The president and the parties' ideologies: party ideas about foreign policy since 1900.
In the 2000 U.S. presidential debates, George W. Bush criticized Vice President Al Gore for his role in the Clinton administration's foreign interventionism. Governor Bush pledged, instead, to have a "humble" foreign policy that would be "judicious in its use" of the American military. A president-elect Bush would differ from the Democratic administration by not "over-committing our military around the world," and by not engaging in a costly, "nation-building mission" that left the invaded country no better off than it was before (Bush 2000). The foreign policy positions of the two candidates were not surprising. They represented the two different ideologies of the parties during the Clinton administration: Democrats defending U.S. intervention in world affairs and Republicans arguing for less intervention (Schlesinger 1995).
From our contemporary standpoint, we know that the parties changed positions in the ensuing years. Just a few years later, the Democratic Party was criticizing Republicans for reckless war making, "over-committing our military around the world," a foolish "nation-building mission," and wasting American money and lives. This change was not only reflected in the discourse of party elites, but also in the attitudes of ordinary party identifiers. The American National Election Studies (ANES) regularly asks Americans whether they agree or disagree with the statement that "this country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world." In 1998, more Democrats than Republicans gave the interventionist response, but by 2002, significantly more Republicans than Democrats gave the interventionist response.
This evolution in Republican Party ideology, becoming relatively more interventionist under Bush, and the corresponding change in the Democratic Party, becoming relatively less interventionist, is just one of numerous instances in American political history of the two major parties changing their positions, rhetoric, and ideologies with regard to foreign policy. As students of American politics, how should we understand these developments? Are there any structural factors at work that can help explain when, why, and how party positions, rhetoric, and ideas change over time? Or, are these changes simply the product of historical contingency? This article seeks to answer those questions and finds that, in general, parties in long-term control of the presidency tend to become more interventionist on foreign policy while parties in opposition tend to become less interventionist.
Most scholars who have studied American party ideologies have focused on party ideas about "economic redistribution" or how active the federal government should be in managing the economy--what spatial modelers often call the "first dimension" of political ideology. This article instead focuses on party ideas about foreign policy, which have received less attention from students of American political parties and ideologies. (1) Those who have studied ideas about foreign policy have drawn a number of important conclusions, but none have tried to explain how party ideologies evolve.
For example, scholars of international relations have focused on the importance of elite ideology in determining American foreign policy, but have paid less attention to parties (Holsti 2006; Nau 2013). Early public opinion scholarship paid attention to parties, but argued that American attitudes toward foreign policy were largely incoherent: they lacked "intellectual structure and factual content" (Almond 1950, 56), (2) and they lacked ideological constraint (Campbell, Converse et al. 1960; Converse 1964). While more recent scholars have admitted that ideology matters in determining who gets elected and what foreign policies government officials pursue (Hurwitz and Peffley 1987; Gries 2014), this scholarship, in general, takes a snapshot view of parties, ideology, and foreign policy, rather than a moving picture view. (3) The scholarship that has examined party ideas about foreign policy over time has argued for stasis rather than dynamism (Dueck 2010). This article adds to this literature by focusing on the changes we observe in party ideologies with respect to foreign policy.
This article improves our understanding of American party ideology development in two ways. First, it emphasizes the analytical and conceptual insight that ideologies are endogenous structures subject to change over time by political actors. By reminding ourselves of this fact, we can better understand what ideologies are, what they do, and how they evolve. Second, once we understand that ideologies--including party ideologies--can, and do, change, this article points out that a polity-centered theory can help explain how and why party ideologies evolve. In particular, this article shows how party control of the presidency influences change in party theories of foreign intervention.
In making these two contributions, this article will proceed as follows. The next section explains how we should conceptualize party ideology development, and why this is important. The following section outlines a theory to explain variation in party ideologies over time and derives a hypothesis from this theory with regard to foreign policy. The rest of the sections test this hypothesis by examining nine observations that cover American history since 1900.
Conceptualizing Party Ideology Development
Ideologies are not static, philosophical structures that exist eternally, and immutably, in the realm of Platonic forms. Instead, ideologies are social and political constructs that are constantly subject to change. For example, famously, in the nineteenth century liberalism usually referred to laissez faire free market policies, but in the twentieth century liberalism came to represent government intervention in the economy. In the United States, Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) was crucial in changing the meaning of liberalism in this way (Rotunda 1986). To take another example, in terms of foreign policy, in the 1930s--40s "conservatism" referred to "America first" isolationism, while "liberalism" referred to hawkish internationalism. In the 1970s, "conservatism" had come to represent hawkish internationalism while liberalism had come to represent "bring America home" dovishness. These ideological evolutions are frequent and characteristic of American political development.
The evolution of ideologies is driven by political actors--whether politicians, political activists, political journalists, or ordinary citizens. As Converse explained, "the shaping of belief systems of any range into apparently logical wholes that are credible to large numbers of people is an act of creative synthesis" (1964, 211). Of course, once an ideology is created, it does not remain static: it is constantly undergoing transformations that 4 are also the product of further "creative synthesis." In this way, ideologies are endogenous political structures.
Problems with Our Current Understanding of American Political Parties
The dynamic character of ideology is important to remember because--without understanding this--we may be led to false inferences about the development of American political parties. For example, for most of the past century, America has had one major party identified with liberalism (the Democratic Party) and one major party identified with conservatism (the Republican Party). If we wrongly assume that the meaning and content of liberalism and conservatism are static, then we wrongly conclude that--as long as Democrats have been liberal and Republicans have been conservative--that the two major parties have not changed their ideas, rhetoric, or positions over time. When we realize that ideologies like liberalism, conservatism, and progressivism are constantly changing, then we can realize that a party is liable to dramatic change over time even when it identifies with the same ideological label.
To illustrate this point, I will briefly look at the problems we encounter when we attempt to use congressional roll-call scaling applications, like DW-NOMINATE, to measure party ideology development. Roll-call scaling applications posit that ideological positions on a liberal-conservative spectrum determine the roll-call voting behavior of a party's members of Congress (MCs), but those who use these applications typically do not explain how the meaning and content of their liberal-conservative spectrum changes over time. It is unclear what it means to say that a politician in one decade and a politician in another decade have the same DW-NOMINATE score and, therefore, the same ideological constraint. Without a detailed description of what conservative or liberal scores mean at each point in time, many scholars and journalists falsely assume that the meaning of these scores has remained static. In truth, the voting pattern of a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican in one period often represents the opposite issue positions of a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican in another time period.
It is true that some of the issues that liberals and conservatives debate change over time, but it is also true that the positions liberals and conservatives take on enduring issues change over time. For example, an extreme "conservative" DW-NOMINATE score in 1955 often described a Republican opposed to tax cuts and opposed to interventionist foreign policy. In contrast, an extreme "conservative" DW-NOMINATE score in 2005 often described a Republican in favor of tax cuts and an interventionist foreign policy. The same kinds of issue position reversals among liberals and conservatives can be found with regard to virtually every enduring issue in American politics. If the same number on an ideology index represents two ideologies that are the opposite of each other, depending on the time period, then that index has major problems with the way it conceives of ideology. As David Karol put it, "a reinterpretation of the stability in 'spatial' positions of members of Congress revealed by roll-call scaling or 'ideal point' estimation techniques is in order [because] the ideological poles themselves have changed greatly over time. What it meant to be a liberal in 1963 was different in several ways from what it implied in 1983" (2009, 3).
Despite this fundamental problem, many of the political scientists who use roll-call scaling applications claim that we can measure party ideology development by measuring the change in average scores of a party's MCs over time (McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal 2006; Hare and Poole 2014). While these scaling applications do tell us who votes with whom in government--and the indices give us this information with remarkable and admirable precision--they do not tell us what these votes mean in terms of ideology. Without detailed historical context, we do not know what it means to say that the average Republican in the House was 0.5 conservative, or that the average Democrat in the Senate was -0.3 liberal. Furthermore, we do not know what it means to say that the Republican Party moved to the "right" on this scale or that the Democratic Party moved to the "center." In order to draw correct inferences about American party development, we need to correct our mistaken assumptions. We need to remember that ideologies like liberalism and conservatism are dynamic and not static.
Defining Party Ideology
A party ideology is a type of group ideology, and, like any other kind of shared ideology, its meaning is subject to change. It is a "consetellation of ideas ... which ma[kes] it possible for members of the party to perceive a pattern in the happenings around them, to define a group identity in terms related to that pattern, and to sketch a course of action that would make the pattern change" (Banning 1978, 15). A party ideology may or may not be different from other ideologies shared by groups of people like liberalism, conservatism, progressivism, populism, and socialism. For most of American history, the ideologies of the two major parties were distinct from these other ideologies, but in recent years the changing meaning and content of Republican Party ideology has tracked very closely to the changing meaning and content of conservatism. Likewise, the evolution of Democratic Party ideology has tracked very closely to the evolution of liberalism and progressivism (Noel 2014). Regardless of the labels we use to describe them, at all points in American history the two major parties have articulated some ideology that shapes and constrains the things partisans do and say (Gerring 1998; Hinich and Munger 1994, 61).
