cover image Republican Character: From Nixon to Reagan

Republican Character: From Nixon to Reagan

Donald T. Critchlow. Univ. of Pennsylvania, $34.95 (220p) ISBN 978-0-8122-4977-4

Arizona State University historian Critchlow presents an original, evenhanded character study of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Nelson Rockefeller, four political rivals who dominated the Republican Party in the late 20th century. This comparative account of their long political careers and relentless quests for the U.S. presidency weighs the degree to which each man was “temperamentally suited” for the office. Critchlow concludes that of the four, voters ultimately judged Reagan most favorably on this account. Critchlow draws a thoughtful, complex portrait of Nixon’s transformation from idealist to cynic in the “rough-and-tumble” world of electoral politics. He depicts Rockefeller as a self-righteous man of excessive ambition, a big-government Republican ever ready for a new program or grandiose plan, brought down by arrogance and a lack of moral compass. The intensely personal 1964 Goldwater-Rockefeller battle and epic clash between Sunbelt and Eastern Republicans reverberated inside GOP politics for more than a generation, he explains, permitting Nixon to recapture party leadership after his 1960 defeat. Critchlow maintains that individual virtue and “principled pragmatism” are essential ingredients in presidential success. While acknowledging that ideological litmus tests often count more than character and temperament in the current political climate, this readable history offers shrewd insights into the disposition of national leaders then and now. (Dec.)