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Republican Populist

Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America
Charles J. Holden, Zach Messitte, and Jerald Podair

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943268 · $29.50 · Oct 2019
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813943275 · $29.50 · Oct 2019

Typically a maligned figure in American political history, former vice president Spiro T. Agnew is often overlooked. Although he is largely remembered for his alliterative speeches, attacks on the media and East Coast intellectuals, and his resignation from office in 1973 in the wake of tax evasion charges, Agnew had a significant impact on the modern Republican Party that is underappreciated. It is impossible, in fact, to understand the current internal struggles of the Republican Party without understanding this populist "everyman" and prototypical middle-class striver who was one of the first proponents of what would become the ideology of Donald Trump’s GOP.

Republican Populist examines Agnew’s efforts to make the Republican Party representative of the "silent majority." Under the tutelage of a group of talented speechwriters assigned to Agnew by President Richard Nixon including Pat Buchanan and William Safire, Agnew crafted the populist-tinged, anti-establishment rhetoric that helped turn the Republican Party into a powerful national electoral force that has come to define American politics into the current era.

A fascinating political portrait of Agnew from his pre–vice presidential career through his scandal-driven fall from office and beyond, this book is a revelatory examination of Agnew’s role as one of the founding fathers of the modern Republican Party and of the link between Agnew’s "people’s party" and the fraught party of populists and businessmen today.


"This valuable book illuminates Spiro Agnew’s role in the genesis of the modern Republican Party. The shift of upwardly mobile white ethnic Americans into the GOP, starting in the 1960s, has been crucial to the party's emergence as a conservative populist juggernaut. The authors show expertly how Agnew's career dramatized that shift."

—Sean Wilentz, Princeton University, author of The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics

[A] thoughtful, deeply researched and considered analysis of the evolution of the modern Republican Party, and the central role in that transformation played by Vice President Agnew.

Washington Times

Spiro T. Agnew was a reactionary comet who streaked across the American political firmament. Vice-President to Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, when Agnew resigned in disgrace, he is now almost completely unremembered.... Republican Populist recaptures Agnew’s moment and makes the case for his lasting significance.

New York Labor History

In Republican Populist, a trio of academics—Charles J. Holden, Zach Messitte and Jerald Podair—argue that Agnew warrants scholarly reconsideration, not because they see anything positive in his legacy but because they observes similarities between Agnew’s style and thrust and those of the current president.

Skillfully drawing on Agnew’s archival papers, the authors show that his serrated rhetorical style dated to his earliest political forays.

Wall Street Journal

Republican Populist traces the emergence of the dramatic shift in America from Goldwater to Trump. It is argued with clarity and a confidence which renders the book significant. As Trump heads out for his next rally, no doubt the spirit of Spiro Agnew will be with him on the dais.

The Spectator

About the Author(s): 

Charles J. Holden, Professor of History at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is the author of The New Southern University: Academic Freedom and Liberalism at UNC.

Zach Messitte is President of Ripon College and Professor of Politics and Government. He is coeditor of Understanding the Global Community.

Jerald Podair, Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies at Lawrence University, is the author of City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles.

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