-class and aspiring-to-be-middle-class people more broadly.

#12 Comment By RadicalCenter On July 11, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

The GOP ought to support “Less welfare, More Reward for Work”: reduce welfare but raise the minimum wage to reward people who work and try to support themselves and their families.

To be practical and try not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg — something the Dems usually don’t seem to care about — let’s lower taxes on individuals (since many small businesses pay tax at individual rates) and small corporations to offset the cost of the higher minimum wage.

#13 Comment By tz On July 11, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

Only by reclaiming their pawned soul from wall street and the other crony (anti-)capitalists.

I won’t hold my breath as the leadership would need to be waterboarded to lose the addiction.

The TARParty? The lets police the world for free, build war-toys that are combat useless, and find worse horrors for the TSA to do party?

#14 Comment By JonF On July 11, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

The GOP so far offers nothing but warmed-over Bushism with a cup of tea. Proposals for a worker-friendly Republicanism, by pundits like Douthat and Salam (and some also on these pages), have been received with all the warmth of a vagabond at a debutante ball.
Until the GOP can chuck the Bush presidency overboard and stop being Every CEO’s Lapdog, they will win no new hearts andm inds.

#15 Comment By Lloyd Conway On July 12, 2014 @ 11:17 am

Once, while watching the last of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies with my children, I thought of the GOP’s predicament when Elrod told Aragorn that he needed more troops. We don’t have an army of the dead to call into service, but perhaps this time we can use a crisis to our advantage. The abandonment of our border, the aggressive push to codify same-sex ‘marriage’ and the spectra of ISIS and others hostile to us on the march might allow for the creation of a coalition that can win. the elements:
1.) Veterans. While benefits are generous today, on paper, at least, the VA scandal exposes the gap between promises and reality. Addressing these issues credibly, along with offering a platform that advocates the use of military power only when in America’s interest, might have appeal. (Ron Paul’s popularity among military members demonstrates some of the potential here.)
2.) There are only a couple of significant populations of religious conservatives who do not vote Republican – Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Amish. While getting leaders or laity of either group to even consider entering an arena that they consider to be tainted is a stretch, the spectra of being forced to give up their way of life by a government that is already making concerted efforts to marginalize traditional morality might be enough to wake them up to their own peril. If such an outreach produces nothing, nothing but the effort is lost. If it bears fruit, the 2,000,0000 Americans these two groups encompass ought to be worth enough votes to put a few states where they live in the greatest number in play.
3.) Arab-American Christians or the Jewish community ought to be natural GOP voters. If Republicans continue to support Israel without receiving, from those who view it as a primary issue, their electoral support, then, in terms only of naked political calculus, why continue to do so? If the Jewish vote cannot be successfully wooed, then appealing to Arab Christians (‘Chaldeans’ and others) with a policy that is supportive of their interests would add votes, at least in my native Michigan, where their community is substantial.
4.) South Asians should be attracted to a party that boasts Bobby Jhindal and Nikki Haley. Their general cultural conservatism, focus on education, entrepreneurship and achievement make them seem like a logical group to woo.
5.) Disaffected ex-Republicans (like myself) who haven’t supported the party in years might respond to a candidate offering a serious, adult, alternative to the Democrats. Another RINO or someone who functions at the Hannity level of consciousness won’t do it.

All of the above is nothing more than the Saturday morning musings of a social studies teacher who has never managed a campaign and should be taken as such. I hope that Pat Buchanan is right and that a winning coalition is still possible, but each passing year makes the emergence of one that would be identifiably conservative ever-less likely. Perhaps, if, God forbid, things get bad enough, we’ll have a crisis to take advantage of that will make such a coalition come into being.

#16 Comment By Chris 1 On July 12, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

1968 was entirely different from 2014 or 2016. The nation is not facing race riots, we do not have college students protesting in the streets, we do not have young people being drafted to die in a senseless war.

It’s important, too, to remember that Lyndon Johnson could not/would not be nominated for re-election by the Democrats in 1968, that the Chicago Convention was a disaster, and still Hubert Humphrey lost to Nixon by less than 1% of the national vote.

Today we have a GOP that spends more time running against the GOP than it spends governing, and more time running against Obama than it does the first two combined.

It is difficult to see how the GOP can “Resurrect” itself until it puts credible policy first and its faith in political mischief last. Nixon did not run on his 1960 platform in 1968, the GOP surely cannot run on its 1980 platform in 2016. Nixon understood that the world had changed in 8 years, the GOP doesn’t seem to understand how much it has changed in 36 years.

#17 Comment By Ali Husain On July 13, 2014 @ 3:30 am

Where is the country failing?

This is set to be the year with the highest number of jobs created since the Clinton years. The health care seems to be pretty successful with big declines in the number of people without health insurance and the cost of healthcare.

