As the white flag rises above Republican redoubts, offering a surrender on taxes, the mind goes back to what seemed a worse time for conservatives: December 1964.
Barry Goldwater had suffered a defeat not seen since Alf Landon. Republicans held less than one-third of the House and Senate and only 17 governorships. The Warren Court was remaking America.
In the arts, academic and entertainment communities, and national press corps, conservatives were rarely seen or heard. It was Liberalism’s Hour, with America awash in misty memories of Camelot and great expectations of the Great Society to come in 1965.
That year, however, saw escalation in Vietnam, campus protests, and civil disobedience against the war. That August, there exploded the worst race riot in memory in the Watts section of Los Angeles, with arson, looting, the beating of whites, and sniper attacks on cops and firemen.
A year after LBJ’s triumph, black militants and white radicals were savaging the Liberal Establishment from the left, while Gov. George Wallace had come north in 1964 to win a third of the vote in the major Democratic primaries with an assault from the populist right.
Below the surface, the Democratic Party was disintegrating on ethnic, cultural and political lines. Law and order and Vietnam were the issues. Richard Nixon would see the opening and seize the opportunity to dismantle FDR’s coalition and cobble together his New Majority.
Today, the GOP strength in the House, Senate and governorships is far greater than anything Republicans had in the 1960s. The difference is that, then, we could visualize a new majority of centrist Republicans, Goldwater conservatives, Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant Democrats.
And we could see the issues that might bring them into the tent: a new Supreme Court, law and order, peace with honor in Vietnam.
When the Liberal Establishment collapsed during the 1960s, unable to end the war in Vietnam or the war in the streets, national leadership passed to the party of Nixon and Ronald Reagan. From 1968 to 1988, the GOP won five of six presidential elections, two of them in 49-state landslides.
The crisis of the GOP today is demographic, cultural and political.
Demographically, people of color are nearing 40 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of the electorate. These folks—85 to 90 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal—are growing in number. And in 2012, people of color voted for Obama 4 to 1.
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