Explaining Party Ideology Development
Having established that political ideologies--including party ideologies--are subject to change, our next task is to understand what causes these changes. John Gerring ended his study of American party history by concluding that there is "no general factor at work that might explain the development of American party ideologies" (1998, 274). He faulted the previous "society-centered" attempts at explaining American party ideology development as misconceiving the role that the mass public has in shaping party ideologies, and as being unable to account for many of the changes observed in American party history. This article also takes up Gerring's challenge to see if a "polity-centered" approach can improve our understanding of change in party ideologies. In the following section, I posit a "political institutional" theory of party ideology development, which focuses on party control of government institutions. According to this theory, change in party control of government institutions can help explain change in some (but certainly not all) aspects of party ideologies over time.
A Political Institutional Theory of American Party Ideology
Building on previous theories of the American presidency, which explain that presidents almost universally seek to maximize their power, (5) this article argues that the tendency for presidents to expand their power has implications for party ideology evolution. According to this political institutional theory, members of a party in control of the White House have incentives to change their party's theory of governance to advocate for a strong presidency, centralized bureaucratic administration, and unilateral executive action. Because intervening in foreign affairs is one of the primary powers that the party in control of the presidency can exercise, they are also likely to advocate for more foreign intervention. Conversely, members of the party in opposition to the White House have incentives to change their party's theory of governance to advocate for limited presidential power, decentralized bureaucratic administration, and working jointly with Congress. They also have incentives to change their party's theory of intervention in a way that advocates for less foreign intervention. This article evaluates this hypothesis by tracing changes in party control of the presidency and changes in party ideologies over time. Before proceeding to the empirical sections of the article, I will more fully articulate this political institutional theory of American party ideology development. I will identify the premises underlying the theory, define more clearly the causal mechanisms of the theory, and explain how it will be tested.
This theory is based on two theoretical premises. The first premise is the idea that human beings, in general, and politicians, in particular, tend to exercise the power they have at their disposal. This assumption fits with previous scholarship on the presidency. Neustadt (1960) explained that all presidents want to accumulate power in order to accomplish their ends--it is just that some presidents have been more effective than others in accumulating this power. According to Skowronek (1993, 12), all presidents have certain constitutional powers that come with the presidential office, and the desire to exercise these powers is "an impulse that all presidents share" in order to "realize their ambitions." Moe and Howell explain, "Whatever else presidents might want, they must at bottom be seekers of power" (1999, 854).
The desire of politicians to exercise power almost always manifests as a desire to use government power to intervene in society and the world, and this has implications for change in a party's theory of intervention. (7) For example, when a presidential candidate comes to power, they have incentives to exercise the powers of their office even if they previously criticized the exercise of such powers by their predecessor. One of the greatest powers that a president has is that of commander in chief in foreign affairs, and so presidents typically become more interventionist on foreign policy than what we would expect from their rhetoric and ideology prior to assuming office. Thus, even though we have had many presidential candidates criticize incumbent presidents for hawkish or interventionist foreign policy since the turn of the twentieth century, it is something to reflect upon that few presidents--if any--have governed as noninterventionists during that time.
However, differences in other, perhaps more fundamental, aspects of party ideology may cause the president to intervene in ways different from how the previous party intervened. Arguably, the Republican Party's foreign interventionism during the Bush 43 administration was directed at different ends and undergirded by different ideological foundations, than the Democratic Party's foreign interventionism during the Clinton administration. Nonetheless, these changes in party theories of foreign intervention often have ripple effects on other aspects of party ideology. For example, when the Democrats became more interventionist on foreign policy, relative to the Republicans, during World War I and World War II, this helped transform other aspects of the Democratic Party's ideology. As Gerring (1998) points out, the party shifted from a "populist" era to a "universalist" era in the mid-twentieth century, and the party's emphasis on spreading democracy--articulated by Wilson and FDR--helped bring about this change in a more fundamental aspect of party ideology. Democrats evolved from being relatively more nationalist to relatively more internationalist in the twentieth century.
The second theoretical premise upon which this theory rests is the logic of party competition. In the zero-sum, two-party system, partisans have reasons to change their rhetoric in ways that justify the actions of their own party while criticizing the actions of the opposing party. While Frances Lee points out that the logic of party competition gives partisans incentives to act in ways that cannot simply be explained by ideology or preferences (2009), this article's approach goes another step further to argue that the logic of party competition gives partisans incentives to act in ways that actually change their party's ideology.
The structure of incentives that party actors face as parties change control of the presidency is not, on its own, sufficient to explain party ideology evolution. Ideologies, like institutions, are structures that are not easily changed. First of all, party leaders face incentives to maintain existing ideological positions: if ideologies are changed too often and too cavalierly, then they lose their usefulness as reputational signaling mechanisms to voters (Hinich and Munger 1994, 75). (8) Second of all, because group ideologies are language discourses shared by millions of people, they typically cannot change their meaning for so many people all at once. It usually takes a long time for parties to stop using their previous rhetoric/ideology and for the new rhetoric/ideology to gain currency among politicians, interest groups, writers, activists, and party identifiers in the electorate. Finally, due to path dependence, the longer the two parties have held divergent ideological positions, the more calcified these ideologies become and the more difficult they are to change (Pierson 2004).
Thus, several ingredients need to come together before we would expect this inertia to be overcome. One necessary component is a political issue over which the parties can debate (Stephenson 1999). Ideological change requires the articulation and exchange of political ideas. For example, in the case of party theories of foreign intervention, a political issue must arise within foreign policy that "entangles" the president and the parties in political debate. In the 1910s, World War I was a catalyst for changing party theories of governance (e.g., the role of the president in the American political system), party theories of intervention (e.g., how much America should intervene militarily in the world), and party theories of ends (e.g., the objective of spreading democracy). Similarly, in the 2000s, the Iraq War was a catalyst for changing those exact same aspects of party ideologies. Both episodes provided an opportunity for partisans to disagree, debate, and change their ideologies.
In addition to a political issue to debate, this model of party ideology development also requires a political entrepreneur who can recognize opportunities, and assemble the necessary resources, to act on these incentives for ideological change (Sheingate 2003). This approach appropriates Terry Moe's "logic of institutional development": on occasion, certain actors, operating in particular institutional settings, have the necessary incentives and resources to successfully change a political structure like a party's ideology (1985). (9) For example, recognizing an opportunity for change, Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson provided the political entrepreneurship needed to change their party's ideology in the 1820s. Despite not controlling the presidency, Van Buren's political connections to various party machines and factions, and Jackson's national popularity, provided the resources necessary for such a change. Similarly, Franklin Roosevelt provided the political entrepreneurship, and his bully pulpit as president provided the resources, needed to change his party's ideology in the 1930s.
To say that party ideologies evolve over time does not necessarily mean that the people who make up the two parties are constantly switching parties or changing their minds (although both phenomena do happen and they are an important part of party ideology development). (10) It can also mean that certain strands of thought within the two parties become more vocal or muted depending on circumstances. For example, the Anti-war Left has long been a part of the Democratic Party: it was suppressed during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (a suppression resulting in riots at the 1968 party convention), but received the party's presidential nomination in 1972 once the Republicans controlled the White House and oversaw the Vietnam War. It was vocal during the Reagan administration, muted during the Clinton administration, and vocal again during the Bush administration's Iraq War. Similarly, isolationists in the Republican Party lost their dominance in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, were revived in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, and muted again in the 2000s during the Bush administration. This shift in emphasis--some groups within the party becoming more influential in shaping party platforms, candidate selection, and party stances at some times more than others--is a key ingredient in party ideology evolution.
When entrepreneurial political actors face incentives to change their party's ideology because of institutional dissonance, when they have sufficient resources, and when there is a salient political issue over which the two parties debate, then a party ideology is ripe for transformation. When this ideological shift is reflected in new discourses and rhetoric among party identifiers, the ideological change is complete. In this way, party ideology development is the product of the interaction of ideas, interests, and institutions as they change over time.
Given that so many ingredients usually need to come together before party ideologies change, under normal circumstances, only a long-term (but not short-term) change in party control of a government institution provides enough dissonance between a party's institutional position and ideological position to effect a durable change in party ideology. Because party ideologies are sticky equilibria, party ideology change typically lags behind party control change. Thus, if a party takes control of a government institution, but then relinquishes power shortly afterwards, it is less likely that party ideologies will change during that short time period. For example, in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, with Republicans in the White House, Democratic Party ideology advocated for a less imperial presidency (its theory of governance) and a less imperial foreign policy (its theory of foreign intervention). As a result, the Democratic Party nominated, and the country elected, Jimmy Carter on just such a platform in 1976. Once in office, Carter realized the expedience of a strong presidency and an interventionist foreign policy, but despite his own moves in that direction, Democratic Party ideology remained opposed to a strong presidency and foreign intervention. The incentives for party ideology change lasted only four years, and the ideology change lagged long enough that there was no substantive ideological change by the time Republicans regained control of the White House. With Reagan's election in 1980, the dissonance between institutional position and ideological position was resolved by a change in institutional control rather than a change in ideology.
Other Factors that Influence Party Ideology Development
Having outlined the causal mechanisms of the theory, I recognize that changes in party control, and the resulting changes in party ideologies, are not the only factors that influence party ideology development. The most significant driver of party ideology change is public ideology development, which is the product of innumerable historical contingencies and factors including major events (like wars and economic depressions) and major secular developments (like industrialization, immigration, urbanization, and the development of the national security state). The parties change their positions and ideologies as the larger public changes its positions and ideologies. The study of American political culture and thought, which bears on public ideology change, has rightfully received a great deal of attention by historians and political scientists.
This article does not pretend to explain all of these broader movements in American public ideology over time. Instead, this article asks, more narrowly, what causes the ideologies of the two major parties to develop differently, in relation to each other, within this larger sphere of changes in public opinion and American political culture and thought. The number of scholars asking this question is much smaller, and almost all of these scholars have focused on society-centered factors like class, social psychology, and ethnicity. (11) The particular contribution of this article is to point out an important politycentered factor that also helps explain the relative ideological movement between the parties.
The following sections examine whether a party in long-term control of the presidency tends to develop its ideology in a way that advocates for relatively more presidential power and foreign intervention. A party's advocacy of more foreign intervention includes calls for declaring war on foreign nations, sending troops into international conflicts, funding and otherwise aiding foreign nations, increasing spending on the military to prepare for foreign conflict, and greater involvement in international organizations that intervene in foreign affairs. This interventionist position has taken on many different names including internationalism, realism, nation building, entanglements, humanitarianism, spreading democracy, hawkishness, spreading peace, or imperialism--depending on if it is being praised or criticized. Similarly, a party's advocacy of less foreign intervention includes opposition to declaring war on foreign nations, to sending troops into international conflicts, and to funding and aiding foreign nations, while expressing support for remaining neutral in international conflicts, decreasing spending on the military, and less involvement in international organizations that intervene in foreign affairs. This position has also assumed many different names, including isolationism, realism, pacifism, or dovishness--depending on if it is being praised or criticized.
Dependent Variable: Relative Change in Party Ideologies. Ideology is a notoriously difficult political phenomenon to measure (Converse 1964), but in order to test theories that purport to explain party ideology development, a better measure than roll-call scaling applications is required. To understand how the ideologies of the two major parties have changed at different points in American history we must focus on how the ideologies constrain different ideas and attitudes at different times. Following Gerring's methodology, to measure party ideology this article focuses on national party platforms. A national party ideology is defined most clearly in a presidential campaign where a party writes a platform of principles defining the party's ideology and the candidate engages in speeches and debates distinguishing his/her party's principles from his/her opponents. (12) In addition to party platforms, measurements of party ideology will be supplemented by an analysis of party rhetoric in presidential campaigns, survey data about the attitudes held by party identifiers in the electorate, and votes cast by party politicians. In this way, the article measures ideology as it exists in all three components of a political party: the party in government (issue positions of party politicians), the party organization (party platforms), and the party in the electorate (survey data).
As noted before, the dependent variable measures change in the relative movement of party positions with regard to more or less presidential power and foreign intervention. For example, at the start of the Eisenhower administration in 1953, Democratic Party ideology called for more foreign intervention than Republican Party ideology. Because the Republican Party took long-term control of the presidency between 1953 and 1960, this article predicts that the Republican Party will change its ideological position to move further in the direction of foreign intervention than their Democratic opponents. The prediction is not necessarily that the two parties will actually switch positions in ideological space (although that is possible), but that the gap between the two parties will at least narrow. Furthermore, it is possible--due to secular shifts in American history--that both parties moved in the direction of more foreign intervention during this period. Within this general movement by society at large, however, this theory predicts that the Republican Party will move further in that direction than the Democratic Party. Thus, it is the relative movement of the two parties' ideologies that is being measured rather than their absolute positions.
Independent Variable: Change in Long-Term Control of the Presidency. As explained earlier, given the stickiness and path dependence of ideologies, and the need for other factors to emerge like a political issue to debate and a party entrepreneur to act, under normal conditions it usually takes long periods of time for party ideologies to change as expected. Party ideologies will not change as much with short-term changes in party control of government institutions as they will with long-term changes in party control of government institutions. As a result, this article focuses on changes in long-term control, which is defined here as a change lasting for at least eight years. This time span is chosen based on Skowronek's work on reconstructive politics (1993). In American politics, a one-term president is considered a blip or an aberration. A party that only captures the presidency for one term, and is then forced to relinquish power, is a party with only tenuous control of government that leaves a smaller mark on the course of American political development. "Reconstructive presidents" (and parties) are always at least two-term presidents, who then have successors from their same party continue their reconstructive work. Thus, in identifying periods of long-term party control of a government institution, this article looks for party control that lasts for at least eight years.
In identifying periods of change in long-term party control, this article looks at moments when the new institutional configuration is in tension with the existing party ideologies. Thus, I examine only instances in which one party transfers long-term control to the opposing party. A party's institutional position may shift from a long period of control to a short period of opposition and back to another long period of control, but this would not represent a new party taking long-term control.
Observations. Because this article focuses on long-term party control of government institutions, in order to record enough observations to be able to draw conclusions about a trend, it must look at a long stretch of U.S. history. This article examines party control of the presidency and party ideologies since 1900 because the turn of the twentieth century represented a new era of American foreign affairs. These eleven decades of U.S. history yield nine observations of long-term change in party control of the presidency (see Table 1). The following sections will examine whether these changes coincide with changes in party theories of foreign intervention in the expected way.
The Progressive Era and Republican Empire, 1900-1913
Between 1900 and 1913, Republicans controlled the presidency, and the two parties' ideologies developed as expected. Republicans developed a theory of governance that involved a strong presidency--typified in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt (TR)--and an increasingly interventionist foreign policy. In contrast, Democratic criticisms of presidential power became a central aspect of party platforms and rhetoric. At the same time, the Democratic Party's foreign policy, articulated by William Jennings Bryan, became more critical of U.S. military interventions and imperialism than it had ever been before.
The turn of the twentieth century was a time of imperial American foreign policy. This represented an important secular shift in public ideology, with respect to foreign intervention, from the early American republic when Americans largely wished to be left alone by foreign powers (Schlesinger 1995). Over the course of the nineteenth century, American ideology--including the ideology of both major parties--became more interventionist on foreign policy for a variety of reasons, including the American appetite for territorial expansion and the rise of American economic and military power. During that time, the United States stopped fearing the military prowess of the nations of Europe and took its place as a leading world power itself.
In 1898, the American public supported, Congress declared, and the president executed war with Spain over its colonial possessions. American victory in the war resulted in the acquisition of Spain's colonies, and further embroiled the United States in foreign interventions in the years following. The Spanish-American War, and the issue of American territorial expansion, provided a foreign policy issue over which the parties could debate and distinguish themselves and their principles. President McKinley along with Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan were three of the party entrepreneurs most involved in developing their parties' ideologies during this period.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Governance
In the half century between 1860 and 1912, just one Democrat was elected president. In long-term control of the presidency, the Republican Party's theory of governance called for a strong executive. While Lincoln articulated the doctrine of executive discretion most intelligently, by the first decade of the twentieth century, the party's ideology had expanded and been influenced by the ideas of executive power propounded by Theodore Roosevelt (Yarbrough 2012). By the end of his presidency, TR had moved his party's theory of governance a long way from the Whig Party of the 1830s-50s and the Republican Party that impeached Andrew Johnson. (13) While the Whigs adopted their party name to indicate their opposition to executive power, Republicans at the turn of the twentieth century created the modern, strong executive with Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt.
The Democratic Party's theory of governance, in contrast, developed in a way that called for a constrained executive. This was a change from the antebellum period in which Jackson's Democratic Party advocated more presidential power than the Whigs. Living in the presidential wilderness for more than 40 years since the Civil War had an impact on the Democratic Party. The 1904 party platform dedicated an entire section to a criticism of "Executive Usurpation":
We favor the nomination and election of a President imbued with the principles of the Constitution, who will set his face sternly against executive usurpation of legislative and judicial functions, whether that usurpation be veiled under the guise of executive construction of existing laws, or whether it take refuge in the tyrant's plea of necessity or superior wisdom. (Democratic National Convesion [DNC] 1904)
The 1908 platform criticized the exponential growth in the number of executive-appointed office-holders. In contrast to this Republican spoils system, the Democrats promised "economy in administration." Finally, the 1912 platform, at the height of Democratic anti-presidential ideology, went so far as to call for a constitutional amendment that would limit presidents to just one term.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention
Party control of the presidency also coincided with changes in party theories of foreign intervention. The 1900 GOP platform celebrated America's intervention in the Caribbean on the grounds that the United States was spreading freedom to Cuba: the Republican administration "conducted and in victory concluded a war for liberty and human rights ... To ten millions of the human race there was given a 'new birth of freedom' and to the American people a new and noble responsibility" (Republican National Convention [RNC] 1900). After his heroics with the "Rough Riders," TR became McKinley's vice president, and soon assumed the presidency. TR helped nurture the GOP's interventionist foreign policy, which included a willingness to have the United States exercise "an international police power" (T. Roosevelt 1904).
At the same time that the GOP peaked in its interventionist foreign policy with TR, the Democratic Party moved in the other direction by nominating the outspoken critic of imperialism William Jennings Bryan in 1896, 1900, and 1908. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Democratic Party had turned its back on the expansionism and imperialism it advocated in the 1840s and 50s. As a party dominated by rural farmers in the South and West, it absorbed the Populist Party and became increasingly hostile to the internationalism of the urban Eastern elites who made up the Republican Party. The 1900 platform specifically denounced America's interventions in the Philippines: "We condemn and denounce the Philippine policy of the present administration. It has involved the Republic in an unnecessary war, sacrificed the lives of many of our noblest sons, and placed the United States, previously known and applauded throughout the world as the champion of freedom, in the false and un-American position of crushing with military force the efforts of our former allies to achieve liberty and self-government." It also condemned "militarism" in general, arguing, in an echo of the Jeffersonian Republicans, that a large standing army is a threat to freedom and requires burdensome taxes (DNC 1900). The 1904 platform dedicated an entire section to what it called "imperialism":
We favor the preservation, so far as we can, of an open door for the world's commerce in the Orient without unnecessary entanglement in Oriental and European affairs, and without arbitrary, unlimited, irresponsible and absolute government anywhere within our jurisdiction. We oppose, as fervently as did George Washington, an indefinite, irresponsible, discretionary and vague absolutism and a policy of colonial exploitation, no matter where or by whom invoked or exercised. We believe with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, that no Government has a right to make one set of laws for those "at home" and another and a different set of laws, absolute in their character, for those "in the colonies." (DNC 1900)
The platform further criticized the Roosevelt administration for making war without congressional approval. Like the Whigs of the nineteenth century, the Democrats were now invoking George Washington's noninterventionist rhetoric.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Republican and Democratic Parties developed distinct ideologies in accordance with GOP control of the presidency. The Republican Party's theory of governance advocated for a strong president, while the Democratic Party's theory of governance criticized "executive usurpation." The GOP's theory of foreign intervention advocated for a strong international presence and a "big stick," while the Democratic theory of foreign intervention criticized "imperialism" and "militarism."
World War I and Wilsonian Internationalism, 1913-1921
Between 1917 and 1918, American casualties in the Great War cooled the American appetite for military conflict. This critical juncture revived a strain of noninterventionism and isolationism that persisted in American culture for a quarter century until World War II. Both parties became less interventionist than they had been in the preceding decades. Nonetheless, party control of the presidency helped shape how the ideologies of the two parties developed in relation to each other within this broader sphere. During the two presidential terms of Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party came to embrace presidential power, and relatively more foreign intervention, while the GOP adopted the anti-internationalist rhetoric of isolationist Americans like Bryan.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Governance
After finally winning control of the White House, the Democratic Party stopped advocating for a constitutional amendment to bar presidents from running for reelection. They also stopped talking about executive usurpation. Woodrow Wilson was one of the nation's leading theorists of a strong presidency in the American constitutional system. He called for a leader democracy in which the president would lead responsible party government. Symbolic of his efforts to strengthen the presidency, Wilson became the first president since the eighteenth century to deliver the State of the Union Address in person. Upon reaching the conclusion of the 1916 platform, the Democratic Party exclaimed that "Woodrow Wilson stands to-day the greatest American of his generation" (DNC 1916). The party entrepreneurship of Woodrow Wilson, who just happened to have a background as a political scientist advocating for executive power, allowed the Democratic Party to change its theory of governance relatively quickly. If another politician had received the Democratic nomination and become president, it probably would have taken longer.
The Republicans were relatively slower to change their theory of governance and did not immediately switch to criticizing presidential power. However, by 1920, the GOP's theory of governance called for a constrained executive. Specifically, the Republican Party platform criticized President Wilson for executive usurpation and for continuing to exercise the emergency powers of the president after the end of the Great War: "The President clings tenaciously to his autocratic war time powers. His veto of the resolution declaring peace and his refusal to sign the bill repealing war time legislation, no longer necessary, evidenced his determination not to restore to the Nation and to the State the form of government provided for by the Constitution. This usurpation is intolerable and deserves the severest condemnation" (RNC 1920).
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention
As the two parties' theories of governance changed, so did their theories of foreign intervention. World War I acted as a catalyst in this process by ensnaring the parties in debate over foreign policy. In 1913, Democrats were still employing the rhetoric and ideology of anti-imperialism that they had been using since Reconstruction. Shortly after taking office, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson promised a noninterventionist crowd in Alabama that "the United States will never again seek one additional foot of territory by conquest" (Wilson 1913). However, Wilson's ideology, and the ideology of the Democratic Party he led, changed on foreign policy over the course of his administration.
After assuming office, President Wilson intervened more internationally than his party's previous attitudes toward foreign intervention would have indicated, and a change in the party's theory of foreign intervention followed. This change, though, only occurred after factional infighting, which demonstrates the difficulty of changing a political structure like a party's ideology. In April 1914 Wilson sent troops to occupy Veracruz in response to the Tampico Affair, and in July 1915 Wilson sent 330 U.S. Marines to occupy Haiti to protect American business interests. When it became apparent, in 1915, that Wilson's diplomacy was leading America into intervening in the Great War in Europe, anti-war Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned from Wilson's cabinet. As Wilson ran for reelection in 1916, the Democratic Party's platform showed signs of its change on foreign policy.
The circumstances of the last two years have revealed necessities of international action which no former generation can have foreseen. We hold that it is the duty of the United States to use its power, not only to make itself safe at home, but also to make secure its just interests throughout the world, and, both for this end and in the interest of humanity, to assist the world in securing settled peace and justice. We believe that ... the time has come when it is the duty of the United States to join the other nations of the world in any feasible association that will effectively serve those principles. (DNC 1916)
The 1916 platform was the first Democratic Party platform to call for a military buildup since the Civil War. Wilson requested and received a declaration of war from Congress in April 1917. (14) After the end of the war in 1918, Wilson was the key player in attempting to form an international league of nations.
The Republican Party's theory of foreign intervention moved in the opposite direction. In 1916, the Republicans nominated an internationalist, Charles Hughes, as they had always done, but they also began to back away from their previous ideological commitments. The 1916 party platform explained, "We desire peace, the peace of justice and right, and believe in maintaining a strict and honest neutrality between the belligerents in the great war in Europe. We must perform all our duties and insist upon all our rights as neutrals without fear and without favor" (RNC 1916). By the end of the war, American political ideology had undergone a secular shift toward less foreign intervention. After Wilson's second term in office, the GOP nominated their first noninternationalist candidate in Warren Harding, who called for a "return to normalcy." Harding won in a landslide by criticizing Wilson's foreign interventionism.
Although Democrats held the White House for just eight years, World War I and the party entrepreneurship of Wilson provided enough incentives and opportunities for the Democratic and Republican Parties to change their ideologies in ways that had long-lasting effects. These changes in relatively transient party theories of governance and party theories of intervention also had an impact on changes in relatively durable party theories of ends. During Wilson's administration, an internationalist faction emerged within the Democratic Party for the first time, and that faction has been present ever since with varying levels of importance. Likewise, an isolationist faction emerged within the Republican Party for the first time, and that faction has also been present ever since with varying levels of importance. This era helped to shape Democratic Party ideology such that the party's current theory of ends includes international humanitarianism--an aspect of party ideology that was not present prior to the Wilson administration. If anything, prior to this time, international humanitarianism was a tenet of GOP ideology. This development foreshadowed the emergence of "universalism" as a defining characteristic of Democratic Party ideology (Gerring 1998).
Republican Interwar Era, 1921-1933
Because the horrors of World War I resulted in a secular shift in American foreign policy toward isolationism, and because the Republicans led the country's move in this direction, the election of 1920 witnessed the largest popular vote landslide in American history. (15) Within this larger sphere of attitudes about foreign policy in the 1920s, change in long-term party control of the presidency between 1921 and 1933 influenced relative change between the parties. With Republicans in the White House from 1921 to 1933, the two parties' ideologies evolved as expected. However, as there were no wars during this period, the changes were not as dramatic as those witnessed in the 1910s.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Governance
After losing two consecutive elections, the Democratic Party returned to its rhetoric of opposition to executive power and bureaucratic centralization. The 1928 platform declared its opposition to "bureaucracy and the multiplication of offices." Instead of nationalization, the Democrats defended "the rights of the states" as "a bulwark against centralization." The platform devoted an entire section, "Economy and Reorganization," to explaining how it would shrink and reorganize the executive branch. Similarly, the first thing the 1932 Democratic Party platform promised, as a solution to the Great Depression, was "an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance." Republicans also promised economy in government during this period, but they insisted this was a "nonpartisan" issue, and because, according to them, "the President is particularly fitted to direct measures," their proposed solution was to give him "the required authority" to reorganize the bureaucracy.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention
Although these changes were likewise relatively minor and emerged more slowly, the parties' theories of foreign intervention also developed in the expected way. For example, in the 1924 presidential campaign, the Democrats called for disarmament, but they still advocated for creating the League of Nations, while the GOP still opposed it. By 1928, however, the Democratic Party was returning to the rhetoric of nonintervention that it had used during the era of Grover Cleveland and William Jennings Bryan.
