In supportersHemmer picks up this story where it left off in messengers from the right, but with a new idea: that Reagan’s triumph was the end of an old regime, not the beginning of a new one. As Hemmer argues, the opportunity for populists to make their case was the strategic vacuum created by the end of the Cold War in 1989: Republicans no longer had the fight against communism to unify conservatives of many different leanings. . Reagan had also laid the foundations for a new type of presidency, which promised disruption. Yet, despite clinging to traditional conservative values—not funding the welfare state and spending lavishly on the military—Reagan largely avoided divisive cultural issues. Right-wing anger boiled over when it became clear in the 1980s that eliminating abortion and affirmative action, and restoring school prayer, were nowhere to go. the Republican Party agenda. A young congressman named Newt Gingrich complained that Reagan hadn’t polarized the country enough. “He should have run against liberals and radicals,” Gingrich wrote in a diary published by the conservative Heritage Foundation after the 1984 election.
Although Reagan’s sunny, optimistic style stands in stark contrast to Trump’s lamentations over “American carnage,” he too succeeded in distracting voters from his lack of political achievement by blowing the smoke his constituents wanted to inhale. As economics journalist William Greider wrote in December 1984, weeks after Reagan beat Democrat Walter Mondale by 18 points, the president won on a wispy cloud of lies and obfuscation. Even the journalists had “given in to the techniques of mass propaganda,” Greider wrote, “big lies told through calculated repetition of soothing imagery and powerful symbolism. The harsh realities of conflicting realities were no match for it. If the recent election “pictures the future,” he continued, “then Americans are reduced to a nation of steamed-up sheep, seduced by fake images and ruthlessly manipulated.”
Well, hello. And while this new electoral constituency would not emerge in its own right until 2016, populism’s ability to disrupt old arrangements became evident in 1992. According to Hemmer’s narrative, the possibility of a populist president in the mold of Trump emerged when mainstream GOP strategists realized that Pat Buchanan’s candidacy for the Republican nomination, and the independent candidacy of Texas tech billionaire Ross Perot, generated a fervor that Reaganism lacked – with its emphasis on abstract economic theories and its weak response to culture war issues like feminism, immigration, and gay rights. Buchanan’s nativist, isolationist, racist and homophobic appeal to old-fashioned Cold War conservatives resonated with a younger generation of aggrieved white candidates and voters emerging from the shadows. It is no coincidence, Hemmer points out, that just a week before Buchanan entered the race, David Duke — an active Nazi and former Klansman — announced his own campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.