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Getting Nixon Right

In November 1972 I voted for the re-election of President Nixon.  Granted, it was only an elementary-school straw poll, but I was still thrilled when he carried the student body by a three-to-one margin.  On election night, the electoral map was covered in a sea of blue (in those days each party retained its appropriate symbolic color), and in my naiveté I believed that the country had righted itself after the disorder and perversity of the 60’s.

Nixon’s landslide was the product of his New Majority, born in 1968.  Nixon and his chief advisors, including a young Pat Buchanan, realized that the Democratic Party’s lunge to the left had created an opportunity to peel off entire blocks of traditional Democratic voters: white Southerners, blue-collar workers, Northern ethnic Catholics.  Nixon’s 43 percent of the national popular vote in 1968 was only a plurality, but add Wallace voters to the mix, and the election amounted to an antiliberal landslide (57 percent).  Four years later, Nixon won 61 percent of the popular vote and carried 49 states.  Over the next three decades, his new majority delivered four presidential victories out of five (three of them landslides), a Republican Senate in 1980, and, in 1994, a Republican House for the first time since 1952.

For a while, it looked as if the Democrats would not win another presidential election.  Republicans could...

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