The Southern Strategy. This bias is evident also in how differently they treat the long Democratic dominance of the South. Carter and the Black brothers suggest that the accommodation of white racism penetrates to the very soul of modern conservatism. But earlier generations of openly segregationist Southerners voted overwhelmingly for Woodrow Wilson's and Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic Party, which relaxed its civil rights stances accordingly. This coalition passed much of the New Deal legislation that remains the basis of modern liberalism.
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So what does the segregationist presence imply for the character of liberalism at its electoral and legislative apogee? These scholars sidestep the question by simply not discussing it. This silence implies that racism and liberalism were simply strange political bedfellows, without any common values. But the commonality, the philosophical link, is swiftly identified once the Democrats leave the stage.
In study after study, authors say that "racial and economic conservatism" married white Southerners to the GOP after So whereas historically accidental events must have led racists to vote for good men like FDR, after racists voted their conscience. How convenient. And how easy it would be for, say, a libertarian conservative like Walter Williams to generate a counter-narrative that exposes statism as the philosophical link between segregation and liberalism's economic populism. Yet liberal commentators commit a further, even more obvious, analytic error. They assume that if many former Wallace voters ended up voting Republican in the s and beyond, it had to be because Republicans went to the segregationist mountain, rather than the mountain coming to them.
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There are two reasons to question this assumption. The first is the logic of electoral competition. Extremist voters usually have little choice but to vote for a major party which they consider at best the lesser of two evils, one that offers them little of what they truly desire. Segregationists simply had very limited national bargaining power. Second, this was borne out in how little the GOP had to "offer," so to speak, segregationists for their support after , even according to the myth's own terms.
Segregationists wanted policies that privileged whites. In the GOP, they had to settle for relatively race-neutral policies: opposition to forced busing and reluctant coexistence with affirmative action. The reason these policies aren't plausible codes for real racism is that they aren't the equivalents of discrimination, much less of segregation. Why did segregationists settle for these policies rather than continue to vote Democratic?
The GOP's appeal was mightily aided by none other than the Democratic Party itself, which was lurching leftward in the s, becoming, as the contemporary phrase had it, the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion. The many enthusiasms of the new Democratic Party drove away suburban middle-class voters almost everywhere in the country, not least the South. Given that trend, the GOP did not need to become the party of white solidarity in order to attract more voters. The fact that many former Wallace supporters ended up voting Republican says a lot less about the GOP than it does about segregationists' collapsing political alternatives.
He wrote in that Nixon did not "have to bid much ideologically" to get Wallace's electorate, given its limited power, and that moderation was far more promising for the GOP than anything even approaching a racialist strategy. Electoral Patterns. In all these ways, the gop appears as the national party of the middle-class, not of white solidarity. And it is this interpretation, and not the myth, that is supported by the voting results.
The myth's proponents highlight, and distort, a few key electoral facts: Southern white backlash was most heated in the s, especially in the Deep South. It was then and there that the GOP finally broke through in the South, on the strength of Goldwater's appeals to states' rights.
Democrats never again won the votes of most Southern whites. So Goldwater is said to have provided the electoral model for the GOP. But hidden within these aggregate results are patterns that make no sense if white solidarity really was the basis for the GOP's advance. These patterns concern which Southern votes the GOP attracted, and when. How did the GOP's Southern advance actually unfold? We can distinguish between two sub-regions. Race loomed less large in its politics. In the more rural, and poorer, Deep South—Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana —black communities were much larger, and racial conflict was much more acute in the s and '60s.
Tellingly, the presidential campaigns of Strom Thurmond, Goldwater, and Wallace all won a majority of white votes in the Deep South but lost the white vote in the Peripheral South. The myth that links the GOP with racism leads us to expect that the GOP should have advanced first and most strongly where and when the politics of white solidarity were most intense.
The GOP should have appealed at least as much, if not more, therefore, to the less educated, working-class whites who were not its natural voters elsewhere in the country but who were George Wallace's base. The GOP should have received more support from native white Southerners raised on the region's traditional racism than from white immigrants to the region from the Midwest and elsewhere.
And as the Southern electorate aged over the ensuing decades, older voters should have identified as Republicans at higher rates than younger ones raised in a less racist era. Each prediction is wrong. The evidence suggests that the GOP advanced in the South because it attracted much the same upwardly mobile and non-union economic and religious conservatives that it did elsewhere in the country. Take presidential voting. Under FDR, the Democrats successfully assembled a daunting, cross-regional coalition of presidential voters.
To compete, the GOP had to develop a broader national outreach of its own, which meant adding a Southern strategy to its arsenal. In , Dwight Eisenhower took his campaign as national hero southward. He, like Nixon in , polled badly among Deep South whites. But Ike won four states in the Peripheral South.
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This marked their lasting realignment in presidential voting. From to the Clinton years, Virginia reverted to the Democrats only once, Florida and Tennessee twice, and Texas—except when native-son LBJ was on the ballot—only twice, narrowly. Additionally, since , North Carolina has consistently either gone Republican or come within a few percentage points of doing so.
In other words, states representing over half the South's electoral votes at the time have been consistently in play from on—since before Brown v. Board of Education, before Goldwater, before busing, and when the Republicans were the mainstay of civil rights bills. It was this which dramatically changed the GOP's presidential prospects.
The GOP's breakthrough came in the least racially polarized part of the South. And its strongest supporters most years were "New South" urban and suburban middle- and upper-income voters. In , as we've seen, Goldwater did the opposite: winning in the Deep South but losing the Peripheral South. But the pre-Goldwater pattern re-emerged soon afterward. When given the option in , Deep South whites strongly preferred Wallace, and Nixon became president by winning most of the Peripheral South instead.
From on, GOP presidential candidates won white voters at roughly even rates in the two sub-regions, sometimes slightly more in the Deep South, sometimes not. But by then, the Deep South had only about one-third of the South's total electoral votes; so it has been the Periphery, throughout, that provided the bulk of the GOP's Southern presidential support. The GOP's congressional gains followed the same pattern. Of course, it was harder for Republicans to win in Deep South states where Democratic-leaning black electorates were larger. But even when we account for that, the GOP became the dominant party of white voters much earlier in the Periphery than it did in the Deep South.
Several Deep South House members were elected with Goldwater but proved ephemeral, as Black and Black note: "Republicans lost ground and stalled in the Deep South for the rest of the decade," while in the Periphery they "continued to make incremental gains. And six of the eight different Southern Republican Senators elected from to were from the Peripheral South. GOP candidates tended consistently to draw their strongest support from the more educated, middle- and upper-income white voters in small cities and suburbs.
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In fact, Goldwater in —at least his Deep South performance, which is all that was controversial in this regard—was an aberration, not a model for the GOP. Writers who vilify the GOP's Southern strategy might be surprised to find that all of this was evident, at least in broad brush-strokes, to the strategy's early proponents. In his well-known book, Kevin Phillips drew the lesson that a strong appeal in the Deep South, on the model of , had already entailed and would entail defeat for the GOP everywhere else, including in what he termed the Outer South.
He therefore rejected such an approach. He emphasized that Ike and Nixon did far better in the Peripheral South. He saw huge opportunities in the "youthful middle-class" of Texas, Florida, and other rapidly growing and changing Sun Belt states, where what he called "acutely Negrophobe politics" was weakest, not strongest. He thus endorsed "evolutionary success in the Outer South" as the basis of the GOP's "principal party strategy" for the region, concluding that this would bring the Deep South along in time, but emphatically on the national GOP's terms, not the segregationists'.
The tension between the myth and voting data escalates if we consider change across time. Starting in the s, the South attracted millions of Midwesterners, Northeasterners, and other transplants. In the s, up to a quarter of self-declared Republicans in Texas appear to have been such immigrants.
Furthermore, research consistently shows that identification with the GOP is stronger among the South's younger rather than older white voters, and that each cohort has also became more Republican with time. Do we really believe immigrants like George H. Bush, who moved with his family to Texas were more racist than native Southerners, and that younger Southerners identified more with white solidarity than did their elders, and that all cohorts did so more by the s and '90s than they had earlier?
In sum, the GOP's Southern electorate was not rural, nativist, less educated, afraid of change, or concentrated in the most stagnant parts of the Deep South. It was disproportionately suburban, middle-class, educated, younger, non-native-Southern, and concentrated in the growth-points that were, so to speak, the least "Southern" parts of the South. This is a very strange way to reincarnate George Wallace's movement.
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Timing may provide the greatest gap between the myth and the actual unfolding of events. Only in the s did more white Southerners self-identify as Republicans than as Democrats, and only in the mids did Republicans win most Southern House seats and become competitive in most state legislatures.
So if the GOP's strength in the South only recently reached its zenith, and if its appeal were primarily racial in nature, then the white Southern electorate or at least most of it would have to be as racist as ever. But surely one of the most important events in Southern political history is the long-term decline of racism among whites. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :.