Q: What does that mean, a, b, c, d, e?
RYDER: OK, the a are the solid — those are the people who vote in every election and always vote for your party. And the b voters are the ones who vote in most elections and most likely vote for you. C are the more swing voters. The d’s and e’s are the partisans on the other side. And so you know, these lectures would go along the lines of, “forget about the d’s and e’s; focus [00:55:00] on the a’s and b’s and, if you have time and resources, then go to the c’s.” And as a result, Republicans, I think, tended to focus more resources on a — on the a’s and b’s without attempting to persuade c’s, d’s, and e’s of the correctness of our position. And that kind of harvest reaped a very — or that kind of sowing reaped a very bitter harvest in 2008 and 2012, when the other side was able to increase the number of d’s and e’s from our point of view and to pull some of the c’s and b’s over to their side. And we’re still trying to work on a — on the a’s and b’s. And there aren’t enough a’s and b’s.
Q: So what groups do you think – [00:56:00] what d’s and e’s, if you will, from a Republican standpoint were winnable? In other — if the strategy had been broaden the coalition, add new elements to the party, where would the likeliest prospects have been? And where would they be now?
RYDER: Well, the Republican Party is quintessentially a party of the middle class in this country. The Democrats have a lock on the very poorest voters and the very richest voters in this country. The Republican value system and policies tend to be middle oriented. So the obvious targets for the Republican Party are those people who are aspiring to become middle class, [00:57:00] from — or are fighting to remain middle class.
Q: Well, it seems like that’s something Bush himself was interested in doing.
RYDER: Absolutely. And I think he understood that intuitively.
Q: So where did things go wrong in terms of the different strategy or (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) —
RYDER: Well, I think that —
Q: — more narrowly focused?
RYDER: Well, because turning out the base vote is easy and cost-effective in the short-term. It just doesn’t build a base for the future.
Q: So who was responsible for that choice of (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) —
RYDER: I think — well, I think that would be his team and, you know, I think to some extent the policies that Bush advocated as president were designed to try to combat [00:58:00] some of the tendencies of the campaign, so that you have prescription drug benefits, which is kind of senior oriented; social security reform, which is youth oriented, since younger voters are the ones who are being taxed to the max to pay for their elders; and faith-based initiatives which gave him an entrée into the minority community. So there were efforts through policy to reach and expand the base. But the tactics of the actual campaign tended to be more narrowly focused.
Q: Can you think of a scenario under which 2004 would have been the beginning of an enduring Republican majority? [00:59:00] Was there an opportunity that was lost in the aftermath of that election?
RYDER: Not through politics. I think the perceived failure or lack of overwhelming success in Iraq is what eroded support for President Bush and the Republicans between 2004 and 2008. I think the election itself was successful and created an opportunity. But that victory was overtaken by events. Had they actually found weapons of mass destruction (laughter) in Iraq, I think it would have been a different story. You wouldn’t have had the vitality and an antiwar mentality that fueled first Howard Dean and then Barack Obama into the Democratic nomination. [01:00:00]
Q: Well, John Ryder, thank you so much for your insights into this election and to politics more generally.
RYDER: Well, it’s a pleasure being with you. Thanks. (laughter)
Q: All right.
John Ryder Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 2 May 2014, accessed at http://cphcmp.smu.edu/2004election/interview-with-john-ryder/.
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