Southern strategy

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The Southern strategy was Richard Nixon's campaign strategy to win the Southern United States for the Republican Party during the 1968 and 1972 elections, effectively throwing out any social clout the GOP had right out the window. It was the most significant political alignment in the US since the "New Deal Coalition," and one that still continues to this day.

Contents

[edit] 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 "War of Northern Aggression." Even more incredibly, those five states were, apart from Goldwater's home state of Arizona, the only states that he won in what was otherwise a Democratic landslide, turning established political battle lines on their heads. He was able to do this because of his voting record against anti-racism 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 states' rights themes in 1968 and 1972 in an attempt to keep the Deep South in the Republican column.

That 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 voters in the South tended to be quite populist on economic issues, forming an important part of the New Deal Coalition and supporting government infrastructure projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority. However, they were rabidly reactionary on race and other social issues, often preventing Franklin D. Roosevelt and the northern liberal wing of the Democratic Party from taking action on lynching and segregation.

As the South grew in affluence after World War II, class tension began to fade. At the same time, the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s and gained momentum in the '60s put race into sharper perspective, while other cultural changes in the '60s (the sexual revolution, the counterculture, the New Left) also drove white religious conservatives in both the North and the South away from the Democrats. The latter in particular placed another once-solidly Democratic voting bloc, the working-class Catholic voters of the northern industrial cities, into play, something that Nixon and future Republicans would also take notice of.

[edit] 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, or AIP, which staunchly opposed civil rights and won over a lot of disaffected white Southerners who still couldn't bring themselves to vote for "the party of Lincoln." Wallace won five Southern states in 1968, then returned to the Democratic Party and sought their nomination unsuccessfully in 1972 and '76, while the 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.

[edit] 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 of Jesusland 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...)

Tricky Dick also played to ignorant rubes in northern cities as well, such as the (at the time) 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.

[edit] 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.[1]

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 Democratic ticket. However, the conservative movement had gotten fully behind Ronald Reagan, who gave the incumbent 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 most did.

[edit] 1980

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. The US has morally languished ever since.

[edit] 1984

Reagan didn't need the Southern strategy, since Mondale won only his home state of Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

[edit] 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 Virginia and Florida in 2008 and 2012. North Carolina, too, also went for Obama in '08, and while it went for Mitt Romney in 2012, it was by a margin of just two points. 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, along with the Atlanta area in Georgia) becoming liberal and Democratic-leaning and the Deep South remaining a conservative stronghold.

[edit] Quotes

Lee Atwater, a political strategist for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, described the Southern Strategy in a 1981 interview:[2]

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.[3]

The fact that Steele was criticized by his peers for that, well, says everything.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Carter might well have won Virginia too if not for those spoilers, the Socialist Workers Party, the Libertarian Party, and Lyndon LaRouche's U.S. Labor Party. Drat you Ralph Nader!
  2. Bob Herbert on the Southern Strategy (full recording)
  3. Steele slammed for criticizing GOP's Southern strategy, TPM
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