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.
Strom Thurman led the charge for breaking from the Democratic party in 1948 running as a 3rd party candidate as a Dixicrat. Nixon hit on the policy after George Wallace nearly pushed the 1968 election to the house of representatives. The South left the deomocratic party on its own, but found it didn’t have enough electoral college votes to make a national impact. Now they’ve gone from being the dupes of the Republicans to controlling the party platform. Expect to see moderate repubs shift over to the democratic side.
Even more than that, the moderate Republicans *have* gone over, and shifted the Democrats to be more like Republicans used to be. Why, Nixon would be a far-left socialist by the Tea Party’s standards.
Very interesting website! Know this is a late comment, but nevertheless…
Nixon on 1960s standards was a center-right Republican steering a middle course between the Rockefellers and the Reagans. The thing to understand is that in Nixon’s time, it was quite possible to be a hardliner when it came to “national security” and state order while being moderate or occasionally liberal elsewhere, especially on socioeconomics. This sort of ideological flexibility is a very generational difference that you wouldn’t see in the Gringrich era-Nixon even commented on this during his last years. Going back to 1947, Nixon pretty consistently fit this profile, which is what you would expect for a guy who looked at Charles De Gaulle as an inspiration rather than Barry Goldwater. Nixon’s ideology could actually be very well deemed Gaullist. You see the primordial elements that would eventually make Reaganism and the Contract with America, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deviations as well.
Another interesting thing I think that is often left out is that the Southern Strategy changed over time. As recently as 1988, George Bush Senior-hardly a Reagan style compelling personality or a Nixonian political genius-won 41 states, including California, Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois. He even nearly won New York. In spite of the highest voting returns for the Republicans being in the South, they were hardly an *exclusively* Southern party, which is a crucial difference when it comes to winning elections and pragmatic politics. Reagan and Bush didn’t really need a particularly Southern Strategy-what they went for , this changed, in part due to Clinton winning back the center, and the party went further to the right socially but above all *economically*, thus further to the increasingly populous and influential South.
*was a white working class/middle class strategy.
Also, Eisenhower managed to in the South as well, so it also has earlier origins. As late as the 80s in much of the South, Democrats were still being elected on a local level while overwhelmingly going Republican on the Presidential level, just like the 50s.
Thanks for the terrific and insightful comment, Ian! Though I will say I look at Eisenhower as something of an aberration–with his wartime credentials, he was virtually certain to win the majority of people over. Plus, politically speaking, he almost could have been a Democrat.
You are right that ideological flexibility is something that more or less died out with Gingrich. I personally believe that as Republican ideology itself became more confused, the Republican politicians became more rigid and hardline in order to compensate for it.