Saturday, December 15, 2007

Donald Critchlow's "The Conservative Ascendancy"

Donald T. Critchlow is Professor of History at Saint Louis University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History, and reported the following:
Nixon, Wallace, and the Election of 1972

Richard Nixon was a masterful politician and he feared that a third party run by George Wallace in 1972 might cost him the reelection to the presidency. In 1968, Wallace had run on the American Independent party ticket, which attracted less-educated white voters, who shouted with rollicking enthusiasm at his attacks on pointy-headed intellectuals, government bureaucrats, black militants, hippies, welfare mothers, and “bearded anarchists.” In 1968 Wallace carried five Southern states, while winning 13. 5 percent of the vote.

Early polls in 1972 revealed that Nixon’s reelection was by no means certain. Furthermore, Nixon realized that many conservatives in his own party were upset with his expansion of the welfare and regulatory state. He set out to force Wallace to run in the Democratic primaries.

To accomplish his ends, Nixon pressed the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Wallace and several of his aides in Alabama. After one of Wallace’s closest aide was sent to prison, it looked like Wallace’s brother Gerald would be next. Shortly after John Mitchell announced in January 1972 that the government would not pursue its prosecution of Gerald Wallace, George Wallace announced he would run as a Democrat and not as a third-party candidate.

Nixon displayed similar hardball tactics against his Democratic opponent George McGovern in the general election. Without Wallace in the general election, Nixon carried every one of the thirteen states of the formerly solid Democratic South. Nixon swamped McGovern winning 60 percent of the popular vote and carrying every state but Massachusetts.

Nixon’s tactics won him reelection, but Watergate caught up to him. In August 1974, he resigned from office. Following Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974, Gerald Ford stepped into the White House, an accident of politics. The Watergate scandal left Republicans demoralized and conservatives isolated. Less than 20 percent of the electorate in 1974 declared itself Republican and many spoke the Republican party going the way of the Whig party. Conservatives within the GOP stood as a minority within a very minority party.
Learn more about The Conservative Ascendancy at the Harvard University Press website and more about Donald Critchlow's scholarly publications at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue