Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy… still poisons our politics. For a very long time, the deep cultural divide in this country was in part managed by the Democratic party. Its alliance of Southern conservatives and Northeastern liberals – perhaps exemplified by the Kennedy-Johnson ticket – gave what we now call parts of red and blue America a joint incentive to work out their differences through a common partisan affiliation. The had a fellowship that facilitated compromise. A less coherent ideological party structure actually created a more coherent political debate. I wonder if civil rights legislation would ever have been achieved without this.
That’s one way to look at it. But as Lyndon Johnson supposedly said at the time, the Civil Rights act was also what ended that coalition. Nixon happened to be in the right place at the right time to benefit from it, but the South was not going to support a Democrat again after that. I’ve talked about this before, but in my view, Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” didn’t really change much; it was larger societal changes that destroyed the New Deal coalition.