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History of the Republican Party

A new renaissance

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president promising a "New Federalism." On the theory that local governments reflected both the will and the wisdom of the citizenry better than the remote bureaucracy-ridden government in Washington, Reagan planned to transfer some functions of the federal government to the states.

Both the past and the future of the Republican Party were represented in Reagan's election to the presidency. Appealing to the same conservative constituency that had been attracted to Barry Goldwater, he also captivated a broad spectrum of America with his easygoing and reassuring manner. His sense of humor lightened the pessimism pervading America--as when John Hinckley Jr. shot him in the chest. Although seriously wounded, as Reagan was wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery, he told the team of doctors that he hoped they were all Republicans.

His sincerity and strength led to an emotional tidal wave at the polls. Reagan restored America's pride in itself. As he once commented, "America's best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead. America remains what Emerson called her 150 years ago, 'The country of tomorrow.' What a wonderful description and how true."

Continuing the Republican tradition of leading the way in furthering the position of women, Reagan's first term included several notable appointments. He selected Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice, Elizabeth Dole as the first female secretary of transportation and Jeane Kirkpatrick as the first female U.S. representative to the United Nations. With Dole, Kirkpatrick and Margaret Heckler as the secretary of health and human services, it was also the first time in history three women served concurrently in a president's Cabinet.

In his 1984 re-election, President Reagan received the largest Republican landslide victory in history. Under the leadership of President Reagan and his successor, George Bush, the United States experienced the longest economic expansion period in its history--more than 20.7 million new jobs were created as a result. His steadfastness in the face of the communist threat led to the surprising--to all but himself--collapse of communism in 1989. Reaching milestones economically and diplomatically, President Reagan, "The Great Communicator," earned his place in history among our greatest presidents.

Although Reagan was a hard act to follow, President Bush's leadership was proven when he lay a solid groundwork for U.S. policy in such critical areas as nuclear disarmament, free trade, the Middle East peace process and the future of NATO. Relying on his illustrious military experience, he brought together an unprecedented coalition to maintain the forces of law in the Persian Gulf region. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, President Bush's popularity soared to record levels. As a result of his leadership after the war, a delegation from Israel sat face to face with Palestinians for the first time in thousands of years.

Unfortunately President Bush was blamed for a worldwide economic slowdown triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and involving the transition of the global economy from an industrial base to a high-technology base, and he was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election in 1992. Nearly 20 percent of voters were drawn to the blunt anti-government candidacy of Ross Perot, and another 43 percent elected "New Democrat" Bill Clinton, who promised to reinvent government.