Kevin Baker: How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party
Kevin Baker is the author of the “City of Fire” series of historical novels: “Dreamland,” “Paradise Alley” and “Strivers Row.”
...The Republican Party is, more than ever before in its history, an anti-urban party, its support gleaned overwhelmingly from suburban and rural districts — especially in presidential elections.
This wasn’t always the case. During the heyday of the urban political machines, from the Civil War to the Great Depression, Republicans used to hold their own in our nation’s great cities. Philadelphia was dominated for decades by a Republican machine. In Chicago — naturally — both parties had highly competitive, wildly corrupt machines, with a buffoonish Republican mayor, “Big Bill” Thompson, presiding over the city during the ascent of Al Capone. In the 1928 presidential election, the Republican Herbert Hoover swept to victory while carrying cities all across the country: Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Detroit; Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Houston; Dallas; Omaha and Los Angeles.
With the possible exception of Houston or maybe Omaha, it’s all but inconceivable that Mr. Romney will carry any of those cities. And that’s due in good part to the man Hoover defeated, more than 80 years ago.
The rise of Alfred E. Smith to the top of the Democratic Party confirmed a sea change in American life. Smith was not simply the first Catholic to lead a major-party ticket. He was also a quintessentially urban candidate, like no one who has ever seriously contended for the presidency before or since....