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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Nelson Rockefeller And Ted Cruz; Barry Goldwater And Chris Christie: The GOP Then And Now

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My Monday Washington Examiner column is on how the incoming Senate, specifically Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley, ought to deal with judicial nominees for the 24 months left in President Obama’s vast misadventure of a presidency.

Right now Texas Senator Ted Cruz is back at center stage, enraging his Democratic colleagues (and a few Republicans), poised, as National Review’s Eliana Johnson notes Monday morning, at the starting line of a run for the presidency, and serving as an life-sized omen that the high political drama that marked the Republican Party politics of 1958 to 1968 have returned in all their glory and turbulence.  (I can confirm I did attend the dinner Eliana reports on, as a moderator of the off-the-record discussion after the senator was on my radio show.)

Which is why Monday’s show with historian and author Richard Norton Smith should not be missed by anyone interested in 2016, no matter who they are backing.  Smith’s brand new and epic “Nelson Rockefeller: On His Own Terms” is a riveting and wildly entertaining bio-pic of a book, one covering most of the first three-quarters of the 20th century through the lens of the life of leading man Nelson Rockefeller and with the settings in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., Albany and vast stretches of South America. (Learning how Manhattan grew from the ’30s through the capture of the a book within a book, as is the brief education in The Standard Oil Company.)

It is also a preview of coming attractions for the GOP as the race for the 2016 presidential nomination opens early in 2015.

Cruz is very much the combative, principled conservative, but perhaps much more Reagan than the Goldwater-like figure liberals, MSM and establishment Republicans want to make him.  Chris Christie, while New Jersey’s and not the Empire State’s governor, is the combative centrist, the same space occupied by Rockefeller beginning with his election as New York’ governor in 1958 though Christie’s fidelity to his beloved Mary Pat is the opposite of Rocky’s treatment of his first wife Tod.  Those camps and their leaders clashed often and bitterly for over a decade, and never really made peace until Ronald Reagan named George H.W, Bush as his Veep in 1980.  That treaty broke up years ago, and 2016’s gathering in Cleveland could be as dramatic as 1964’s Cow Palace convention, the proceedings of which open Smith’s book first chapter before the book begins its sweeping narrative of Rockefeller’s life which began on July 8, 1908 and which would include an epilogue as an appointed Vice President under Gerald Ford before his death in early 1979.

Richard Nixon first held his party together in 1960 even as Rockefeller battled not only Goldwater forces but also the Eisenhower-era establishment, and then Nixon put it back together again after the electoral catastrophe of 1964 on his way to a narrow win and a center-right GOP in 1968.  In the Nixon space as we enter 2015 are any number of would-be presidents, and not far removed from any camp are the William Scranton/George Romney figures of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Scott Walker.  (Mitt Romney, of course, if he runs again, will be replaying the resurrection and return story of RN, with his supporters arguing that Republicans cannot afford a 1964 collapse after eight years of President Obama and with Hillary looming.)

Whomever you support and whatever you think of Senator Cruz et al, reading Nelson Rockefeller: On His Own Terms will prepare you for the dramatic clash of all the factions of the GOP coming at the party in 2015 and 2016.  The book is a joy to read and as excellent an education in the history of the 20th century GOP, the country as a whole, as well as of a great American family and its favorite, flawed but brilliant son as any you will find.   Join me Monday for an extended conversation with Richard Norton Smith.



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