It sounds too simple, I grant you, but just for the sake of argument, try thinking of Jimmy Carter as a Rockefeller Republican. It is hardly more simplistic than “populist,” “New South,” “evangelical,” and sundry other handles that have been tried out on Carter; it fits more snugly than any of the others do, and for me it's held firm for more than a year now.
No, alas, this is not an argument that David Rockefeller first invented Jimmy Carter around 1971, arranged for Zbigniew Brzezinski to train him in global politics, and then rigged his nomination and election. Nor do I believe what some Reaganites have suggested: that a piqued Nelson Rockefeller—dumped from the Republican ticket in favor of Senator Bob Dole, a Reagan designee—contrived last fall to make Jimmy Carter the vessel of his revenge on the GOP. On the contrary, I observe here the ban on conspiracy theories in mainstream American journalism and political discussion. So unfashionable are conspiracy theories that if indeed a photograph had been preserved from 1973 or 1974 of the several American members and aides of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission—such men as Richard Holbrooke, now an assistant secretary of state; Warren Christopher, the undersecretary of state; their immediate superior, Cyrus Vance (who had been, among other things, chairman of the trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation); Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal; Defense Secretary Harold Brown; National Security Council Director Brzezinski and the NSC's analyst of Soviet intentions, Samuel P. Huntington; also then senator, now Vice President, Walter F. Mondale; and a formerly obscure but promising Georgia governor, now President, Jimmy Carter—if, as I say fancifully, some indisputable record had been preserved from three or four years ago of these men signing blood oaths to remember and honor their fellowship if and when one of them came to power, most editors, commentators, and indeed politicians would have clucked disparagingly that only nuts think power works that way in America. Maybe they are right. In any event we will not get into conspiracy theories here, or into any diagram of power mechanics that might suggest a literal explanation of Carter's rise. This is more nearly a game of categories, a parlor exercise in thinking about who Jimmy Carter is and where, metaphorically, he came from.