I trace the Republicans’ rise to dominance to the midterm election of 1966. Others might point to other dates and events, but consider with me what happened that year.
Two years earlier, Lyndon Johnson had won his second term as president, defeating Barry Goldwater decisively, winning every state except Goldwater’s Arizona and the deep south. Democrats gained 37 seats in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, seizing veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers.
But by the election in November 1966, rising public discontent over the war in Vietnam fueled a feverish rebuilding effort for Republicans, who mounted a comeback for the ages. They picked up 47 seats in the House and three in the Senate, and elected seven new governors. It’s worth noting that this was the first national election following passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The GOP made significant gains in the South and among working-class voters in 1966. Newly elected Republican governors included Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both future presidents, and Spiro Agnew, who would become Richard Nixon’s vice president.
Republican forces in Broward County, Florida, where I was working as a newspaper reporter, took aim at offices at local and state levels, loading the ballot with candidates few voters had ever heard of. One got elected to the state legislature on a total campaign budget of $60. You read that right.
One local newspaper reporter painted a word picture of a herd of angry elephants squeezing into voting booths, eager to kick every Democrat out of office. They succeeded. Margins of victory up and down the ballot were not close.
History has shown us that voters’ frustration with the status quo can be a powerful force and drive elections in this way. In some elections, no one holding a public office is safe, whether national, state or local.
The signs are here for such an election this November. Are the Democrats ready? Is America?