I'm reading Craig Shirley's excellent account of the 1976 GOP Primaries and a window into the mind and spirit of Ronald Reagan. The book is entitled "Reagan's Revolution", and I can tell you already, it's going to be one of those books I highlight and dog-ear for reference again and again. My wife is already jealous of the book, because I'm giving it more attention than her (yeah, I'm working on improving that point). But the book also reminds me of a point too many political analysts forget,and which leads the unwary into naive assumptions; there are not two major political parties in the United States of America, but six.
Instead of clever graphs, detailed psychological consideration into the effects of events and figureheads, all you really need to do is just consider the six basic touchstones available to voters:
There are certain qualities which we have been brought up to attach to certain parties and groups, and there are certain qualities which are seen as limited to a certain type of mind. It occurs to me that most qualities exist in a sort of spectrum, with extremes on either end, and most of us just looking for the most pragmatic blend.
For example, I'm wordy as all get-out. That's my bad trait, insofar as I simply will not shut up. If you lock me in a room with a dog, I will start talking to the dog. If you give me a computer, I will blog. If you let me have paper and time and word processor, I will write. But, on the flip side, I am very good at making sure to communicate to people. My employees have never complained that I didn't tell them something they needed to know, or that I was not available for feedback and requests. A lot of us are like that I think; our worst flaw is also our best talent, if we can use it correctly.
The same thing happens with these traits. There needs to be a consensus about party leadership, for instance - too many wanna-be chiefs, and the party is fractured. Empire builders are the parasites present in every party, but sometimes in the short term you have to deal with the fact they have real power and must be dealt with on some level to get work done. Coalitions can be great or stupid depending on what is being given up to reach an agreement. A certain amount of Idealism is fine, but can't be taken to the extreme to deny or evade the real needs of people. And so on.
In Craig Shirley's book, part of the Reagan Revolution was simply the matter of Republicans deciding their identity and mission; the combination of accepting Reagan's Leadership and values for the GOP in whole, along with party unity, consensus on tactics for the sake of mission, and pragmatic Idealism.
Well, here we are in 2005, and the same challenge confronts the Republicans again. From time to time, the Republicans and Democrats have had to renew their mission and purpose; that's why they have managed to not die out as political parties usually do. The Democrats under Andy Jackson were different from the Democrats under James Buchanan, were different from the Democrats under Grover Cleveland, were different from the Democrats under FDR, were different from the Democrats under JFK, were different from the Democrats under Clinton. And similarly, the Republicans under Lincoln were different from the Republicans under Hayes, were different from the Republicans under Teddy Roosevelt, were different from the Republicans under Hoover, were different from the Republicans under Reagan, were different from today's Republicans. Different conditions, different crises, different dreams, different missions.
Any basic understanding of the players in our present day politics, depends on knowing their true allegiance.