Friday, June 7, 2013

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #40 - "Mugwumps 2: The Reagan Democrats"

In both 1980 and 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan won the presidency by reaching out to independents and disappointed Democrats. Those Democrats that chose not to support their party's candidates in '80 (President Jimmy Carter) and '84 (former Vice President Walter Mondale) and instead voted for Reagan became known by political analysts as Reagan Democrats.

This label would stick. The Reagan Democrats were fiscal conservatives, but believers in liberal programs like the New Deal and the Great Society. Analysts would talk of future Republican presidential candidates trying to appeal to Reagan Democrats. Overtime, the Reagan Democrats either became independent or Republican or even returned to the Democratic Party, retaining that label.

Political ad in support of Ronald Reagan from Democratic Party voters.

Obviously, Reagan's first election relied heavily on dissatisfied Democrats but it was his huge reelection landslide in 1984 that electorally had 49 of 50 States supporting him. Former Vice President Mondale won his home State of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. While not the same electorally, the 1984 Reagan Democrats have a hundred year counterpart from the 19th Century.

James G. Blaine. 28th Secretary of State. 1884 GOP Presidential Nominee.

The Mugwumps, were dissatisfied Republicans in 1884. The term mugwumps is an Algonquian word which means "important person, kingpen." The difference with their 100 year counterparts was that this was more about not liking the candidate than voting their "pocket books." The Mugwumps felt James G. Blaine of Maine, Presidents James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur's Secretary of State in 1881, was a corrupt politician and should not be the Republican's nominee for POTUS in the November 1884 Presidential Election. The Mugwumps bolt the party and support the Democratic candidate, New York Governor Grover Cleveland. In a close election, like 1884's, the Mugwumps' votes went on to help Governor Cleveland win the presidency. But in a political era where loyalty to one's political party reigned supreme, corrupt buster Theodore Roosevelt remained loyal to the GOP and their presidential nominee in that election. Instead of publicly opposing his party's nominee, TR endorsed Blaine and ensured his rise to power within the party will not be hindered since he did not bolt. Whereas Reagan Democrats went on after 1984 in future elections to be a label for traditional Democratic voters that end up voting for the GOP ticket, the Mugwumps didn't last much except to refer to someone, in a negative way, as a party bolter.

By 1912, this term wouldn't be used, but ironically, Roosevelt 26 would be a mugwump, as would his progressive brethren when they bolt from the GOP to challenge the business and conservative half which supported President William Howard Taft, Roosevelt 26's hand-picked successor, in the 1912 election as the Progressive Party's, or Bull Moose Party's, presidential nominee.

A political cartoon from 1912.

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