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Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power


A powerful and disturbing examination of American politics and how the Republican Party gained the upper hand in national elections. Edsall takes us into the operation of the power brokers and the issues that galvanize voters. The Republican Party has become a coalition of the socially and economically dominant, while the Democratic Party has become an alliance of the disadvantaged and those who identify with them.


"Comprehensive and insightful." -- Publishers Weekly "Mr. Edsall does a nimble job of...buttressing his assessments with lots of demographic and polling data and situating them in a historical context." -- The New York Times

"A penetrating examination of the Republicans' permanent campaign -- and the Democrats' still-formidable disadvantages -- from Washington Post senior political reporter Edsall. Though not without ideological bias, Edsall presents a compelling analysis.... An intra-party insurgency, à la Goldwater and Reagan in the GOP, might be the only way to disrupt the Democrats' ossification." -- Kirkus Reviews


Thomas B. Edsall covered national politics for the Washington Post for 25 years. He is a special correspondent for The New Republic and frequent contributor to The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, Harper's, The Nation, American Prospect, Dissent, and The Washington Monthly. His previous book was Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics. Mr. Edsall recently received an eight-year appointment to the Pulitzer Moore chair at Columbia University, New York.


"So how far ahead are the Republicans in building Red America? You write that they've harnessed the financial power of the corporate sector and all its exper-tise, and that that's made them tremendously strong in marketing themselves and undermining rivals. They've used the technology; they've created all these institutes, think tanks, internship programs; they've got 1200 lobbyists working full-time in Washington. Having corralled this tremendous economic engine, do the Democrats really stand a chance?" "They do, right now, when the Republicans screw up, and the Republicans screwed up royally in Iraq. They screwed up on the corruption front and then they screwed up in the Mark Foley case. But they still, at this moment, retain a lot of strategic and tactical advantages."

"What role did pollster Matt Dowd play in turning the Republican Party to the right?"

"He was crucial because after the 2000 election he found in his polling that the swing voter had become almost extinct and was no longer a significant force, only six percent. The conservative vote [nine million had earlier voted for George Wallace] was much larger. Independent voters were nearly fully committed to one candidate and party or another. The result of the poll was to change Republican political strategies. Instead of trying to persuade voters in the middle, the strategy shifted to building larger constituencies out of people who are already sympathetic -- to expand the conservative vote as opposed to pursuing moderates and centrists."

"These moderates, centrists, or independents -- even after this last election, are they still seen as insignificant?"

"No," says Edsall, "this last election marked the reemergence of the moderate voter. And even the constituencies that appeared to be moving to the Republican column actually showed quite significant movement toward the Democratic Party, suggesting that they are not locked in stone and that they could be moved from one party to another. That they are, in fact, swing voters."

"So that somewhat undercuts Dowd's appraisal."

"It does."

"In this winner-take-all American electoral system, will the independents ever gain representation for their views and interests? I mean, they appear, vote, and then they disappear when the election is over."

"Well..." Edsall pauses. "They get good representation if the candidates see them as crucial to their victories. Then the victors are going to be looking toward representing those independent voters because they are important to keep in the fold. If they're not viewed as crucial to future wins, then they are going to be passed over. You can argue that the Bush administration in its policies really passed over the center. Whether the Democrats now, after having won with a lot of moderate and independent voters, will try to represent that segment of the electorate is another question. We just don't know yet."

"What do Rusty Sharp, Jeff Christie, and Rush Limbaugh have in common?"

"They are all the same person we now know as Rush Limbaugh. Those were his other noms de guerre as a broadcaster."

"Talk radio -- what role did it play in building Red America?"

"Talk radio was very significant. It became a mobilizing tool, and I think Rush Limbaugh was crucial in that, for a lot of angry white men, in particular, he captured their anger and put a voice on it. He legitimized a lot of the feelings they had and had not been able to put into words, and Limbaugh turned it into a very profitable, high visibility, and seemingly respected format."

"What are anger points and wedge issues?"

"Anger points are what Republicans have found to be the issues that most anger or irritate voters, and are one of the best vehicles to get them to actually go and cast votes for their candidates. Gays, guns, and God. Anger is one of the best motivating forces for a voter. A wedge issue is very similar although it is used to divide the opposition. Abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action all split Democratic constituencies and are useful for winning voters from the opposition."

"Why are white males exiting the Democratic Party?"

"Starting with the civil rights movement and then with the women's rights movement, white males abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. They saw it as no longer supporting policies and programs that benefited them, such as unemployment programs and New Deal kind of programs, but instead pushing for policies that were specifically targeted to benefit minorities or women. Affirmative action was the most clear of those."

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