The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s
Lost between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror, the 1990s has been set aside as a “holiday from history.” But we are past due for a serious reckoning with the meaning of the decade, as Nicole Hemmer argues in her bold new interpretation of American conservatism, Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.
Niki Hemmer is a research scholar at Columbia University and a frequent writer and commentator on politics. She contends that it was Ronald Reagan’s widely touted revolution that was the interlude. Though it continues to have a hold on how we understand conservative ideology today, the Reagan Revolution was not only unfinished, it was completely undone. Today’s Republican Party looks more like the isolationist and pessimistic Republican Party of the ‘30s and ‘40s than the big-tent Republican Party of the ‘80s.
Central to that shift in philosophy were players—from Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich to Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh—who began as Reagan staffers and acolytes. During the 1990s, however, they pulled away from a commitment to the conservative values Reagan had championed. Using a powerful and growing conservative media ecosystem to advance their cause, forces on the right replaced the popular politics of the Reagan era with a focus on base politics and a conservative opposition to the egalitarian ideals of democracy.
In Partisans, Hemmer makes a clear and compelling case that a new appreciation of the 1990s is both long overdue and a timely contribution toward understanding where American politics is today. In her sharp and lively telling, the 1990s are hardly a backwater. This is revelatory history, and will change the way we look at the present.
Published by Basic Books
Praise for Partisans
Lively and clarifying.―Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
Compelling and eminently readable…Hemmer’s retelling of US political history since the so-called Reagan Revolution is masterful. Her attention to detail, invigorating storytelling, and forceful argumentations make this essential reading for anybody interested in recent American history…Partisans is a tour de force – a sharp, innovative and accessible political history … essential reading.” ―Jacobin
The arrival of Hemmer’s vigorous book suggests that serious scrutiny of the 1990s, and its responsibility for today’s politics, has finally arrived. ― Gabriel Debenedetti, New York Times Book Review
Hemmer has produced an absorbing and fast-paced narrative….an important contribution to the understanding of modern conservatism. ―Washington Monthly
In “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries who Remade American Politics in the 1990s,” Nicole Hemmer … makes an insightful contribution to this body of work by examining how a new breed of Republicans propelled the party further to the right in the 1990s, steering it away from Reagan even as they continued to pledge allegiance to the former president’s legacy. ― Washington Post
Written in stylish, entertaining prose, Hemmer’s history is nicely balanced between colorful personalities, electoral dogfights, and shrewd analysisof sea changes in ideology and public attitudes. This is a stimulating take on a crucial political era. ―Publishers Weekly
A sobering analysis of a slowly unfolding political movement that may one day spell the end of American democracy.―Kirkus
Nicole Hemmer’s Partisans shines fresh, provocative light on America’s political history, showing that Ronald Reagan’s anointed successors were not public servants so much as performance artists growing rich and powerful by selling division and resentment. Partisans provides a whole new meaning to the Reagan Revolution by focusing on the charlatans of the 1990’s it spawned. ―Jane Mayer, Chief Washington Correspondent, the New Yorker
Partisans is full of sharp insights, especially on political radio and TV—for instance on why Bill Maher was least as influential in how we got where we are as Newt Gingrich. This is the best account out there of what happened to the Republican Party in the 1990s. ―Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland
Nicole Hemmer is both shrewd and wise in her understanding of the history of American conservatism and the long-term influence of right-wing media. Partisans brilliantly explains why Reaganism gave way to Trumpism and calls much-needed attention to the importance of Pat Buchanan’s nationalist insurgency in the 1990s as a pivot point. An essential and engaging book that explains how we got here. ―E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Why the Right Went Wrong
Partisans offers an exciting new history of the 1990s, uncovering how the far right took over the Republican Party in the years following the Reagan era. This is a vivid and eye-opening reinterpretation of a decade that has been long dismissed as America’s holiday from history. ―Leah Wright Rigueur, author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican