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Cowboy Conservatism

Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right

Sean Cunningham

Publication Year: 2010

During the 1960s and 1970s, Texas was rocked by a series of political transitions. Despite its century-long heritage of solidly Democratic politics, the state became a Republican stronghold virtually overnight, and by 1980 it was known as “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. Sean P. Cunningham examines the remarkable history of Republican Texas in Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right. 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 the most notable regional genesis of modern conservatism. Spanning the decades from Kennedy’s assassination to Reagan’s presidency, Cunningham reveals a vivid portrait of modern conservatism in one of the nation’s largest and most politically powerful states. The newest title in the New Directions in Southern History series, Cunningham’s Cowboy Conservatism demonstrates Texas’s distinctive and vital contributions to the transformation of postwar American politics.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: New Directions in Southern History

Front cover

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Maps and Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I began the preliminary research for this book in the fall of 1988, while a sixth grader at Waters Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas. Of course, “research” might not be the right word, but my love of and interest in postwar American political history—and even my fascination with political imagery, ideology, and iconography...


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-11

In May 1968, less than two months after announcing to the world that he would not run for reelection, Lyndon Johnson remained desperate to understand the convergence of political events that had so decisively unraveled his presidency. Surprisingly, no state puzzled Johnson more than his home state of Texas. In seeking to understand the changing political climate of ...

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1. The Eyes of Texas

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pp. 12-39

In his seminal 1949 study of southern politics, the esteemed political scientist V. O. Key offered a detailed analysis of the Texas political culture and tradition at midcentury. Assessing the state’s regional identity, he argued that the “changes of nine decades have weakened the heritage of southern traditionalism, revolutionized...

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2. Growing Pains

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pp. 40-67

John Tower’s stunning victory in 1961 can and should be seen as a seminal moment in the process of constructing a legitimate two-party Texas. Tower, however, was not the first Republican in the postwar era to make electoral waves in Texas. Coinciding with Dwight Eisenhower’s popularity and a national trend toward fervent anticommunism was the rather anomalous ...

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3. Reconstructing Conservatism

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pp. 68-96

On March 26, 1968, Ben Carpenter, then president of the conservative Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, delivered a speech at the organization’s annual membership convention. Carpenter used the occasion to describe what he considered the slippery slope of American moral decline. He delivered a fourteen-page address on the dangers of “liberal ...

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4. "I am a Sick American"

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pp. 97-126

On April 15, 1971, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal published an anonymous, full-page advertisement consisting only of text. At the top of the page, in big, bold letters, was a declaration: “I am a Sick American.” The text of the ad, credited to “Author Unknown,” read as follows:There are those that claim ours is a “sick” society; that our country is ...

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5. Poisons

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pp. 127-154

Between 1971 and 1974, the political status quo in Texas was challenged from several angles. In these tumultuous years, Texans witnessed widespread scandal and corruption, intraparty factionalism at the national, state, and local levels, intensified challenges to partisan loyalties, and the infusion into the political culture of new and controversial challenges to existing social traditions and moral codes...

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6. Civil War

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pp. 155-181

The rise of modern Texas conservatism experienced a critical turning point in 1976. That year, in the midst of a heated primary contest between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, what can best be described as a political civil war broke out within the Texas GOP. The war was essentially a split be-tween the established party leadership, still committed to making Texas a ...

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7. The Gathering Storm

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pp. 182-208

As it turned out, Jimmy Carter was one of the best friends the Texas Republican Party could have ever asked for. Between 1977 and 1980, Carter, quite unintentionally of course, not only provided the Texas GOP with the context and ammunition it needed to finally achieve viable second-party status, but also helped lay the groundwork for the Lone Star State’s future ...

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8. Revolution

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pp. 209-236

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, highlighted by his overwhelming win in Texas, was a culmination of more than two decades of political change, hastened by a host of economic, social, and demographic forces. It also established Texas as a legitimate two-party state and, eventually, as the preeminent bedrock of modern conservatism. For years, the state GOP had ...

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pp. 237-242

Among the notable casualties of Reagan’s revolution in 1980 was Houston’s famously liberal congressman Bob Eckhardt. Eckhardt had represented Houston’s eighth congressional district since 1966, when he carried an astonishing 93 percent of the general election vote. Between 1968 and 1976, Eckhardt ran for reelection every two years, his percentage of the general ...


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pp. 243-271


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pp. 273-282


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pp. 283-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173719
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125763

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: New Directions in Southern History