Echoing the 1900 platform, the 1928 platform expressed an "abhorrence of militarism, conquest and imperialism" and advocated "freedom from entangling political alliances with foreign nations" (DNC 1928). Democrats also returned to the practice of criticizing Republican administrations for conducting foreign policy without the consent of the Senate. The 1932 platform demanded "no interference in the internal affairs of other nations." Their presidential candidates in 1920, 1924, and 1928 resembled the candidates of the pre-Wilson years more than they did Wilson. In 1924, William Jennings Bryan's brother, Charles, was put on the presidential ticket with John Davis.
The Republicans also moved slowly back to their pre-Wilson positions. Although Harding and Coolidge had campaigned in 1920 on retreating from foreign interventions and a return to normalcy, almost all presidents end up engaging in more foreign intervention than they anticipate. Coolidge sent troops to Honduras in 1924 and Nicaragua in 1926. It is true that the Republican Congress was more resistant than the Republican presidency in this return to internationalism and rejected Coolidge's request that America join the World Court, but control of the presidency still influenced party ideology development. The 1928 GOP platform called for the "full ratio" of "Navy armaments" allowed under the limitations of the Navy Armaments Treaty and the presidential "power to draft people and resources in times of war" (RNC 1928).
Democrats criticized Republican interventionism in the 1928 presidential campaign. Franklin Roosevelt, sensing a winning issue to use against Republicans, penned an article in Foreign Affairs criticizing the Coolidge administration for its military policy. "We can for all time," Roosevelt proclaimed, "renounce the practice of arbitrary intervention in the home affairs of our neighbors" (F. Roosevelt 1928, 586). Roosevelt's editorial stance, however, probably had more to do with public opinion at the time than Democratic Party ideology. Noninterventionism was popular in America, and candidates of both parties sought to align themselves with the popular side of the issue. The two parties were not as clearly divided on the issue as they had been during World War I. For example, while not as antiinterventionist as FDR in 1928, presidential candidate Herbert Hoover backed away from the Republican administration's foreign policies toward Latin America (McPherson 2014).
During the 1920s, there was tremendous diversity of thought within both parties on foreign policy, but we can still detect some trends in party ideology development. In his study of roll-call votes on American foreign policy, Grassmuck (1951) found that "during the twenties Republican congressmen tended to support the foreign policy of the Republican presidents, and this policy favored a strong international position. Throughout this same period Democratic congressmen tended to oppose this position." Without a war or foreign crisis to sharply demarcate foreign policy positions, the ideological developments of the 1920s were not as sharp as the changes in the 1910s. The inertia of ideological structure resisted change. Nonetheless, the two parties' ideologies changed in relation to each other as predicted. After being staunchly less interventionist during World War I, the GOP became at least as interventionist as the Democratic Party--if not more so--during the 1920s.
Democratic New Deal and World War II, 1933-1953
Former critic of foreign intervention, Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), recorded in his diary that his "convictions regarding international cooperation and collective security took form on the afternoon of the Pearl Harbor attack. That day ended isolationism for any realist" (Vandenberg 1952, 1). World War II ended isolationism for most Americans, in general, and this represented a secular shift in American ideas about foreign intervention. The relative change in ideologies between the parties during this time, however, was influenced by party control of the White House.
Franklin Roosevelt established long-term Democratic Party control of the presidency by winning four consecutive elections from 1932 to 1944. During this period, the Democratic Party clearly became more supportive of presidential power and foreign intervention than the Republican Party. The anti-executive and isolationist wing of the GOP, led by Senator Robert Taft, emerged as the dominant voice of the party during this time. While ultimately supporting FDR's intervention in World War II, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the differences between Republican and Democratic foreign policy ideology meant that the Republicans moved more slowly into war. Just as Wilson provided political entrepreneurship to change Democratic Party ideology during the opportunity provided by World War I, Roosevelt provided political entrepreneurship to change Democratic Party ideology during the opportunity provided by World War II.
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Governance
During the 1930s, the parties first changed their theories of governance. Between 1933 and 1952, advocacy for a strong executive and presidential leadership became an important part of Democratic Party ideology. FDR's administration is widely seen as defining the modern presidency, and the Democratic Party largely justified this expansion of presidential power while the Republican Party mostly criticized it. The 1936 GOP platform opened by attacking not only the economic interventions of New Dealism but also, interestingly, its expansion of executive and bureaucratic power:
America is in peril ... The powers of Congress have been usurped by the President. The integrity and authority of the Supreme Court have been flouted ... The New Deal Administration ... has promoted investigations to harass and intimidate American citizens, at the same time denying investigations into its own improper expenditures. It has created a vast multitude of new offices, filled them with its favorites, set up a centralized bureaucracy, and sent out swarms of inspectors to harass our people ... It has coerced and intimidated voters by withholding relief to those opposing its tyrannical policies ... To a free people, these actions are insufferable. This campaign cannot be waged on the traditional differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. The responsibility of this election transcends all previous political divisions. We invite all Americans, irrespective of party, to join us in defense of American institutions, (RNC 1936)
According to Republicans, the 1936 election could not be "waged on the traditional differences between the Republican and Democratic parties" because the election was not only about the ends of government in society, but also about the constitutional balance of institutional powers (theories of governance). The GOP made a call for a "defense of American institutions."
The fight over Roosevelt's Third New Deal, which would have expanded the power of the presidency at the expense of Congress and the courts, also illustrates the changing theories of governance within the two parties. In March 1938, the Senate passed FDR's executive reorganization bill 49-42 (Milkis 1993, 122). However, not a single Republican joined the 47 Democrats, 1 Progressive, and 1 Independent who voted in favor of the bill (Congressional Quarterly 1950). When the Executive Reorganization Act of 1939 finally passed the House, 98% of Democrats, but just 5% of Republicans, supported the bill. Similarly, when the Senate passed the House version, 63-23, 95% of Democrats, but just 9% of Republicans, voted in favor of the bill (Poole and Rosenthal 2015).
Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention
This change of emphasis in the GOP's theory of governance had implications for a change of emphasis in the GOP's theory of foreign intervention. As early as 1936, GOP platforms began criticizing FDR for Wilsonian internationalism, and--like the Whigs and Bryan Democrats before them--reviving the words of Washington: "Obedient to the traditional foreign policy of America and to the repeatedly expressed will of the American people, we pledge that America shall not become a member of the League of Nations nor of the World Court nor shall America take on any entangling alliances in foreign affairs" (RNC 1936). By 1940, as FDR looked to involve America in the Second World War that had broken out in Europe, GOP isolationism reached its peak:
The Republican Party is firmly opposed to involving this Nation in foreign war. We are still suffering from the ill effects of the last World War: a war which cost us a twenty-four billion dollar increase in our national debt, billions of uncollectible foreign debts, and the complete upset of our economic system, in addition to the loss of human life and irreparable damage to the health of thousands of our boys. (RNC 1940)
Even after the GOP admitted that U.S. involvement in World War II was the correct course of action, the party again resisted the Democratic Party's efforts at international political organization. "We shall seek to achieve such aims through organized international cooperation and not by joining a World State" (RNC 1944). It is true that from 1941 to 1944, even though they were out of power, the GOP became more interventionist than they had been in the past. However, the hypothesis tested in this article is not whether a party becomes more or less interventionist on some absolute scale, but how much more or less interventionist it becomes in relation to the other party. In this instance, the GOP, in opposition to the president, moved more slowly than the Democrats toward the new position of international intervention that the United States adopted in the 1940s. It was not until 1948 that the GOP offered support for the United Nations (UN) in its party platform.
The Democratic Party, in contrast, was proud of its internationalism and interventionism. The party defended FDR against charges by the GOP that he was engaging in "war-mongering" (DNC 1940). In 1947, President Truman outlined his Truman Doctrine, committing America to intervene internationally to protect free peoples against Soviet aggression. In 1950, Truman sent troops to protect South Korea against invasion from the Communist North. By the end of two decades of Democratic Party dominance of the presidency, the party had become fully more interventionist than they were during the GOP administrations of the 1920s. Twisting the historical record, and telling themselves that they had always been the party of internationalism, the 1952 platform boasted: "The return of the Democratic Party to power in 1933 marked the end of a tragic era of isolationism fostered by Republican administrations which had deliberately and callously rejected the golden opportunity created by Woodrow Wilson for collective action to secure the peace." An important part of the process of party ideology change over time is party narrative change. Parties constantly rework their narratives to assure themselves that they have continuity with their past, and the 1952 DNC platform is an excellent example of that.
In 1952, after twenty straight years of Democratic presidents, the newly created ANES asked its survey respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: "Since the end of the last world war this country has gone too far in concerning itself with problems in other parts of the world." 38% of Democrats, but just 25% of Republicans, disagreed with that statement (Campbell, Gurin, and Miller 1999). Thus, significantly more Democrats than Republicans expressed the more interventionist attitude on foreign policy in 1952.
Republican Cold War, 1953-1961
Like the presidency of Woodrow Wilson in the 1910s, the Eisenhower presidency of the 1950s represented a relatively brief change in long-term party control. However, just like in the 1910s, the relative ideological positions of the parties still changed as expected. A foreign policy issue (the Cold War) and an entrepreneurial party reformer (Dwight Eisenhower) provided the necessary ingredients for party ideology change.
In the 1950s, the GOP caught up with the Democratic Party and became just as interventionist, if not more so, on foreign policy. "Before 1952, the Republican Party, represented largely by its Congressional leaders, had tended to oppose the active internationalism of the Democratic Party. In 1953 and thereafter, when the focus for the Republican Party shifted to the White House, the general adherence of the Eisenhower administration to the internationalist policies of its predecessors served to minimize party differences in foreign affairs" (Campbell, Converse et al. 1960, 199-200). Despite its earlier opposition to the UN, in 1956 the party stated its intention to "vigorously support the United Nations" (RNC 1956).
After two terms of a Republican administration, the party articulated its newfound interventionist ideology in this way:
The pre-eminence of this Republic requires of us a vigorous, resolute foreign policy--inflexible against every tyrannical encroachment, and mighty in its advance toward our own affirmative goals ... The countries of the free world have been benefited, reinforced and drawn closer together by the vigor of American support of the United Nations ... We believe military assistance to our allies under the mutual security program should be continued with all the vigor and funds needed to maintain the strength of our alliances at levels essential to our common safety. The firm diplomacy of the Eisenhower-Nixon Administration has been supported by a military power superior to any in the history of our nation or in the world. As long as world tensions menace us with war, we are resolved to maintain an armed power exceeded by no other. (RNC 1960)
It is true that, in the aftermath of the Korean War, the Eisenhower administration was less willing to use American ground troops in fighting Communism than the Truman administration had been. Eisenhower resisted French requests for American troops to help fight the Communists in Vietnam in 1954. However, Republicans were just interventionist in other ways: Eisenhower relied more on threats of nuclear force, supplying weapons and money to nations fighting against Communist aggression, and use of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Party theories of presidential power and foreign intervention are not usually overturned on election night or as soon as a new party takes control of the presidency. As ideological structures, they continue to shape the behavior of party members until the ideology can be transformed, which typically takes years. Like Wilson and FDR before him, due to previous ideological predilections, Eisenhower was less in tune with the reigning ideology of his party than others, like Senator Robert Taft, who might have been nominated by the Republicans in 1952 (Milkis 1993, 168). Furthermore, due to the incentives that presidents almost universally face to exercise the powers at their disposal, Eisenhower faced incentives to intervene more in foreign affairs, and with more reliance on executive discretion, than the ideological position of the party as a whole. Thus, Senator Bricker reintroduced his amendment in 1953 with GOP support even though Republicans had won control of the White House. In the first months after the election, they continued to vote according to the ideological dispositions they had built up over the previous two decades. While it is difficult to reverse 20 years of ideological developments, through Eisenhower's entrepreneurship and the resources at his disposal, the party eventually backed away from its previous anti-presidential and noninterventionist ideology over the course of his administration. By the time the Bricker Amendment came up for a passage vote in the Senate on February 26, 1954, after Eisenhower worked against the legislation for a year, the parties took roughly the same positions: 33 Republicans and 30 Democrats supported the Bricker Amendment, while 14 Republicans and 18 Democrats opposed it.
The dramatic change in party theories of foreign intervention can be seen in the responses that Democrats and Republicans in the electorate gave to survey questions on foreign policy during this time. As noted, in 1952 Democrats had given the more interventionist response to the ANES question about foreign policy by a difference of 13 points. In 1956, the ANES asked survey respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that "this country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world." This time, 61% of Republicans, and 57% of Democrats, disagreed with that statement. Thus, by 1956, more Republicans than Democrats were giving the interventionist response. By 1960, after eight years of the Eisenhower presidency, that difference had grown from four points to eight. While both parties became more interventionist on foreign policy during the 1950s, Republicans moved farther in that direction than Democrats.
Democratic Cold War, 1961-1969
Long-term party control of the White House shifted to the Democrats in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1969, the Democratic Party controlled the presidency with Cold War liberals John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and the two parties' theories of governance developed as expected. The 1964 GOP platform pledged an "elimination of excessive bureaucracy" and the 1968 platform complained that "an entrenched, burgeoning bureaucracy has increasingly usurped powers, unauthorized by Congress." Sounding like Democrats during the Hoover administration, Republicans went on to claim that the "decentralization of power, as well as strict Congressional oversight of administrative and regulatory agency compliance with the letter and spirit of the law, are urgently needed to preserve personal liberty, improve efficiency, and provide a swifter response to human problems" (RNC 1968).
However, contrary to the hypothesis tested here, there was no substantive and clear relative movement in party theories of foreign intervention. At the start of this period, both parties were roughly equally anti-communist, and both parties boasted of their toughness toward, and willingness to intervene against, the Soviet Union. By the end of Johnson's administration in 1968, both parties were again roughly equally interventionist. In the 1968 ANES survey, roughly equal numbers of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (76%) disagreed with the noninterventionist sentiment that "this country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world." It is true that the eight-point gap between the parties narrowed to a two-point gap, but that change alone is not substantive enough to indicate an incontrovertible shift in the relative ideological positions of the parties. An analysis of the two parties' platforms in 1964 and 1968, likewise, do not reveal clear differences on the issue of foreign intervention. Thus, contrary to the hypothesis of this article, even though there was a change in long-term party control of the presidency between 1961 and 1968, there was not a clear change in the relative ideological positions of the two parties with regard to foreign intervention. Because it is debatable whether or not the parties' theories of foreign intervention changed relative to each other during this period, I will not code this era as favorable to my hypothesis. An observation can only be coded as following the hypothesis if the two parties clearly and unambiguously changed as expected.
The party history of the 1960s makes it clear that other factors, besides party control of the presidency, influence the development of party theories of foreign intervention.
A historical contingency, the emergence of the anti-war New Left and the hawkish New Right in the postwar era, worked in opposition to the logic of party ideology development. This may have to do with the fact that the parties had polarized over a different aspect of party ideology--attitudes toward social democratic reforms--during the previous three decades. Since the GOP had developed an anti-communist identity in the aftermath of the Democratic New Deal, and scored considerable political points for this position in the 1950s, the nature of foreign policy during the Cold War encouraged GOP hawkishness in the 1960s despite opposition to the presidency. The ideological changes of the 1950s, in which an anti-communist Republican Party became hawkish on foreign policy, established structures of Republican Party ideology that had lasting influence for several decades afterward.
Based on party attitudes expressed in response to the ANES survey question about foreign intervention, Republicans have almost always been more interventionist than Democrats since they first surpassed the Democrats in 1956 (see Figure 1). The exceptions to this rule can be partly explained by party control of the presidency, but these have been marginal moves between the two parties within a larger sphere of Republican interventionism. Since Republicans established an eight-point difference between the two parties in 1960, that gap has only narrowed to less than four points on a few occasions. In 1968, after the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the gap narrowed to two points. In 1980, after the Carter administration, the gap narrowed to three points. In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, the gap narrowed to two points in 1996, and by 1998 the Democrats actually became one point more interventionist. Most recently, in 2012, during the Obama administration, the gap narrowed back to just two points.
New Right Republicans and New Left Democrats, 1969-1993
Winning 4 of 5 presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, the Republican Party gained long-term control of the presidency in the 1970s and 80s. During that time period, GOP ideology embraced a strong presidency and remained strongly interventionist on foreign policy. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, moved quickly away from the strong executive theory of governance that had dominated the party since the New Deal. In its place, the party embraced the New Left's anti-executive power and anti-war sentiments. This relative shift in the two parties' ideologies is in accordance with the hypothesis.
The Anti-war Left and Democratic Doves
After relinquishing control of the presidency in 1969, the Democratic Party quickly moved to become anti-imperial: in its opposition to both an imperial presidency and an imperial foreign policy. The party was able to move quickly because all of the necessary ingredients for party ideology change were present from the moment Nixon took office: a political issue to debate (the Vietnam War), an insurgent party faction (the Anti-war Left), and party entrepreneurs with resources. In 1972, the party nominated anti-war candidate George McGovern. The 1972 platform retained some of the internationalist planks of previous Democratic Party platforms, but the McGovern wing of the party dominated, and the platform also made explicit criticisms of the Vietnam War now being carried on by the Republicans:
We believe that war is a waste of human life. We are determined to end forthwith a war which has cost 50,000 American lives, $150 billion of our resources, that has divided us from each other, drained our national will and inflicted incalculable damage to countless people. We will end that war by a simple plan that need not be kept secret: The immediate total withdrawal of all Americans from Southeast Asia ... The U.S. will no longer seek to determine the political future of the nations of Indo-China. (DNC 1972)
In 1976, the party once again nominated a candidate who drew a contrast with the executive imperialism and foreign interventionism of the Nixon administration. The 1976 platform criticized GOP unilateralism and secret conduct of foreign policy and called for a reduction of spending by five to seven billion dollars. (16)
After the Watergate scandal, the Democrats' criticism of Republican imperialism was effective and the party regained control of the White House in 1977. After taking office, Carter was soon met with international emergencies that caused him to question the noninterventionist ideology of his party. Even though Carter made interventionist moves during his term in office, he lost his reelection bid in 1980, and so the period from 1977 to 1980 did not represent a long-term change in party control of the presidency. As such, it was less likely that all of the necessary components would emerge within that short time period. As expected, there was no durable shift in the relative ideological positions of the party. In nominating Reagan in 1980, the GOP had become no less interventionist on foreign policy, vis-a-vis the Democrats, than they had been in 1976. The 1984 Democratic Party platform criticized the Republican administration for an arms race, and called for disarmament instead. The party continued to call for decreased defense spending--especially with the Cold War coming to a close.
