Winning Without Your Base?
In the course of reporting Friday’s story on the relationship between John McCain and the base of the Republican Party, we talked to a number of historians, most of whom didn’t make it into the piece, but whose astute observations deserve some examination. The primary question we asked them: is there historical precedent for a candidate winning in November without full support of his base? The most interesting response came from Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown and author of The Popular Persuasion: An American History, who brought up Jack Kennedy’s problems with the more progressive parts of the Democratic Party in 1960.
"John Kennedy was mistrusted by liberals," Kazin told me. "His father had been good friends with Joe McCarthy. He had to convince Eleanor Roosevelt (still a major force within the party fifteen years after her husband’s death) who was very unsure about him. There was a real push to have Adlai Stevenson run for a third time. It’s funny because we now think of John Kennedy as a liberal, but he really did have to do a lot to have them trust him."