The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress But Surrendered The White House by Thomas F. Schaller (Yale University Press, 2015)
Speaker of the House John Boehner answers questions during a press conference at the Capitol January 7, 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)What It's About
In recent decades, the Republican Party's center of gravity has shifted decisively to Capitol Hill and away from the White House. This "congressionalization" of the GOP's power, Schaller argues, created a "self-feeding loop in which the party became more conservative as it became more Congress-centered, and more Congress-centered as it became more conservative"—thereby hobbling its national prospects even further. The Stronghold is a lively yet data-driven look at how that happened and the often colorful figures who led the charge.
Target D.C. audience
Anyone—from staffers to cable-news pundits—advising GOP White House candidates and congressional leadership. Think-tank nation. Amateur and professional political junkies of all stripes. Politics and history professors looking to assign contemporary reading.
"It is [Newt] Gingrich, not the lionized Ronald Reagan, who should be remembered as the most significant Republican politician of the late twentieth century. ... [T]he Georgia Speaker understood that the institutional imperatives of modern conservatism made control of Capitol Hill important, even if that meant surrendering the White House."
To Be Sure
In support of his thesis, Schaller notes that the GOP has lost four of the past six presidential contests and lost the popular vote in five. But there's a sample-size problem with that data, and he downplays the potential significance of other factors that might help explain Republican candidates' recent struggles. For instance, in 2008 John McCain faced the double-whammy of a recession on George W. Bush's watch and a fresh-faced opponent named Barack Obama, while Mitt Romney made his share of mistakes en route to losing an arguably winnable race.
One Level Deeper
Schaller charts the changes in the relative strength of the GOP in the House versus the Senate since the Eisenhower years. Also intriguing: data comparing how Republican House candidates, Senate candidates, and White House nominees performed in the past nine presidential elections.
The Big Takeaway
As long as congressional Republicans are the dominant force in the party, presidential elections will be an uphill climb for the GOP.