First to the Party
The Group Origins of Political TransformationUniversity of Pennsylvania Press American Governance: Politics, Policy, and Public Law
The United States has scores of potential issues and ideologies but only two major political parties. How parties respond to competing demands for their attention is therefore central to American democracy. First to the Party argues that organized groups set party agendas by invading party nominations to support candidates committed to their interests. Where the nominees then go, the parties also go.
Using in-depth archival research and interviews with activists, Christopher Baylor applies this proposition to the two most important party transformations of the twentieth century: the Democratic Party's embrace of civil rights in the 1940s and 50s, and the Republican Party's embrace of cultural conservatism in the 1980s. The choices made by the parties in these circumstances were less a response to candidates or general electoral pressures than to activist and group influences on nominations. Party change is ultimately rooted in group change, which in turn is ultimately rooted in the coalitional and organizational challenges confronting groups. Baylor surveys the factors that determine whether a coalition is viable, including issue overlap, the approval of their own members and staff, and the ability to reach new audiences. Whether groups succeed in transforming parties depends largely on choosing the right allies and adjusting accordingly.
In moments of profound party change, the prevailing political forces come to light. With its fine-grained analysis of major party change, First to the Party offers new insight into the classic issues confronting parties, representation, and democracy.
Chapter 1. Building Blocs: Groups and Contested Party Transformations
Chapter 2. Overcoming a Troubled History: Civil Rights Groups Seek a Coalition with Labor
Chapter 3. Labor's Interest in a Civil Rights Coalition
Chapter 4. Twisting the Donkey's Tail: How Groups Changed a Reluctant Party
Chapter 5. Maintaining the Democratic Trajectory on Civil Rights
Chapter 6. Conservative Christians Before the Christian Right
Chapter 7. A Christian Right Takes Shape
Chapter 8. The First Wave of Cultural Conservative Politics
Chapter 9. Eating the Elephant, One Bite at a Time: Influencing a National Party Through State Politics
Chapter 10. Conversions: Republican Nominations After Reagan
Chapter 11. Other Evidence: Populism and Gay Rights
"Baylor’s book represents a solid contribution to the modern literature on party organizations and offers a useful rebuke to those fixated on creating more parties or parties that more closely adhere to public opinion. It is groups that organize politics, not individuals, and we’re missing most of what parties do if we focus on the latter."—The Forum
"Comparing civil rights liberals and theological conservatives, Christopher Baylor reveals the institutional paths by which a stigmatized faction earns a seat at a major political party's table. He shows how each group overcame rivalries to transform themselves, build new alliances, and force the political parties to accept them. First to the Party is a much-needed corrective to top-down views of political parties. The more you think you know about parties, the more you need to read this book."—Samuel L. Popkin, University of California, San Diego
"Christopher Baylor's unique argument that groups are the instigators of the process by which American political parties shift their positions on policy issues represents a challenge to existing accounts. First to the Party offers a new perspective on key questions about the influence of groups within parties and the general nature of representation in the United States."—Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre Dame
"In this important study, Christopher Baylor demonstrates how previously marginal groups can forge alliances that give them entry into a major party coalition. Marshaling an impressive array of evidence, Baylor provides critical insights into two pivotal developments in American politics: Democrats' embrace of racial liberalism and Republicans' alliance with Christian conservatives."—Eric Schickler, University of California, Berkeley
"Who controls political parties? Christopher Baylor's First to the Party offers a fascinating answer to this question. Drawing on in-depth historical research, Baylor argues that parties change when small factions build coalitions to target nominations. Flanked by these groups, leaders fall into place. Illustrated with fascinating case studies of labor in the Democratic party and the Christian right in the Republican party, Baylor's study will become a key reading for scholars and political observers interested in the ups and downs of political parties."—Fabio Rojas, Indiana University
"Drawing on discerning research in a range of historical sources to illuminate how the Democratic Party came to embrace civil rights and the Republican Party came to embrace cultural conservatism, First to the Party adds significant new depth to the idea that groups are the prime agent of party transformation. Students of American politics in both political science and sociology will read it with interest and profit."—Anthony S. Chen, Northwestern University
"Through detailed historical research, Christopher Baylor sheds new light on the two most critical cases of party transformation in modern American politics-civil rights and cultural conservatism-and adeptly uses each, along with two shadow cases, to advance his broader theoretical framework about the role groups play in party transformation. First to the Party is an important contribution."—Daniel J. Galvin, author of Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush