Tuesday Night Massacre
Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
The turnover of these seats not only allowed Republicans to gain control of the Senate for the first time since 1954 but also fundamentally altered the conduct of American politics. The incumbents were politicians of national reputation who often worked with members of the other party to accomplish significant legislative objectives—but they were, Johnson suggests, unprepared and ill-equipped to counter nakedly negative emotional appeals to the “politically passive voter.”
Such was the campaign of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the organization founded by several young conservative political activists who targeted these four senators for defeat. Johnson describes how such groups, amassing a great amount of money, could make outrageous and devastating claims about incumbents—“baby killers” who were “soft on communism,” for example—on behalf of a candidate who remained above the fray. Among the key players in this sordid drama are NCPAC chairman Terry Dolan; Washington lobbyist Charles Black, a top GOP advisor to several presidential campaigns and one-time business partner of Paul Manafort; and Roger Stone, self-described “dirty trickster” for Richard Nixon and confidant of Donald Trump.
Connecting the dots between the Goldwater era of the 1960s and the ascent of Trump, Tuesday Night Massacre charts the radicalization of the Republican Party and the rise of the independent expenditure campaign, with its divisive, negative techniques, a change that has deeply—and perhaps permanently—warped the culture of bipartisanship that once prevailed in American politics.
“Politics has always been rough-and-tumble, but few would dispute that it has gotten nastier and much more polarized in recent years. In this revealing, well-written book, Marc C. Johnson skillfully traces the origin and development of this disturbing trend. The consequences have been far-reaching. The U.S. Senate no longer functions as it was intended, Americans are more deeply divided, and the old tradition of bipartisanship in the national interest has become practically obsolete.”—Larry J. Sabato, author of A More Perfect Constitution—Why the Constitution Must Be Revised: Ideas to Inspire a New Generation
“Anyone who wants to understand the Republican Party’s radicalization should read Marc C. Johnson’s excellent chronicle of the four U.S. Senate races in 1980 that introduced revolutionary campaigning methods and set the stage for the party’s far-rightward tilt. Tuesday Night Massacre is a fascinating, well-written account.”—Robert Mann, author of Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics
“..this book is a valuable contribution to the study of political campaigns, polarization, and the rise of the New Right. Johnson effectively shows how the development of PACs fundamentally altered the strategies conservatives used, which ultimately polarized the party. Additionally, his engagement with the broader social science, and history, ensures a nuanced narrative of a compelling argument.”— South Dakota History
“Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party, journalist and politician Marc C. Johnson provides a missing element of the story of the momentous 1980 congressional elections…[It] is an important work in understanding the American electorate’s abandonment of New Deal liberalism and the ascendancy of contemporary conservatism and the rise of bitter partisanship that shapes contemporary American politics.”— Indiana Magazine of History
"Johnson's well-researched and elegantly written contribution gives the reader much to contemplate about the state of modern political discourse and finance."—Montana: The Magazine of Western History
“American politics has always been rancorous. But the past several decades have seen an alarming rise in negative campaigning, hyperpartisanship, and divisive polarization. In this enlightening and engrossing new book, Marc Johnson identifies a critical hinge point in postwar American political history and a key reason for our current dysfunctional politics. In 1980, the New Right brought down four leading U.S. senators by weaponizing independent expenditure groups. Our political campaigns—and American democracy—have never been the same since. Tuesday Night Massacre is essential reading for understanding why American politics has deteriorated and for thinking about how we might reform our system in pursuit of a more perfect union.”—Robert P. Saldin, coauthor of Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites and Director of the Mansfield Center’s Ethics in Public Affairs Program, University of Montana