Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right

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During the 1960s and 1970s, Texas was transformed by a series of political transitions. After more than a century of Democratic politics, the state became a Republican stronghold, influenced by the public perception that the GOP seemed better prepared to handle the formidable crises the country faced. By 1980, Texas was "Reagan Country." Ultimately, Republicans dominated the Texas political landscape, holding all twenty-seven of its elected offices and carrying former governor George W. Bush to his second term as president with more than 61 percent of the Texas vote.

In Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right, Sean P. Cunningham examines the remarkable origins of Republican Texas. Utilizing extensive research drawn from the archives of four presidential libraries, gubernatorial papers, local campaign offices, and oral histories, Cunningham presents a compelling narrative of modern conservatism as it evolved in one of the nation's largest and most politically important states.

Cunningham analyzes the political changes that took place in Texas during the tumultuous seventeen-year period between John F. Kennedy's assassination and the election of Ronald Reagan. Assessing the state's geography, history, economy, and social outlook, his analysis considers the nature of the political evolution in Texas during this time, as well as the changes that occurred within the political parties themselves. He explores critical issues related to the changing political scene in Texas, including the emergence of "law and order," race relations and civil rights, the slumping economy, the Vietnam War, and the rise of a politically active Christian Right, as well as the role of iconic politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, John Connally, and John Tower.

Cowboy Conservatism demonstrates Texas's distinctive and vital contributions to the transformation of postwar American politics, revealing a vivid portrait of modern conservatism in one of the nation's most fervent Republican strongholds.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cunningham, a native of Texas and a teacher at Texas Tech, chronicles the pivotal years between the assassination of JFK and Ronald Reagan's ascension to power in the ‘80s, which coincided with the swing of his state from blue to red. Texas has been a national political bellwether and was, by 1963 (when liberal LBJ carried the state in a landslide), a bastion of the growing conservative movement. By 1980, the state had adopted Reagan as a native son and moved into the Republican camp. Cunningham attributes some of the shift to postwar urbanization and the transformation of what had been a largely agrarian state into "the most vibrant economy in the country," oil rich and home to leading companies. Texas has a "unique political heritage notable for its colorful personalities, its conservative commitment to tradition and loyalty," libertarian values, racial conflicts, and a history that includes the Alamo. In a book that should interest students of political history, Cunningham deftly weaves these threads into the tapestry of national politics. "The rise of modern Texas conservatism not only coincided with a similar ascendancy nationwide, but also gave the movement shape and momentum." Photos. (May)
From the Publisher
"Mr. Cunningham writes with an easy and nonacademic gusto befitting a literary hand from the new national center of conservatism."— Washington Times" —

" Cowboy Conservatism is an illuminating history of modern conservatism in the state of Texas.... It is a non-partisan, level evaluation and study about the rise of modern conservatism in the United States. It does what books on history should do. Tell a story."— New York Journal of Books" —

"Cunningham's book goes beyond party rivalries to explain how political parties position themselves in the minds of voters."— Texas Tech Today" —

"Cunningham chronicles the pivotal years between the assassination of JFK and Ronald Reagan's ascension to power in the 80s, which coincided with the swing of his state from blue to red.... Cunningham deftly weaves these threads into the tapestry of national politics."— Publishers Weekly" —

"A carefully researched and crafted look at Texas' role in the Republican Party's transformation from a political party controlled by northeastern moderates to one embraced by Southern and western populists."— Austin American-Statesman" —

"Cunningham... examines the political change in Texas [that] helped shape political change nationally...."— Bryan-College Station Eagle" —

"The book is easy to read and appropriate for anyone who likes political histories."— Choice" —

"Anyone who has ever wondered why once loyally Democratic Texas... has become a Republican and conservative stronghold today, will profit from reading this history." — Voice of Reason" —

"Cunningham provides a vivid, informative, and frequently insightful chronicle of Texas politics between 1963 and 1980." — Journal of American History" —

"Cunningham aptly describes the roots of Texas's political culture.... This book should be a needed addition for the political science and Texana collections of all academic and public libraries." — Review of Texas Books" —

"In his study of the demise of Democratic party dominance in Texas, Sean P. Cunningham provides a vivid, informative, and frequently insightful chronicle of Texas politics between 1963 and 1980."— Journal of American History" —

"Cunningham skillfully explains a timeline for change that makes sense and contributes to our understanding of this political transformation."— Journal of Southern History" —

"Cowboy Conservativism is a careful study that avoids polemics and oversimplifications while still presenting a clear, focused argument."— Reviews in American History" —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813125763
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 11/30/2010
  • Series: New Directions in Southern History Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 996,131
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean P. Cunningham, assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University, has published articles and book reviews in Southwestern Historical Quarterly and the East Texas Historical Journal, among others. He lives in Lubbock, Texas.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrations



Introduction 1

1 The Eyes of Texas: Political Culture and Tradition 12

2 Growing Pains: The Politics of Extremism 40

3 Reconstructing Conservatism: Antiliberalism and the Limits of "Law and order" 68

4 "I am a Sick American": Race, Fear, and the Limits of Backlash Politics 97

5 Poisons: Establishments in Crisis 127

6 Civil War: Populist Conservatism and the 1976 Campaigns 155

7 The Gathering Storm: Republican Momentum and the Albattoss of Jimmy Carter 182

8 Revolution: Reagan and Texas in 1980 209

Conclusion 237

Notes 243

Bibliography 273

Index 283

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