The Southern Strategy and The Permanent Republican Majority

Remember the new conservative coalition that was to provide a "permanent Republican majority?" Today that pipe dream is mostly associated with Karl Rove, but originally it was envisioned by Richard Nixon as the fruit of his Southern Strategy. This strategy was supposed to retain the party's traditional Northeastern and Midwestern conservative base while reaching out to Southerners disaffected by civil rights and the role of Democrats in the demise of Jim Crow. It was designed to meld the Puritan tradition of small government and individual responsibility with the historical sense of loss and grievance that infected the South.

Back then The Southern Strategy was called a master stroke by political pundits because, it was thought, the traditional Yankee conservative base had no where else to go while the newly disaffected South was ripe for the taking.

The Southern Strategy worked well for Nixon. Ten years later it wasn't accidental that Ronald Reagan, as Presidential candidate, gave a speech celebrating states rights in Philadelphia Mississippi, the very city made famous for the murder of Chaney, Goodman and Schwermer. George Bush the elder used his Willie Horton ad to raise the specter of black crime for political advantage, and his son, George W. Bush, campaigned in South Carolina benefiting from the planted rumor that John McCain was the father of a black child.

We in North Carolina remember the famously effective TV spot highlighting white anxiety with affirmative action used by Jesse Helms to dispose of Harvey Gantt. And as recently as the last election, Bob Corker of Tennessee ran an ad that was both sexually charged and blatantly racist to defeat Harold Ford, his black opponent.

So, as the GOP reached out to an electorate that was more retrograde, angry and intolerant than it was classically conservative, the party came to resemble that which it desired.

This has left the traditional base of the Northern Republican Party in the back of the political bus while a new class of Southern Republican is in the driver's seat. For two reasons this has left the Republican Party's Yankee constituency alienated and unhappy: first, no one likes being taken for granted and left virtually powerless, and second, pragmatic "reality based" conservatives are increasingly alarmed by the excesses of "faith based" ideologues.

On a national basis the arithmetic of a Republican majority could last only so long as the historical momentum of the traditional Republican Party held in the Northeast and the Midwest - assuming the South became and then remained entirely Republican. Without substantial parts of the Northeast and Midwest the South alone would never be enough. For the permanent Republican majority to work Republicans had to maintain a significant share of Congressional and state wide political offices in places like Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

This is something that the Republicans are failing to do.

In Ohio and New Hampshire, which have been predominantly Republican since the Civil War, the GOP lost in the last election with the sort of landslide that comes once in a century. Even a popular Republican incumbent like Lincoln Chafee, who enjoyed a 60% approval rating, could not hold his seat in traditionally moderate Rhode Island. In Vermont the word "Republican" has become so anathema that in their last Senate race, where no Democrat was on the ballot, a self described socialist defeated the Republican candidate with 65% of the vote.

If there is one overriding revelation that comes out of the last election, it's that at least for now the momentum of old line classical conservatism is spent within the Republican Party. That being true, then one of three things must happen.

Traditional conservatives could emerge as a new libertarian wing of the Democratic Party led by "blue dog" Democrats such as Casey from Pennsylvania, Tester from Montana and Webb from Virginia

Traditional conservatives could become ever more unaffiliated and wind up holding their nose every two years and choosing between ideological extremes

Traditional conservatives might find a way to increase their power within the Republican Party so they could once again feel comfortable on the Republican bus (The one obvious way this might happen is the successful "main stream" Presidency of a Republican like Hagel, Pataki or Giuliani)

Failing the third, and least likely alternative, what seems probable is the Republican Party's future as a political movement ever more centered in the South, left to hope for the occasional cooperation of various border and mountain states. To be sure, the GOP would remain a significant voice in national politics, but the arithmetic adds up to only a "permanent Republican minority."

So what then would become of the party of Lincoln, the party of the Union, the party born of an impulse to stop the spread of slavery? Perhaps Republicans might reflect on the wisdom of Eliot Ness as he considered the terrible price of a victory won at any cost, "I have forsworn myself, I have broken every law I swore to defend, and I've become what I beheld."