Moreover Obama has prevented us from getting further entangled in new foreign adventures in Russia and the Middle east as either McCain or Romney would have done.

It is very difficult to see why Pat Buchanan is pining for the return of a Republican President after the horrors visited upon us by the last one.

#18 Comment By Tim D. On July 13, 2014 @ 11:46 pm

The GOP up to the late 1970s supported unionization, universal healthcare, advocated drug treatment for addicts, gun control, civil rights, pro-choice, etc.

Today’s GOP? They hate workers, oppose healthcare beyond their base, think drug addicts ought to be locked up indefinitely, oppose commonsense gun regulation (e.g. universal background checks), think racial prejudice no longer exists, pro-life, etc. Heck, Nixon would be considered a hardcore leftist by today’s standards just for advocating gun control and universal healthcare.

Perhaps the starkest, most subtle change is how scientists once leaned to the GOP. [2], Nixon won the votes of 31% of physicists, 42% of biologists, 52% of geologists, and 62% of agricultural scientists (compared with 43.4% of the popular vote). This suggests that the scientific community of the late 1960s was much more evenly divided between the two major parties than it is now, and, with the exception of physicists, slightly more conservative than the average voter.

Today? How many scientists support the GOP? [3]. And no, there’s no rounding error.

Today’s GOP is composed of nutjobs, racists, and ideological zealots. Sane conservatives jumped ship years ago. Thinking the current GOP have learned from their disastrous mistakes is delusional. The GOP have been making the same mistake for 20+ years now and counting. God forbid they go over the deep end and do something like tank the economy (again!) by reneging on the debt ceiling.

#19 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 14, 2014 @ 9:35 am

A winning coalition may be possible, however that coalition must be more inclusive and include people other than billionaires and religious right nut jobs.

The GOP gets whiter and righter every election cycle. I would not be surprised to see the keynote speaker at the 2016 GOP National Convention to be some snake handling preacher from West Virginia, who froths at the mouth and spouts gibberish, while brandishing a rattlesnake.

The GOP needs to stop catering to kooks and pick up the idea of the common good.

#20 Comment By david helveticka On July 14, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

There are two parties in the US, but really only one ideology; on the Democrat side, it’s “neoliberalism”, and on the Republican side, it’s “neo-conservativism”.

Both are really the same thing with different nuances. They both stand up for the CEO classes—remember James Burnham’s book, “The Managerial REvolution”, in which CEOs and technicrats control capital, entrepreneurs like Henry Ford or George Eastman or Thomas Edison. Unlike the old entrepreneurs, these guys don’t really care about American workers, embrace globalism, and don’t give a damn about Judeo-Christian morality.

The CEO classes also like big government and regulations and laws which benefit them at the expense of small businesses. They like bailouts and subsidies too.

And they also like Big Military and military interventionism to protect the “New World Order” in which they are “free” to export jobs to the lowest, poorest countries with the cheapest labor cost to exploit. Remember Orville Norquist even admits there is a difference between “free trade” and labor arbitrage.

Democrats give lip service to the “middle class”, but are more likely to give trivial handouts to citizens who hurt the most by the new CEO vision of a “New World Order”.

The other thing is the change in culture. The 60’s and 70’s counterculture that Nixon and the Republicans used to leverage for votes is now the MAINSTREAM culture. So Obama and the Dcmocrats can distract the public from their economic and military policies (which nearly are the same views as the Republicans anyway), and leverage the old countercultural issues like gay marriage, and curtailing expressions of religion in the public, women’s rights/feminism and so on. Republicans can’t get votes by talking morality when the moral center of the US has shifted away from the JudeoChristian ethic.

Which suits the CEO classes just fine.

#21 Comment By BD On July 14, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

1968 to 2016 is a very apples to oranges comparison. Sure, there are a lot more entitlements these days, and we’re a far more racially mixed, multicultural country now. Those things would seem to disfavor the GOP, at least as it is now (with difficulty appealing to nonwhites, and campaigning against entitlements or at least being perceived as doing so).

But we’re also at a point where labor unions are far more marginalized and have far fewer tools than at any time since the New Deal, and the South is far more Republican than it was in 1968. Nixon and Humphrey ran under very different issues than the ones politicians face today–tax cuts were not a major issue back then, and the GOP was not yet the tax cutting party (in fact the Democrats had cut tax rates from the Eisenhower years). “Social issues” meant crime and busing, rather than abortion and gay rights.

Whether the GOP can make a big comeback will have more to do with how the party adjusts to a changing electorate and new challenges facing the country. People all across the income spectrum are less secure in their jobs than in recent years, and the younger generation is facing mounting personal (and public) debt. Can the GOP offer a program that adequately addresses these issues? If not, the Dems will sure take their shot.