How did this happen, anyway?

The first Republican candidate for President was John Fremont, the explorer. He ran and lost in 1856 to James Buchanan. Four years later the Republican Party put up Abraham Lincoln, and we all know what kind of man and President he was.

So how did the Republican Party go from nominating Lincoln (and later the progressive Teddy Roosevelt) to nominating Big Business favorites like Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover?

This is a case for Rick Perlstein!


  1. On the question of favoring big business, there hasn’t really been a flip. The Republicans have always been the party of higher tariffs to protect business and been associated with the industrial elite. Teddy Roosevelt was no different than any other Republican in this regard. Meanwhile, Democrats have always favored free trade with lower tariffs. If you look at the Presidents who lowered tariffs, it’s Grover Cleveland stuck in the middle of a string of Republicans, then Woodrow Wilson (same), and then FDR.

    In fact, it wasn’t until Reagan (who used to be a Democrat) that the GOP switched to be more free trade. By then the coalition of Democrats had started to be worried more about their jobs being shipped off to foreign countries and started to oppose traditional free trade policies (which is why Clinton had to fight his own party to get NAFTA passed).

    The big flip was on the social policies. Republicans started out anti-slavery (and, to be fair, still probably hold that position). Democrats in the South were pro-slavery, anti-big business (i.e., Northern industry). All the progressive stuff for the Republicans came from Teddy Roosevelt’s bucking the system…to the point where he split off and formed his own party. When the Great Depression hit, Franklin Roosevelt pretty much got everybody on his side and a huge number of African-Americans switched to the Democratic party. He continued down Uncle Teddy’s path, and while neither party flipped on their business policies, the Democrats won over the progressives.

    Or something like that. :)

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