Neoconservatives and Republican Hawks
In 1968, the GOP was still using the anti-war rhetoric that would shortly become a key part of Democratic Party ideology.
The entire nation has been profoundly concerned by hastily extemporized, undeclared land wars which embroil massive U.S. armed forces thousands of miles from our shores. It is time to realize that not every international conflict is susceptible of solution by American ground forces ... We will return to one of the cardinal principles of the last Republican Administration: that American interests are best served by cooperative multilateral action with our allies rather than by unilateral U.S. action." (RNC 1968)
However, by 1972, the GOP was still prosecuting the war in Vietnam that it had just recently been criticizing--although with promises that peace was at hand. Republican ideology developed in the 1970s to become more interventionist. As the anti-war New Democratic Left grew in importance, neoconservatives began leaving the Democratic Party for the Republican Party. The 1972 GOP platform criticized the Democratic Party's newfound dovishness and isolationism:
The nation's frustrations had fostered a dangerous spirit of isolationism among our people. America's influence in the world had waned ... We believe in keeping America strong. In times past, both major parties shared that belief. Today this view is under attack by militants newly in control of the Democratic Party. To the alarm of free nations everywhere, the New Democratic Left now would undercut our defenses and have America retreat into virtual isolation, leaving us weak in a world still not free of aggression and threats of aggression. We categorically reject this slash-now, beg-later, approach to defense policy. (RNC 1972)
Nixon's successor after his resignation, Gerald Ford, retained Secretary of State Kissinger and largely continued Nixon's foreign policies. The 1976 ANES survey found that Republican respondents were now 11 points more interventionist than Democrats.
Despite the Democratic Party's short-term control of the presidency from 1977 to 1980, Republicans remained more interventionist on foreign policy than Democrats, and neoconservatives continued to change party affiliation. In the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan brought on Democratic Party hawk Jeane Kirkpatrick as a foreign policy advisor. After the 1980 election, Kirkpatrick became ambassador to the UN. During the Reagan administration, the GOP continued its hawkish foreign policy ideology and continued to criticize Democratic foreign policy as using "the rhetoric of freedom, but in practice" following "a policy of withdrawal and isolation" (RNC 1984). Defense spending rose to record peacetime levels in the 1980s, and America intervened in a variety of international conflicts whether through funding, supplying weapons, CIA operations, or military intervention. The 1990 ANES survey found that Republicans were a record 16 points more interventionist than Democrats. After the Cold War, Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, continued Republican interventionist foreign policy by sending troops to Panama and the Persian Gulf in quick, decisive military victories. Bush's vision of a "new world order," in which peaceful states would join together to rebuff aggressor states set the stage for the foreign policy ideology of the Democratic Party in the 1990s. As predicted by the hypothesis, between 1969 and 1992, the Republican Party became clearly more interventionist while the Democratic Party became clearly less interventionist on foreign policy.
Liberal Internationalist Democrats and Paleoconservative Republicans, 1993-2001
During the eight years of Bill Clinton's Democratic presidency, the two parties' ideologies concerning foreign intervention shifted as different factions within the parties became more vocal. Within the Democratic Party, the Anti-war McGovernites began to hold less sway. In their place, a "New Democrats" faction--led by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the more centrist Democratic Leadership Council--held the ideologically dominant position. Within the Republican Party, the hawkish neoconservative branch of the party became less prominent, while an isolationist paleoconservative strand emerged.
The Clinton administration continued the foreign interventionist policies of the Republican Party; like President Bush, Clinton was not afraid for America to assume its new role as the world's lone superpower. Like the Republican Party before it, Democratic Party ideology developed in a way that called on the use of force to spread democracy, and changed to support an increased defense budget: "The Clinton-Gore administration has actively promoted the consolidation and spread of democracy and human rights ... The administration has ensured that America is prepared to fight alongside others when we can, and alone when we must. We have defeated attempts to cut our defense budget irresponsibly" (DNC 1996). Following the foreign policy of his predecessor, Clinton ordered military interventions in Somalia, Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Iraq. As the GOP criticized the Democratic Party for these interventions, the Democrats responded in their 1996 and 2000 party platforms by calling the Republicans isolationists. In 1996, they wrote: "The Dole-Gingrich Congress and the Republican Party have a different approach to America's security. Too often they would force America to go it alone--or not at all.... The Republican Party too often has neglected diplomatic opportunities [and] slashed the budgets necessary for diplomatic successes" (DNC 1996). The 1998 ANES survey found that, for the first time since 1952, Democratic respondents had become more interventionist than Republican respondents. In 2000, the platform explained: "Some Republicans believe America should turn away from the world. They oppose using our armed forces as part of international solutions, even when regional conflicts threaten our interests and our values" (DNC 2000).
As the Democratic Party turned away from the Anti-war Left, and toward New Democratic foreign policy ideology, the Republican Party turned toward its older isolationist ideology. Republicans in Congress criticized the Clinton administration's foreign interventions. The 2000 platform wrote: "the current administration has casually sent American armed forces on dozens of missions without clear goals, realizable objectives, favorable rules of engagement, or defined exit strategies" (RNC 2000). One Democratic columnist observed in 1994: "These days, Republicans are intent on gaining partisan profit from President Bill Clinton's foreign-policy travails. Yet, GOP leaders agree on little other than their opposition to administration policies that, ironically, often mirror those of Republican predecessors. GOP rhetoric has grown more partisan even as the President's policy has become less so" (Borosage 1994). In 1996, populist isolationist Republican Pat Buchanan had his best showing in the Republican Party presidential primaries. The 1996 platform was the first since the 1940s to criticize the UN--and did so at length. In the 2000 presidential debates between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Governor Bush criticized the Clinton administration's international interventionism, and famously pledged to have a "humble" foreign policy that focused on American interests. This position only became remarkable when President Bush prosecuted the war in Iraq and justified it on the idea of spreading democracy. Between 1993 and 2000, the ideologies of the two parties developed as expected.
Hawkish Republicans and Dovish Democrats, 2001-2009
From 2001 to 2009, long-term party control of the presidency shifted to the Republican Party. During this time, the two parties' ideologies reverted back to the 1969-1993 dynamics: the GOP once again became the party with a more interventionist foreign policy ideology and the Democratic Party once again became the party with a less interventionist ideology. The 1960s-70s anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, dormant during the 1990s, revived during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars instigated by a Republican administration.
The 9/11 attacks ensnared the parties in foreign policy debate in a way that shifted party theories of intervention much more quickly than typically occurs with change in party control of the White House. According to the 2002 ANES survey, Republicans returned to being a full 14 points more interventionist than Democrats (a spread not seen since 1992), and this double-digit gap persisted throughout the Bush administration. As the Iraq War became more and more unpopular, Democratic Party ideology became more and more dovish, and more and more critical of a now-hawkish Republican Party. The 2004 platform criticized President Bush for unilateralism and militarism: "the Bush Administration ... rush to force before exhausting diplomacy. They bully rather than persuade. They act alone when they could assemble a team" (DNC 2004). In 2008, the Democratic Party nominated antiwar candidate Barrack Obama, rather than Hillary Clinton, and the 2008 platform criticized the Bush administration for "rushing us into an ill-considered war in Iraq" (DNC 2008). The Republican Party, on the other hand, nominated foreign policy hawk John McCain. The changes in the two parties between 2001 and 2009 can be understood in the light of the institutional logic of party ideology development.
From 1900 to 2009, long-term party control of the presidency changed nine times, and in every instance but one (1961-69) the parties' ideologies with regard to foreign policy evolved as expected (see Table 2). The political institutional theory of party ideology development hypothesizes that changes in long-term party control of the presidency provide incentives for party actors to change their parties' theories of foreign intervention, but that party actors do not always have the resources and opportunities to act upon those incentives because of the multitude of other factors--both socioeconomic and historical institutional--that influence party ideology dynamics. That the nine instances of change in long-term party control of the presidency resulted in eight instances of change in party ideologies is remarkable. It is unlikely that these two factors appeared together so often by coincidence.
In 2009, Democrats regained long-term control of the presidency, and although it took several years to accomplish, the ideologies of the two parties changed as expected.
