The path to party unity : popular presidential leadership and principled consensus.
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Scully, Mark, A.
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This dissertation examines the role of presidential rhetoric in the process of partisan regime creation. I identify three types of presidential rhetoric: principled, ideological, and pragmatic. I contend that principled rhetoric is necessary to achieve the reconstruction of a new partisan regime. Furthermore, the two variant forms of presidential rhetoric—ideological and pragmatic—contribute to a specific pattern of regime destabilization and construction. That pattern begins with the emergence of an oppositional candidate employing ideological leadership while opposing the regime party and followed by a pragmatic response from the regime party. This combination of ideological rhetoric of the opposition party, which lacks broad appeal, and the broadly appealing pragmatic rhetoric of the regime party leads to an influx of interests and groups into the regime party’s coalition. Far from strengthening the regime party, however, the pragmatic rhetoric employed tends to confuse the partisan consensus that bound the party together, and that confusion leads to a period of regime destabilization. The vulnerability of the regime party creates an opportunity for a president employing principled rhetoric to reconstruct a new partisan regime. To demonstrate these variations in presidential leadership, as well as the specific pattern of regime reconstruction, I employ two case studies of major regime reconstruction in American history, which both reveal a common pattern of destabilization and reconstruction. The first begins with the ideological rhetoric of William Jennings Bryan, the pragmatic response of William McKinley, the party destabilization of the progressive era, and the principled reconstruction of Franklin Roosevelt. I then turn to the ideological rhetoric of Barry Goldwater, the pragmatic response of Lyndon Johnson, the party destabilization of the late 1960s and 1970s, and the principled reconstruction of Ronald Reagan. This dissertation demonstrates the power of presidential rhetoric to unify a political party behind a principled conception of the common good, as well as the power of rhetoric to drastically shift partisan dynamics by fragmenting the party into ideological or pragmatic factionalism.