|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
 1964 - the inspiration
In 1964, Barry Goldwater accomplished a task that, until then, had been seen as physically impossible -- he won five states in the Deep South for the Republican Party, which had been seen for the past hundred years as the party of Abraham Lincoln and the defeat of the Confederacy. He was able to do this because of his voting record against civil rights legislation, versus the incumbent, Lyndon Johnson who was in favor of civil rights. The South had, until that point, been a solidly Democratic voting bloc, often called the "Solid South." Nixon, taking note of this, campaigned on subtle race and states rights themes in 1968 and 1972 in an attempt to keep the Deep South in the Republican column.
That white southerners could be persuaded to vote Republican in presidential races by the 1960s is attributable to the greater power of race than class by that time. For the first half of the 20th century, white protestant southern voters were more liberal on every issue than white protestant northern voters, with one exception: race. Class was more important than race for decades because of poverty. With growing affluence in the 1960s, however, race began to be more important than class. The Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1950s and gained momentum in the 1960s put race in sharper perspective.
 1968 - failure and success
In 1968, this strategy failed to win over the South, although Nixon did win the election. The reason was Alabama's Democratic governor, George Wallace, running on a third party ticket -- the American Independent Party. Wallace won most of the South in 1968, then returned to the Democratic Party and sought the Democratic nomination unsuccessfully in 1972 and 1976, while the American Independent Party (AIP) became an increasingly fringy hangout for John Birchers and washed-up segregationists in subsequent presidential elections. The organized conservative movement was split during that time as to their electoral strategy. One faction wanted to build the American Independent Party, while the other sought to take over the Republican Party. The latter eventually won out. In 1972 the American Independent Party nominated Bircher John G. Schmitz of California, who did poorly and carried no states at all, with his highest vote percentage of 9.3% in Idaho, then split into two factions (southern segregationists in the American Independent Party, Birchers in the American Party) for the 1976 and 1980 elections and faded off into history. The American Independent Party is now only active in California, and gave Alan Keyes their ballot line in 2008.
 1972 - success and sadness
With the AIP nomination of Schmitz, any hope conservatives had of the AIP as a viable electoral vehicle in the south faded, and Nixon played his Southern strategy well in 1972, sweeping all the Southern states and most of the rest of the country. Among the bones Nixon threw out to the South was his nomination of two anti-civil rights judges to the Supreme Court, George Harrold Carswell and Clement Haynesworth. (Neither of them won confirmation by the Senate; Carswell was later busted in a public restroom soliciting an undercover policeman for sex. The more things change...) Nixon also played to ignorant rubes in northern cities as well, such as the (at the time) reactionary and thuggish AFL-CIO trade union leadership who had organized pro-Vietnam War riots in the wake of the Kent State shootings, and popularized "silent majority" as a neologism - which included playing the racism card in the south and the patriotism card in the north. Both the formerly-solid South and longtime union/Democrat strongholds in the rust belt went heavily for Nixon. Since that time, the conservative movement's strategy has been to use the Republican Party as their electoral vehicle.
 1976 - scandals will have their way
Nixon, of course, was pwned in 1974 by Chuck Colson and G. Gordon Liddy and turned the reins over to Gerald Ford. The Democratic nomination of the Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, running as the anti-Watergate candidate, temporarily halted the Southern strategy, as Carter won every Southern state except for Virginia. As the 1968 and 1976 elections showed, the South was still reluctant to move into the Republican column, especially if a Southerner were on the ticket. However, the conservative movement had gotten fully behind Ronald Reagan, who gave incumbent Gerald Ford a strong challenge for the nomination, and the Southern strategy was resurrected during the late 1970s in a more organized form involving the rise of the religious right and groups like the Moral Majority, all intended to change the political landscape in the south for good. Part of this strategy also involved wooing ultraconservative Southern Democratic senators to switch parties, and many of them did.
In 1980, Reagan launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi a highly symbolic move showing the Southern strategy was alive and well (that was the town infamous for the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964). Reagan won with a combination of the Southern strategy and figuring out how to get the working poor angry at the welfare poor, and vote Republican.
 And so on...
While the Southern United States has been viewed as a solid Republican voting bloc since 1980, recent elections have shown a number of cracks starting to show in this strategy: Bill Clinton won much of the South (although mostly in the border states rather than the Deep South) in 1992 and 1996, and Barack Obama carried North Carolina, Virginia and Florida in 2008. Due to Sun Belt migration patterns, some political observers are predicting a split in the South as a unified political bloc, with the eastern Atlantic states (most notably the ones Obama carried in 2008) becoming liberal and Democratic-leaning and the Deep South remaining a conservative stronghold.
“”You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
Michael Steele, former head of the RNC, on the Southern Strategy:
“”For the last 40-plus years we had a "Southern Strategy" that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, "Bubba" went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.