Those Rich, Crazy Americans

Reacting to the contrast between Karl Rove‘s purported campaign strategy of emphasizing “terrorism and turnout” and Brad DeLong‘s hope that the GOP will begin “building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward,” Kevin Drum responds,

Over the past 30 years the Republican Party has gone from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney — i.e., from conservative to reactionary to crazy to batshit insane — and Rove’s “two T’s” are further evidence that they have no intention of rowing this back. They’re obviously getting more desperate in the face of possible electoral defeat this November, but other than that they’re just doubling down on the same old strategy of cultural bloodletting in the service of economic plutocracy.

And, yet, these guys continue to win elections. Clearly, they are either the most clever marketers of all time or the plurality of Americans are now batshit insane and filthy stinking rich.

Let’s recap.

Gerald Ford: Narrowly lost “re”-election despite Watergate, having pardoned a man who was at the time more hated than Hitler, a lousy economy with runaway inflation, and being perhaps the least suitable major party nominee for the television age ever. The man who beat him, Jimmy Carter, was much more socially conservative, wearing his born-again Christianity on his sleeve.

Ronald Reagan: Won two landslide victories, 44 states to 6+DC and 49 states to 1+DC. Given the high misery index in 1980, it certainly wasn’t the plutocrats. Clearly, then, a reactionary wave had spread across the land.

Newt Gingrich: Engineered the first Republican takeover of the House in 42 years, with a net gain of 54 seats. The GOP still controls the House 12 years later. The economy rebounded mightily during the Reagan years and was doing pretty well during the early Clinton years, too. Probably, then, it was a combination of the rise of the plutocracy and general craziness that explains this.

Dick Cheney really hasn’t been the face of the GOP, since he’s the backup QB. Still, he was part of a ticket that narrowly won an Electoral College victory six years ago and again two years ago. Probably, the bubble bursting weakened the hold of the plutocracy, what with them having so much of their money in stocks.

Interestingly, the two national elections that the GOP has lost during this period were with comparatively moderate (or, on the Drum scale, “conservative to reactionary”) candidates, George H.W. Bush (who got beaten by the more conservative Reagan in the 1980 primaries and then ably served as his Veep for eight years before winning a term of his own) and Bob Dole (Ford’s erstwhile running mate). How much of that was a reflection Bill Clinton’s political gifts and how much of it was a temporary waning of the nation’s plutocratic impulse and thirst for cultural bloodletting, it’s hard to say.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. andrew says:

    Are there any sane Left wing bloggers out there? Early on when I first discovered blogging I tried to give the Left a chance but it was all too silly or in some cases deranged.

  2. What strikes me is how wrong the left was on the cold war, then how they are making the same mistakes in the war on terror. You may not like the party Cheney represents. You may disagree with decisions this administration has made. But to characterize Cheney as “batshit insane” suggests a severe case of BDS that is clouding your judgement.

  3. But now that Pluto is no longer planet, does it really make sense to speak of “plutocracy”?

  4. lily says:

    It has been a case of successful marketing, a case that is coming unravelled. Very few people vote Republican because they support the kind of laws and policies that Republicans advocate. Republicans get elected by avoiding discussion of issues and marketing to emotional appeals.
    Issue by issue, as measured by opinion polls, the public is aligned with Democrats. That’s issues like abortion, environmental laws and policies, even various options for Iraq.

    The public definitely didn’t vote Republican because they wanted massive white collar crime, tax cuts for the super rich, and the imposition of extremist religious restrictions of individuals and government decisions. If asked, most Americans would have declined the opportunity to invade a country that did not have WMD’s and did not have connections to terrorism under the theory that upsetting the status quo in the Middle East would, after years of war, lend to a positive outcome someday.

    Remember Terri Schiavo? Ol’ Bushtwit comes flying to DC thinking that he has a chance for a public display of religiosity, then hops on the plane to fly back home when it turns out that most Americans were offended by the actions of Congressional Republicans. Remember what happened to “reforming” Social Security? Offended by the actions of Republicans is exactly what happens when people see past the slogans to Republican policies.

    And as for the Republicans not being sold out to cranks and criminals: Burns, Tancred, Pombo, Mean Jean, Santorum, Allen, Ted Stevens, Sali, Talent, DeLay, Ney, Cunningham,…that’s all off the top of my head in the morning before my second cup of coffee.

