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Rule and Ruin

When and why did the Republican Party tip so far to the right?

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“Rule and Ruin” recalls the minutiae of their downfall. No other book has chronicled the movement so thoroughly or eloquently. Karabservice’s research is magnificent, as he digs into numerous archives and personal diaries. He provides a helpful taxonomy dividing moderate, liberal/progressive, conservative, and Taft-stalwart factions in the Republican Party, but focuses on the moderates, who gained the Republican nomination in every presidential election from 1944 to 1960. Kabaservice performs yeoman’s work in resurrecting what was once a vibrant movement devoted to fiscal prudence, pragmatism, and multilateralism.

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Recalled is the tragically short-lived Advance magazine, which attempted to push back against National Review for control of the Republican Party. Honorable men like Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., William Scranton, George Romney (yes, that Romney), and Nelson Rockefeller led the party as much as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan did. The centrist think tank known as the Ripon Society, now rarely heard from, was once a leading forum of ideas in political debate. Kabaservice shows why they all mattered, and why they were ultimately defeated.

“Rule and Ruin” also examines the progressive aspects of Nixon’s presidency that are often overlooked in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate. Nixon established negotiations with the Soviet Union and China, created the Environmental Protection Agency, and introduced a health care plan that was far to the left of Obamacare. Some left-wingers have in retrospect called Nixon America’s last liberal president. Kabaservice is more nuanced and astute than that, but he provides ample evidence for the claim that Nixon offered a hodgepodge of policies and ideas that included cherished Democratic plans.

At a time when the Republican Party seems bereft of constructive ideas about how to fix America’s many problems, “Rule and Ruin” offers a reminder that the GOP once stockpiled ideological variety and reasonable personalities. Perhaps it will be once again in the future. All it has to do is to reclaim its past.          

Jordan Michael Smith is a contributing writer at Salon.

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