Documentary on the tenor change of the GOP?
August 15, 2022 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I came across a clip from the Reagan/Bush presidential debates and it was staggering how much they sounded like “centrist” Democrats. That’s the Republicanism of my youth (Gen-X). Has anyone put together a sequence of how the messaging has evolved (especially with the impact of Fox News’ arrival) and the extremely tenor shift of GOP messaging and tactics? Happy for anything that collates similar material relative to the Democrats.
posted by amanda to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Geoff Kabaservice wrote a book called Rule and Ruin in 2013. Kabaservice is a prominent moderate "old school" Republican, and he's critical of the new GOP, but (and to be clear, I haven't read the book) it sounds like he doesn't think that the recent extremism of the GOP is a new development. A lot has happened since 2013, but I think that would be a good place to start.

It's been a while since I've read, but the last real wave of moderate Republicans all wrote memoirs around the time they left the scene. Christie Todd Whitman, Jim Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee. All had chapters about the confusion they felt as conservatives grew in power.

I kind of recall a book by Robert Reich about this, but Google isn't helping me. From the time period I would have read it, it would have had to be his book Reason, but the description doesn't sound like what I'm remembering.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:37 AM on August 15

Wikipedia's page on the Southern Strategy hits most of the highlights from the 60's on. Lee Atwater, who developed much of the Reagan and Bush "88 advertising, issued regrets and apologies after he was found to have a terminal illness and converted to Catholicism. Still waiting for Gingrich to repent....
posted by beaning at 12:01 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]

I'd say it started with Reagan, Karl Rove and Gingrich, who promoted the successful Contract With America, that helped make Congress Red. Sen. Susan Collins, for example, signed it, agreeing to serve no more than 2 terms. Of course, she's now on her 5th term. Ooopsie! Read Molly Ivins, a tough but accurate critic of politcians, especially in Texas. She's excellent at skewering everybody, but nails GOP hypocrisy with excellence. There's a netflix documentary that's a good intro.
posted by theora55 at 12:01 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

OMG watch the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary, where they show a clip from her confirmation hearing (she was confirmed 96-3), where Newt Gingrich sings her praises.
posted by Melismata at 12:03 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

I've read all of Perlstein's books, and while I agree about the policy goals, I think the tactics and strategy have gotten a lot cruder and crueler--there's a substantial and meaningful difference between "There you go again" and "I'm Ted Cruz and my pronouns are 'kiss my ass!'"

Here's a debate between Republican presidential candidates Reagan and Bush in 1980. Here's a highlight reel from Trump's 2022 CPAC speech.

(I looked for a video like the OP requested, but this Vox video was about the best I could do.)
posted by box at 12:52 PM on August 15 [6 favorites]

It should be noted that Reagan-Bush probably isn't the most representative interaction between Republicans of that era. Bush was an old money WASP, and say what you will about them as a group, but appearing to be well-mannered was important to them, and to Bush. And Reagan was a professional actor, who was undoubtedly conscious of Bush's gentility and at least somewhat aware of how it would appear to act uncouth next to someone like Bush. But there are plenty of old Republicans who were less polished, most notably Nixon. Joe McCarthy could be downright hysterical.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:47 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]

The CSPAN video library is quite a rabbit hole to go down for this kind of stuff - debates, conventions, speeches, House and Senate committee hearings, and so on.

A couple things come immediately to mind as someone who's old enough to remember some of it:

Here's a full transcript of Pat Buchanan's "Culture War" speech from the 1992 GOP national convention, which included the following:

Yes, we disagreed with President Bush, but we stand with him for the freedom to choice religious schools, and we stand with him against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.

We stand with President Bush for right-to-life, and for voluntary prayer in the public schools, and we stand against putting our wives and daughter and sisters into combat units of the United States Army. And we stand with President Bush in favor of the right of small towns and communities to control the raw sewage of pornography that so terribly pollutes our popular culture.


My friends, this election is about more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe, and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so, to the Buchanan Brigades out there, we have to come home and stand beside George Bush.

There's also a CSPAN archive video of the speech.

Going back a little further, there was Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech, given not too far from the site of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The speech and its chosen location had a very specific purpose (reinforcing Reagan's white supremacist bona fides), but it employed a pretense of plausible deniability (albeit wafer thin) that would be fully dispensed with in today's mainstream U.S. political discourse.

Full audio of the Neshoba County speech with captions.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:49 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

One other thing that occurred to me is the six-episode CBC podcast series The Flamethrowers.

It starts with Charles Coughlin radio broadcast in the late 1920s, and traces the influence of right-wing talk radio in the U.S. and its impact on political discourse. It takes pains to point out the influence of Rush Limbaugh and fellow travellers on Republican talking points/candidate choices, through to the rise of conspiracy theories and their purveyors post 9/11, and the culmination of all that in the election of you-know-who in 2016.

So if you're looking for an documentary exploration of the sequencing of messaging (and one of the primary influences on it), it's a worthwhile listen. It's hosted by Justin Ling, a Canadian freelance journalist who has a pretty extensive background in covering the far right.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:45 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]

Late in the 1964 presidential campaign the local New York City ABC affiliate broadcast a fascinating hour-long piece called Danger on the Right?, which examined the racism, conspiratorial thinking, and antidemocratic rhetoric in the John Birch Society, much of which has been adopted by mainstream Republicanism. It can be seen here on YouTube in 7 parts.

You might also check out a new book called The Destructionists by journalist Dana Milbank. I haven't read it, but it sounds like it might be relevant to your question.
posted by theory at 3:51 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]

Tim Alberta's American Carnage covers this. As the name implies it works up to Donald Trump inauguration speech but starts Goldwater and National Review and the like and documents the twists and turns the party has taken.
posted by mmascolino at 6:55 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Ask Metafilter isn't for debating with the OP.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:31 PM on August 15

Operation REDMAP was established in 2008 - despite the name, not a conspiracy theory - to gerrymander the map in the 2010 census. They succeeded.

Living in Chicago and having successfully gotten a non-slated LBGTQIA+ candidate elected, I can tell you that where the general election is considered 'safe', the primary is where you "win the election". How do you win a primary? By being more Republican than the other guy.

Then, how do you unseat that and win it for your guy? By being more Republican than THAT guy.

Basically, the Republicans created a vicious circle that continuously pushes their party to further and further rextremes.
posted by MollyRealized at 3:24 PM on August 16 [1 favorite]

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