From Publishers Weekly
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IN 2004, Republicans won a clean sweep of the national elections — 232 House seats, 55 Senate seats, 28 governorships and, of course, the presidency, expanding on gains from 2000 and 2002. It's the kind of electoral dominance that could lead a pair of White House reporters to wonder: "[I]s the United States becoming a one-party country?"
Such is the provocative contention of Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten's behind-the-curtains exegesis of the Republican plan for perpetual political power — and why it just might be crazy enough to work. "Republicans," they write, "are the New York Yankees of American politics — the team that, at the start of every season, has the tools in place to win it all."
In "One Party Country," the two Los Angeles Times writers trace the GOP's winning strategy to George H.W. Bush's 1992 loss to Bill Clinton, which led Bush's sons George and Jeb to two realizations. One: You can't abandon your base. And two: It's time to start reaching out to minority voters that Democrats are taking for granted.
Soon the Bush brothers were making inroads with African American and Latino voters in Texas and Florida, touting new educational initiatives (market-based, of course!) and test-driving such phrases as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" that somehow make traditional Democratic approaches to social welfare seem even a little racist. By 2000, the outreach had paid off. Jeb Bush already had been elected governor of Florida and George W. Bush won 50% of that state's Latino vote (which is predominantly Cuban American and conservative) and the presidency. The Bush brothers, Hamburger and Wallsten argue, "had profoundly changed the Republican Party's base of support."
With the White House as a base of operations, Bush political advisor Karl Rove then set to work on "a breathtakingly ambitious plan to use the embryonic Bush presidency to build an enduring Republican majority." The first order of business was, well, business. The corporate love-fest began with a big wet sloppy kiss in the form of an immediate two-month freeze on regulation and just kept getting better. Hamburger and Wallsten write that many of the administration's "pro-industry moves attracted little public attention" because they occurred after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As planned, the business community expressed its thanks in the form of very generous financial support, and GOP operatives used that money to develop a highly sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation built around a top-of-the-line information-management system. Using the "Voter Vault" — which "matched voter files with marketing data obtained from magazine sales, grocery stores, and other retailers" — the Bush team found hidden pockets of supportive swing-state voters, such as an enclave of pro-Israel Orthodox Russian Jews in suburban Cleveland. Republicans also used the consumer data to target military history buffs, bourbon drinkers and Chevy owners, all of whom trend conservative.
Meanwhile, President Bush continued targeting minorities. During the 2004 campaign, many voters with Spanish surnames got a five-minute DVD — "barely noticed outside the Latino community" — in which Bush tried to establish a personal, emotional connection with Latino voters. (A Democratic pollster called it the "I love you" strategy.) Exit polls showed that 40% of Latinos voted for Bush in 2004, up from 35% in 2000.
Bush also devoted special attention to African American church communities that shared his religious and social conservatism (often abetted by government grants through the faith-based initiatives program). Hamburger and Wallsten suggest that a seven-point rise in black support in Ohio may have made the difference for Bush in the pivotal Buckeye State.
The obvious and immediate test of the premise of "One Party Country" will be the November midterm elections. Will Republican efforts to toughen immigration laws destroy the support Bush has gained among Latinos? Will the administration's fumbled response to Hurricane Katrina wash away the inroads the GOP has made among African Americans? And can Republicans keep playing the terrorism card, despite the daily reports of death and disaster in Iraq? (Hamburger and Wallsten have surprisingly little to say about the politics of national security as a potential explanation for recent Republican successes.)
Even if Democrats gain seats this fall, the authors see "few signs that [the] party will be prepared to turn those victories into a winning movement." That's because Republicans still have the solid support of business (and the money that comes with it), the Voter Vault and, perhaps most significant, the structural advantage that comes from years of careful redrawing of congressional district lines. Besides, in the winner-take-all American political system, Republicans need only continue to eke out slim majorities.
For anyone who wants to understand why Republicans are winning elections and why they are likely to do so in the foreseeable future, "One Party Country" is a must read.
—Lee Drutman is co-author of "The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy." (The Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2006)
"...solidly reported, lucid, and fascinating...highly recommended". (Library Journal, August 15, 2006)
Despite the Bush Administration's current unpopularity, Hamburger and Wallsten contend, the Republican domination of American politics is unlikely to end anytime soon. In this astutely argued polemic, the authors note that political hegemony today has less to do with a party's popularity than it does with pinpoint marketing, judiciary packing and artful gerrymandering. Political mastermind Karl Rove is quoted as having remarked about the young George W. Bush: "He was exuding more charisma that any one individual should be allowed to have." Nevertheless, Rove has relied not upon Bush's charisma, but rather pro-industry regulation to build Republican war chests, careful selection of congressional candidates, and grassroots campaigning of the sort that used to be the province of Democrats. From lobbying to single-issue marketing to co-opting traditional Democratic constituencies (Hispanics, African Americans, Jews, immigrants), the authors find that the Republican machine appears to have identified and commodified every potential vote in the nation. Unfortunately, there's a crippling streak of self-defeatism underlying the text: the Republican agenda is portrayed as an invincible crushing force, and the book provides no view into the limits of Republican power. This convincing work certainly calls attention to the threat that the U.S. may soon be one red state nation under God, but for those who would sooner be dead than red, the authors offer little solace. (July) (Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2006)