Right up until the very end of the 1980 campaign, when polls still showed Jimmy Carter running even with Ronald Reagan despite high unemployment and inflation and fading national confidence, it was taken as an article of faith among Democrats – and more than a few establishment Republicans – that the country would never turn to a candidate as “extreme” as Reagan. Election Day disabused them of this notion: Reagan won 44 states and his party posted a stunning gain of 12 Senate seats.
The New Deal and Great Society philosophies had become victims of their own success, as the new suburban masses, liberated from the dependence on government that had marked their parents’ lives, revolted against high taxes, big government and the Democratic Party that had come to symbolize them.
But Democrats chose to treat the Reagan Revolution as a fleeting phenomenon. Instead of adapting to address the anti-government fervor that had taken hold, they kept the old guard front and center. In 1984, the old New Deal-Great Society coalition mobilized to nominate Walter Mondale for president, seemingly believing that the electorate would come to its senses and return to its old voting habit. To voters, though, Mr. Mondale was merely a living and breathing representation of the ward heeler mentality they’d run out of town in 1980. He was trounced by 16 million votes.
Read the rest.