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E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post op-ed columnist and political commentator, argued that a recent history of unfulfilled promises has alienated modern and liberal voters from the GOP.
Dionne, speaking to a few dozen people at the Harvard Kennedy School Tuesday, focused the discussion on his new newly published book, "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism–From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond." The book traces a gradual shift away from moderate conservatism, which Dionne attributes to a changing viewpoint following Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
“I believe the Goldwater campaign… [is] one of the genuinely important events of the last century, because that campaign fundamentally altered the nature of the Republican party. It set the party’s politicians up to make a series of promises they couldn’t keep,” he said.
Referencing the 2016 Presidential election, Dionne said the practice of making unrealistic promises has resurfaced among Republican presidential candidates. Dionne charged that Donald J. Trump, for instance, has expressed interest in reversing the effects of the 1965 Immigration Act and returning the ethnic makeup of the United States back to that of the 1940s and 1950s.
Dionne said many Republicans have felt betrayed and disappointed by their party’s rhetoric and leadership even since the 1930s. Reducing the size of federal government has been a common strategy of Republican rhetoric, despite difficulty in practice, he added.
“Government was exactly the same size as the share of GDP when Ronald Reagan left office as when Ronald Reagan took office,” Dionne said. “Americans can be quite critical of government in the abstract, but in the end, they want a great deal from government.”
Dionne also argued that broken promises have caused moderate and liberal voters to increasingly retreat from the ranks of the GOP, moving the “center of gravity” of the party from the Northeast to the South.
Thomas E. Patterson, Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, moderated the discussion that followed. He said he found Dionne’s ideas to be particularly “engaging,” especially Dionne’s arguments on the purported alienation of liberal and moderate voters from the Republican Party.
Anne Bernays, writing instructor and novelist at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, said she was “listening for something that she disagreed with,” but could not find anything that she did not concur with Dionne on.
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