George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and the “New” American Party System
Scholars have long expressed concern that the ascendance of the modern presidency since the New Deal and World War II, by hastening the decline of political parties and fostering the expansion of the administrative state, portended an era of chronically low public engagement and voter turnout and an increasingly fractious and impotent national politics. Presidents' inattentiveness to the demands of party-building and grassroots mobilization, coupled with their willingness to govern through administration, were seen as key obstacles to the revitalization of a politics based in widespread political interest and collective responsibility for public policy. This article argues that George W. Bush's potent combination of party leadership and executive administration, foreshadowed by Ronald Reagan's earlier efforts, suggests the emergence of a new presidential leadership synthesis and a “new” party system. This new synthesis does not promise a return to pre-modern party politics; rather, it indicates a rearticulation of the relationship between the presidency and the party system. The erosion of old old-style partisan politics allowed for a more national and issue-based party system to develop, forging new links between presidents and parties. As the 2006 elections reveal, however, it remains to be seen whether such parties, which are inextricably linked to executive-centered politics and governance, can perform the critical function of moderating presidential ambition and mobilizing public support for party principles and policies. a
a Sidney M. Milkis is Professors of Politics ([email protected]) and Jesse H. Rhodes is a doctoral student ([email protected]) at the University of Virginia. The authors would like to thank the anonymous readers who reviewed the manuscript for their thoughtful and constructive comments.