Exactly three decades ago, Ronald Reagan stormed to an election victory, and in the process reshaped the Republican Party. In came waves of Southerners and Midwest social conservatives who previously called themselves Democrats, and out went many Northeastern moderates and social liberals who suddenly felt out of place.
The movement produced a more conservative and ultimately successful Republican Party. It also inspired a serious independent presidential challenge in 1980 from one disaffected party moderate, Rep. John Anderson of Illinois, who won 7% of the vote in that year’s election.
The tea-party movement, which is activating a new cadre of angry citizen-activists, could well be doing something similar to the Republican Party right now. This time, the outcome figures to be a party that isn’t just more conservative, but also more populist. Again, the question of what happens to party moderates is a big one.