In Cowboy Conservatism, we get to take a look at the rise of conservatism in Texas and the many events that led to the shift from Democratic Texas to a more right wing centered Texas. The events in the book including the election of LBJ, the assassination of Kennedy, and the election of Ronald Reagan, are some of the major events that helped shape Texas into what it is today. For a century afterReconstruction, the Democratic Party enjoyed electoral dominance on all levels of state government and in the Lone Star State’s representation in the national government. Democrats held a lock on state politics and government throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
But beneath the surface the party’s dominance was crumbling. Political change in Texas and the nation eroded the conditions that fostered Democratic dominance. The 1964 election was one of the most interesting presidential elections in the history of U. S. A. For the first time since the election of 1932, American voters were given a chance to choose a President from two candidates who were completely opposite in their ideology andpersonality. Incumbent candidates usually get good coverage if they are running for re-election in a time when the economy is good, and this time was no exception.
Part of the good coverage President Johnson received can be explained by the good economy and the lingering sympathy the press and the people still felt for the passing of President Kennedy. It also helped that he faced a very weak candidate that came from a divided party. From the start, Senator Goldwater had a difficult task in trying to oust a popular President in a good economy: What made his task almost impossible was that his extreme right wing ideology alienated the more moderate wing of the party. As we can learn from history, a divided party usually loses an election because a portion of their supporters would choose to stay home rather than vote for the candidate they do not like. Senator Goldwater’s refusal to moderate his view alienated the moderate Republicans. Although many Texans supported Goldwaters views on issues, it was hard for most Texans to go against one of their own in Johnson. Johnson made sure that people thought of Goldwater as an extremist in his views, which actually worked very well.
I think the election of Ronald Reagan was the defining moment for the change to conservatism not only for Texas but for the rest of the nation. Although Reagan was defeated in 1976, he stuck with his strong conservative principles that most Texans also agreed with. I think most Texans really was on the side of Reagan because he was strong in his beliefs but he wasn’t as threatening as Goldwater. As unemployment and inflation began to rise during the Carter administration, many Americans were looking at alternative views, and Reagan used this to his advantage to run against everything Carter and the Democrats were doing. The genius of Reagan was to unite several different conservative schools of thought and forge them into a political movement. Nevertheless, Ronald Reagan saw something essential to the American cause in each strand of conservatism. He was attracted to the ideas that animated them.
Reagan’s great achievement was carried out in the political arena: he pulled together those who were inspired by classical conservatism and those who were inspired by classical liberalism. The victory in Texas was really one of the major influences for the spread of conservatism throughout the United States. Even today, there has been a rise of people who say they want to get back to Reagan conservatism, especially with the economy and unemployment low and mirroring much of the era during the Jimmy Carter presidency. I think what happened with the rise of Reagan is very interesting because we are starting to see much of the same thing again today. There is a strong interest nationally to move back to more conservative principles economically and cut government spending and control. The election of Ronald Reagan, in my opinion, was the definitive turning point in the rise of conservatism in Texas and throughout the United States.