Comments

Great post, George - very thoughtful

I wonder how we can take this knowledge and bring more progressives out of the closet in the South as we look forward to making the margin a little bit slimmer in counties like ours.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi

So What Do We Do?

Thanks Linda for your kind words about the analysis I had to offer regarding the last election. However, you're very right to ask, "Given what's said here, what should we do about it?"

There may be a number of things we could do differently if we take to heart what this analysis suggests. First, we could hold the Southern Republican's feet to the fire when they try to pass off their gussied up Jim Crow politics as simply legitimate conservative opinion. It's not, and it never has been. The little motor that beats at its heart is bigotry.

The ploy of calling the politics of race by another name is a strategem that goes back to before the Civil War. The earliest time honored mask for racial intolerance was to call it by the name of "States Rights." In more recent times the term "reverse discrimination" has been used to resist any policy that seeks to redress entrenched patterns of racism.

Too often we've let bigots get by with it. We've accepted their terms of argument and ceded to them the privilege of defining the language we use. This must stop. Simply because it happens under the guise of the Republican Party, and is given a more pleasant name, doesn't mean that bigotry is a legitimate position, that it should be placed on a doily and then treated with care and respect.

For instance, if there is an interest group, dressed in the clothes of a political party, that resists adequate public school funding, and doesn't support racial balance in those public schools, we must not be mislead by those who want to call that policy "conservative."

If there is an interest group, dressed in the clothes of a political party, that resists a moratorium on capital punishment, even though a person convicted of killing someone who is white is 4.5 times more likely to be executed than someone convicted of killing someone who is black, we must not be mislead by those who want to call that policy "conservative."

These issues, and a host of others like them, are no more a conversation over what's "conservative" than my tom cat is the king of the jungle.

Maybe racism in America is like malaria, if you catch it once it always comes back a second time. However, if you survive the recurrence you'll never have to suffer from it again. Perhaps this current ascendancy of a radicalized Republican Party is the recurrence of our national disease called racism. If so, defeating it a second time has the moral urgency of a second Civil War.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

I call it "Backwards"

... if there is an interest group, ... that resists adequate public school funding, and doesn't support racial balance in ... public schools, we must not be mislead by those who want to call that policy "conservative."

Damn skippy. It's not conservative. It's backwards.

If there is an interest group, ... that resists a moratorium on capital punishment, ... we must not be mislead by those who want to call that policy "conservative."

Damn skippy. It's not conservative. It's backwards.

It's my understanding that Southern Democrats voted for George Wallace in 1968 in large numbers. Some of those folks realize they were wrong. They are still active Democrats.

But the most racist of those Southern Democrats got so angry at the whole civil rights and integration idea that they abandoned the party of Jackson and joined the party of Lincoln. They committed political sacriledge in an effort to preserve their southern "way of meanness life." Those angry people are still Southern Republicans and their deep down attitudes have not wavered one iota.

The Southern Republican party is the party of "move America backwards".

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Beautifully written.

The Party of Greed has overplayed its hand and overstayed its welcome. More, more.

Recommended!

The new Southern Strategy

I think Dems could win back the south THIS CYCLE if they ran as unapologetic New Dealers.

* 3.1 The "Bank Holiday" and the Emergency Banking Act
* 3.2 The Economy Act
* 3.3 The Farm Programs
* 3.4 Relief

Now, it could be
* Credit reform
* 'Living Wage'
* Health Care for All
* Family Farming Act
* Child Survival Program

Unapologetic.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Wonderful post George

great analysis...how to use this now.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

How To Use This Now?

Thanks for your kind affirmation of what I wrote. You were right to ask, "Now how do I use this?" I tried to approach this question in my response to Linda Cloud who asked a similar question. If you are curious about that response I'd refer you that post post. Have a great day!

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

George, please cross post to

DailyKos and MyDD, and welcome to the BlueNC family

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Further proves

my point that the Democratic Party must be competitive in the south. What you have done is show that ultimately the Republicans have one option if they ever want to win again, and that is to give people like Guliani more power while accepting guys like Chafee. What this means down south is that they will have to stop catering to their wingnut base all the time, allowing us to step in.

Running as Republican lites hurts Democrats. Why wont running as Democratic lites hurt Republicans?

