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Conservative Movement

The conservative movement is a term that describes the process through which control of the Republican Party has been taken by people with strong feelings in favor of robust national defense, low taxes, minimum government regulation, and traditional social values.

During The Great Depression and World War II, the Republican Party nominated candidates for president who represented the liberal to moderate wing of the party, and especially its East Coast establishment. Conservatives tried unsuccessfully to nominate Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio in 1952, but were frustrated when Dwight D. Eisenhower was chosen instead.

The breakthrough for the conservative movement came in 1964, when Barry Goldwater, an uncompromising conservative, was nominated. Although defeated by Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide, Goldwater showed his followers that victory was possible.

The electoral breakthrough came in 1966, when Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Pat Brown for the governorship of California. By 1976, Reagan had become the darling of the conservative movement, which attempted to win the nomination for him. It went instead to Gerald Ford, who occupied the White House at that time.

Four years later, however, Reagan gained the nomination. His conservatism split the party to the extent that John Anderson ran as an independent to represent the views of moderate Republicans. As the campaign got started after the conventions, Reagan trailed, but strong performances combined with voter unhappiness with Jimmy Carter carried him to victory in November 1980.

Reagan used the opportunity to initiate programs to rapidly build the American military. Although he also worked to whittle down the size of the federal government, his policies resulted in federal deficits which, at the time, were unprecedented in peacetime. Voters, however, approved of his style and Republicans enjoyed twelve years of control of the White House.

The conservative movement has resulted in a shift in the ideological base of the Republican Party. While still the clear choice of the wealthy classes, it has become the home to lower-class whites in the Deep South, whose loyalty to the Democratic Party after the Civil War gave rise to the phrase "Solid South." There still is a solid South, but rather than being solidly Democratic, it is now solidly Republican.