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In 1964 the Republican moderates suffered a major defeat when Barry Goldwater of Arizona electrified the Republican Right at the party’s national convention with the words “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice,” and won the party’s nomination for president. Lyndon Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election, however, and Richard Nixon, who won the Republican nomination in 1968, governed as a moderate Republican, and actually expanded the welfare state that his predecessor had expanded in the Great Society programme. But in both 1968 and 1972, Nixon pursued a “southern strategy” of “law and order” that was intended to appeal to southern whites who resented the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which the Congress passed the following year. It was a strategy that, modified for the circumstances of the early 21st century, Donald Trump would employ in his own successful election campaign.

Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, was also closer to the moderate branch of the party; indeed, he named Nelson Rockefeller, the quintessential Republican moderate and leader of the so-called “Rockefeller Republicans”, as his Vice President. Ford was able to beat back a challenge from Ronald Reagan, the new darling of the conservatives, at the 1976 Republican convention; but it was Reagan who won the nomination four years later and then defeated Jimmy Carter for the presidency.

Ronald Reagan was initially perceived as a “cowboy” whose Cold War rhetoric would precipitate a world war with the Soviet Union. Reagan certainly did not shy away from public criticism of the Soviets — “tear down that wall” became a Western watchword. He advocated a significant increase in defence spending, in contrast to Jimmy Carter’s grudging acceptance of the need to shore up what was widely perceived as a neglect of the armed forces, especially their readiness. Reagan articulated many of the values that contrasted with the mores of the later Sixties and Seventies, including opposition to abortion and support for prayer in the public schools. He also declared that government was the problem, asserting that an overgrown government, propped up by excessive taxes, was riddled with waste and was undermining an economy that was suffering from stagflation.

Reagan proved to be a far more practical chief executive than his rhetoric implied and his enemies asserted. He did indeed authorise significant increases in defence spending as well as bolder naval operations that helped convince the Soviets that they could never win a hot war, or, for that matter the Cold War. He was a strong believer in America’s allies, and worked with his Nato partners to install Pershing missiles and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles in Europe to offset Soviet deployment of intermediate range missiles. Yet he was also prepared to negotiate with the Soviets, and his cruise missile and Pershing decisions laid the groundwork for the INF Treaty that eliminated such missiles from the continent. He also undertook what became the Start Treaty, which went beyond limiting the number of strategic nuclear warheads to actually reducing them.
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untenured
October 5th, 2018
10:10 AM
Let's pretend the U.S. political system is not a kleptocracy that values its gerontocracy above all. The stench of corruption pervades every process. Rotten to the core, but not a cause for concern.

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