  5. So Dick Cheney is batshit insane. This is what passes for serious political commentary from Mr. Drum.


  6. anjin-san says:

    Well, it was about 15 months ago that Mr. Cheney, the Vice-President of the US, who supposedly should know a few things, told us that the Iraq insurgency was in “its last throes”.

    So what is it? Is he batshit? Just stupid? Ignorant? Delusional? Uniformed? Or just a liar?

  7. Triumph says:

    Won two landslide victories,

    The 1980 election was not a “landslide”–Reagan only won 50.7% of the popular vote.

  8. Mike says:

    My question is why should anyone care or even pay attention to what Drum or any other Leftist has to say about anything?
    It seems to me that even bothering to critique their lunacy lends an air of credibility to it. At the most, what their Leftist babble should be met with something along the lines of “that’s nice dear, now run along…”.
    Considering all that needs serious attention in the world today. Time and energy spent critiquing or responding to the useless things the Left has to offer is time and energy wasted. Time and energy that could be put to better use addressing the real issues we face.

  9. James Joyner says:


    Reagan was splitting the vote with a moderate Republican, John Anderson, who ran as an independant after losing in the primaries. Even so, as I noted and linked above, he won 44 states, carrying the Electoral College 489 to 49. That’s a landslide.

  10. Len says:

    Dunno… I think I’d be holding off on the celebrations until after the first Tuesday in November.

  11. James Joyner says:


    Who’s celebrating?

    I’m merely pointing out that Drum’s description of Reagan, Gingrich, and Cheney as incrementally more out-of-mainstream than the last doesn’t square with the contemporaneous actions of the electorate.

    Reagan and Bush 41 won three consecutive landslides. Bush 41 then lost to Clinton, who then won again. So the past doesn’t predict the future.

  12. I love this post.

  13. Michael says:

    When talking about the political mood of the nation as a whole, you have to go with the popular vote, not the electoral vote. As stated by Triumph, just over half the voting public wanted Reagan, so even if it was a “landslide victory” in the electoral college, it wasn’t because he was widely popular, only marginally more popular.

    As for the article as a whole, I think everybody forgets the powerful role apathy plays in people getting elected or re-elected. Add to that the attention span of the American public, and you have two of the largest contributors to the outcome of an election.

  14. Triumph says:

    Even so, as I noted and linked above, he won 44 states, carrying the Electoral College 489 to 49. That’s a landslide.

    That is only an Electoral College landslide–which, by design, is skewed to over-represent low population states.

    A victory of less than a percentage point in the total votes counted is not evidence of overwhelming popular support.

    Hell, Reagan received the same percentage vote as Bush in 2004.

    I am not sure what John Anderson has to do with this–he was to the left of Carter!

  15. Sam says:

    Reagan (Republican), 50.7%
    Carter (Democratic), 41.0%
    Anderson (Republican who lost in the primary and then ran as an independent), 6.6%
    Clark (Libertarian), 1.1%
    Other, 0.6%

    a nearly 10% victory over the Democrat is a landslide, arguably most of the Anderson and possibly Clark voters would prefer Reagan to Carter.

  16. B Moe says:

    So what is it? Is he batshit? Just stupid? Ignorant? Delusional? Uniformed? Or just a liar?

    How about “not clairvoyant”?

  17. TallDave says:

    Did anyone ever call Clinton batshit crazy? Hmmm.

    I mean, you’d have to be at least a little crazy to have a sexual affair with a 21-year-old intern in the Oval Office, right?

    Oh, wait, I remember now. They said Monica was batshit crazy, until she turned out to have his (provably) Presidential DNA all over her dress.

  18. Birkel says:

    Arguing that Reagan didn’t win a landslide in 1980 is a fool’s errand. Glad we’ve got a couple here who are so foolish as that.

    No… wait. I’m actually a little scared that it can type and make that lame argument. Makes me doubt evolution just a tiny bit.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    Voters are likely to be apathetic when they think things are going well enough that the voter isn’t energized by the desperate desire for change.
    If things are going just about okay, even paying attention to the sausage-making hardly seems worth it.

    So apathy is a vote for the status quo.

    It doesn’t tell us much, except, if the incumbent wins,some of the folks who didn’t show weren’t interested and if they weren’t interested it was because things weren’t all that bad for them.

  20. mjdaniels says:

    er . . . not that this whole “landslide” thing is a huge deal, but if someone like Carter advisor Hamilton Jordan describes Reagan’s victory in 1980 as a landslide in his book, Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency who are any of us to say otherwise?