Kabaservice’s “Rule and Ruin” is the better and more useful of the two books, because it is a thorough history of the evolution of the GOP from the Eisenhower years to the early 21st century, but “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism” contains a great deal of valuable information about who the tea partyers are and what they believe.
Moderate Republicans may not be extinct, but they clearly are endangered. It wasn’t so long ago that they were a crucial part of the political landscape. As Kabaservice says, “Moderate Republicans helped shape many of what are typically thought of as Democratic achievements, from certain Progressive and New Deal reforms to the architecture of the post-World War II global order and civil rights legislation.” Lyndon Johnson may get the credit for the great civil rights laws of the 1960s, but none of these would have passed without the support of such Republicans as Sens. Everett Dirksen and Clifford Case and Rep. William McCulloch, whose votes exceeded those of the Southern Democrats who united against the bills. Kabaservice is right to say: “If American politics can be compared to an ecosystem, then the disappearance of the moderate Republicans represents a catastrophic loss of species diversity.”
It is no small irony that, as Kabaservice points out, Republican support for the civil rights bills backfired, because their enactment enraged the white South and opened the way for the “Southern strategy” formulated by Kevin Phillips in “The Emerging Republican Majority” (1969) and pursued with surpassing cynicism by John Mitchell as he presided over the Republican midterm campaign of 1970 and the presidential campaign of 1972.
I was living in the upper South at the time and writing editorials for a newspaper of moderate inclinations, and I still remember with something akin to horror the manifold ways in which Mitchell and his henchmen played on the racial fears and animosities of white Southerners to herd them into the GOP, where they have remained ever since. Though Skocpol and Williamson bend over backward to give today’s tea partyers the benefit of the doubt on racial matters, they concede that “racially laden group stereotypes certainly did float in and out of [our] interviews, even when people never mentioned African-Americans directly.”
The evolution of the Republican Party to a point at which such views became tolerable, even politically useful, was slow and not without resistance. Among the best aspects of “Rule and Ruin” are its careful accounts of Advance, a magazine briefly published by young moderate Republicans in the early 1960s, and the Ripon Society, founded in 1962, which “in time would replace Advance as the most visible moderate Republican activist organization.” That society, which struggles on to this day, has frequently been vilified by ultra-conservatives as somehow disloyal to Republican principles, but it has been true to the tradition of Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and George H.W. Bush, all of them exemplars in different ways of the honorable tradition of moderate Republicanism.