During the Bush 43 administration, opposition to executive imperialism was an article of faith among Democrats, while Republicans embraced a strong presidency. During this time, conservative political and legal theorists renewed their development of a unitary theory of the executive (Skowronek 2009). However, since taking control of the presidency, Democrats and Republicans have changed roles with Republican supporters of a strong executive taking a back seat in the party to those critical of executive usurpation. In 2014, President Obama decided to bypass an intransigent Congress by using the "pen" and "phone." Republicans decried Obama's decision to govern unilaterally as unconstitutional. As expected, the two parties' theories of presidential power have become very different from what they were during the Bush administration.
The two parties' theories of foreign intervention have likewise changed dramatically. During the Obama administration, a libertarian-leaning Tea Party faction within the Republican Party, dormant during the Bush administration, emerged in opposition to Democratic control of the national government. Libertarian-leaning Republicans who criticized domestic intervention in the economy and foreign intervention overseas in both the Bush and Obama administrations began to have a more prominent voice in the party. While the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, refused to reverse the GOP's previous interventionist stance on foreign policy, the 2016 nominee, Donald Trump, explicitly criticized the Iraq War and Bush-era foreign interventionism, and instead called for an "America first" foreign policy. The popularity of Trump's isolationism among Republican voters has surprised many political observers, but it should not. Knowing what we do about changes in party control of the presidency, we should have expected this. What will be interesting to see is if Trump's election represents yet another change in long-term party control of the presidency--and whether President Trump and the Republicans will abandon the noninterventionist ideology they developed in recent years.
Appendix 1 Percentage of Respondents Expressing a More Interventionist Attitude Year President Democrats Independents (Independent Variable) 1948 D 48 1952 D 38 1956 R 57 56 1958 R 57 58 1960 R 64 69 1968 D 74 71 1972 R 77 67 1976 R 62 68 1980 D 78 67 1984 R 67 71 1986 R 62 63 1988 R 61 62 1990 R 62 51 1992 R 67 62 1994 D 65 58 1996 D 72 64 1998 D 82 74 2000 D 69 61 2002 R 72 61 2004 R 75 65 2008 R 65 55 2012 D 63 60 Average 65.44 63.32 Year Republicans Party Difference (Dependent Variable) 1948 44 -5 1952 25 -13 1956 61 4 1958 61 4 1960 72 8 1968 76 2 1972 83 6 1976 73 11 1980 81 3 1984 80 13 1986 74 12 1988 75 14 1990 78 16 1992 81 14 1994 71 6 1996 74 2 1998 81 -1 2000 73 4 2002 86 14 2004 86 11 2008 75 10 2012 65 2 Average 71.89 6.45 Note: These data were compiled from the American National Election Studies data set variables VAR 480040, VAR 520051, and VCF0823. Figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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(1.) One myth that has limited modern scholarship on party ideologies concerning foreign policy is the idea that "party lines stop at the water's edge" (T. Roosevelt 1907). This phrase, a wishful thought coined by President Theodore Roosevelt and popularized in the 1948 presidential campaign by President Truman and Senator Vandenberg, has been taken by many as a description of normal American politics (Page and Bouton 2006; Busby, Monten, and Inboden 2012)--which has only recently been violated (Lieber 2014; Myre 2015). In truth, as this paper will show, this phrase rarely describes the nature of American party politics.
(2.) See also Lippmann (1955).
(3.) These terms are borrowed from Pierson (2004).
(4.) While this part of Converse's insight about ideologies has been largely ignored over the past few decades, some political scientists have encouraged us to focus on it again (Noel 2014). In reviewing the dominant approach to ideology within political science, Richard Bensel notes that "the relationship between ideation and behavior usually focuses on the role of ideology as motivation or frame for political action and usually neglects the fact that ideology is as much a product of political action as its cause. The problem here is to unpack the relationship so that it can be restructured as a dialectically transformative process for both ideation and behavior" (2016, 88).
(5.) See, for example, Neustadt (1960), Skowronek (1993), Moe and Howell (1999), and Howell (2013).
(6.) For a review of this literature, see Sollenberger (2014).
(7.) It is feasible that politicians could exercise the power at their disposal by not intervening, or by even shrinking the size and/or role of government, but this is rare in American politics. Much more often, politicians simply use the power at their disposal to intervene in pursuit of different ends than their predecessors.
(8.) Hinich and Munger (1994) point out that because party ideologies are reputational signaling mechanisms, and because they must be somewhat stable to serve this goal, ideologies help induce stability in electoral politics.
(9.) In the twentieth century, this has usually meant collaboration between elite political actors and political thinkers referred to by Noel (2014) as "academic scribblers."
(10.) David Karol (2009) has shown that members of Congress do frequently change positions on a variety of issues.
(11.) Gerring (1998) reviews this literature in his concluding chapter.
(12.) Several scholars have noted the consistency between campaign rhetoric (platforms and speeches) and subsequent issue positions (Pomper 1968). Others have argued that party platforms and campaign speeches are mere rhetoric, but even if this claim is true, it does not discount them as accurate expressions of party ideology. It is true that voters no longer read party platforms, but that does not make them any less representative of party ideology. Platforms include the narratives that partisans tell themselves and the ideas that ideological partisans want to communicate--whether or not the non-partisan electorate is listening.
(13.) The party's theory of governance during the 1910s can probably be best described as somewhere between the more radical view of executive power held by Roosevelt and the more conservative view of executive power held by his successor William Howard Taft. While TR's theories were not the reigning ideology in the party, the GOP had a much different view of executive power by 1912 than it had at the start of its long-term control of the White House in 1861.
(14.) Wilson also requested and received the Selective Service Act in 1917, which drafted 2.8 million soldiers. Like the Federalists during the Quasi War and the Republicans during the Civil War, the Democrats prosecuted seditious speech during the war.
(15.) Harding beat Cox 60% to 34%
(16.) After Carter assumed the Presidency for one term, however, the Democratic Party boasted in its 1980 platform of increasing defense spending every year since 1976.
Verlan Lewis is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University whose research focuses on American political institutions, thought, and development.
Caption: FIGURE 1. Differences Between Republican and Democratic Levels of Foreign Interventionism Note: Shaded time periods represent Democratic Party control of the presidency. The y axis is based on American National Election Studies survey questions asking respondents if Americans should "not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world" (data set variables VAR 480040, VAR 520051, and VCF0823). It is calculated by subtracting the percentage of Democrats giving the interventionist response from the percentage of Republicans giving the interventionist response (see Appendix 1 for complete data). Thus, positive numbers indicate that a greater percentage of Republicans gave the interventionist response, while negative numbers indicate that a greater percentage of Democrats gave the interventionist response.
TABLE 1 Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention (Expectations) Time Period Independent Dependent Variable: Variable: Expected Change Change in in Relative Long-Term Party Ideologies Party Control of the Presidency 1 Progressive Era and Republican Republicans should move Republican Empire Presidents more toward intervention 1900-1913 than the Democrats 2 World War I and Wilsonian Democratic Democrats should move Internationalism President more toward intervention 1913-1921 than the Republicans 3 Interwar Era Republican Republicans should move 1921-1933 Presidents more toward intervention than the Democrats 4 Democratic New Deal and Democratic Democrats should move World War II Presidents more toward intervention 1933-1953 than the Republicans 5 Republican Republican Republicans should move Anti-Communism President more toward intervention 1953-1961 than the Democrats 6 Democratic Cold War Democratic Democrats should move 1961-1969 Presidents more toward intervention than the Republicans 7 Republican Cold War Republican Republicans should move 1969-1993 Presidents more toward intervention than the Democrats 8 Clinton Internationalism Democratic Democrats should move 1993-2001 President more toward intervention than the Republicans 9 Bush War on Terror Republican Republicans should move 2001-2009 President more toward intervention than the Democrats TABLE 2 Party Control of the Presidency and Party Theories of Foreign Intervention (Results) Time Period Independent Dependent Variable: Variable: Change in Relative Change in Party Ideologies Long-Term as Expected? Party Control of the Presidency 1 Progressive Era and Republican Yes: Republicans moved Republican Empire Presidents more toward intervention 1900-1913 than Democrats 2 World War I and Wilsonian Democratic Yes: Democrats moved Internationalism President more toward intervention 1913-1921 than Republicans 3 Interwar Era Republican Yes: Republicans moved 1921-1933 Presidents more toward intervention than Democrats 4 Democratic New Deal and Democratic Yes: Democrats moved World War II Presidents more toward intervention 1933-1953 than Republicans 5 Republican Republican Yes: Republicans moved Anti-Communism President more toward intervention 1953-1961 than Democrats 6 Democratic Cold War Democratic No: Democrats did not 1961-1969 Presidents clearly move more toward intervention than Republicans 7 Republican Cold War Republican Yes: Republicans moved 1969-1993 Presidents more toward intervention than Democrats 8 Clinton Internationalism Democratic Yes: Democrats moved 1993-2001 President more toward intervention than Republicans 9 Bush War on Terror Republican Yes: Republicans moved 2001-2009 President more toward intervention than Democrats
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