HelpLarry.com

"Keep the Faith"

Republican Lites

There's been criticism of Democrats who are running as "Republican Lites." The insinuation has been that moving toward the center caves into the right even as it limits the political success of Democratic candidates who employ that strategy.

I'm not sure that's the case. Famous among those who have been accused of being Republican lites are Joe Lieberman for his position on the war, Hillary Clinton for suggesting that women having abortions pay a significant emotional price, and Jane Harmon whom Nancy Pelosi won't make chair of the House Intelligence Committee because she wasn't sufficiently critical of the administration's misuse of prewar intelligence.

However, lets look at how the voters treated these "Republican Lites" in the last election. Lieberman split the Democratic vote and still beat his Democratic challenger by 10%, and his Republican opponent by 40% of the vote. Hillary Clinton won with a thirty point spread and Jane Harmon finished her race with a 64% victory.

These were landslides. What it suggests to me is that neither party can neglect the political middle if it hopes to be successful. Karl Rove used extraordinary times to execute an electoral strategy that appealed exclusively to the base of his party. His theory was that you only needed that 51% of the electorate leaning most to the right in order to win and then govern. The other 49% could go to hell.

Well, 9/11 is in the rear view mirror, and it's now much further behind us than the war in Iraq. Consequently the right half of the electorate has thinned and the middle portion of the electorate has become significantly fatter. The sweet spot of contemporary politics is now neither to the left nor to the right, but firmly in the center.

Since I'm from Moore County, let me use a golfing metaphor. If you want a long and successful drive that sends the country left, better to use a draw instead of a hook.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

DINOs vs. Progressives

In the cases you mention, the person in question is an extremely senior or well-placed individual with incredibly high name ID. Hillary in particular, whether she moves to the center or not, will always be seen as a "liberal" by the conservatives. Lieberman only managed to win because he pulled the Republicans and New York couldn't get anyone to run against Clinton.

The problem with people running to the middle is that ONLY OUR SIDE is doing it. It started with triangulation, which I thought was a great idea at the time. The problem occurs when the Republicans then switch the playing field and make the old middle the new far-left. We talk about banning abortions now as if it is no big deal, but 20 years ago talk of banning ANY type of abortion was heresy. Republicans now say that those who won't support a constitutional amendment to ban late-term abortion are left-wing radicals. Well, that is nonsense.

Democrats need to run on a populist platform, an agenda that will bring good to the masses. They need to do it without apology and with their fists in the air. Rural voters where I grew up, and the "undecideds" that are truly undecided want to vote for someone with a ramrod in their spine. They don't want some sissy that waffles, that flip-flops. They want someone that stands up for what is right - like Webb this year and Larry Kissell. There are no undecideds in this country, there are Democrats, Republicans, and those looking to be lead.

Running to the center is a failed strategy that doesn't belong on a Progressive web site, it belongs as a behind-the-scenes strategy at a Republican gathering, designed to weaken the Democratic Brand.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

exactly

Hillary is proof that name id against no opponent trumps all.

Ford is proof that running as a Republican wont work. Webb and Tester are proof that running like a Democrat will.

HelpLarry.com

"Keep the Faith"

2008

Is going to be another "feel good" year like in 2000, when people fell for Compassionate Conservative. Our job is to make sure people understand that Democrats are for the Common Good, while Republican ideals have taken us to the brink of collapse. There can be no middle ground with those ideals that have caused the war in Iraq, higher poverty, higher uninsured, higher abortion rates, higher infant mortality rates, higher homelessness.
I see no middle ground with policies that have been tried and failed. You abandon them, you don't work to make them better, especially when you have a proven system - Democratic leadership.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

To make myself clear...

The sweet spot of contemporary politics is now neither to the left nor to the right, but firmly in the center.

THIS is a losing strategy. Moving to the center is what got us here. It's time for 1932 all over again.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

TNR

The New Republic has an online article about the GOP and the South (registration required). It says some of the same things but in a different way and Schaller's book probably rubs the wrong way anyway. We'll be trying to prove him wrong.

The unspoken truth about the GOP: Southern Discomfort
by Rick Perlstein
Only at TNR Online | Post date 11.29.06

For the first time since 1953, the party that dominates the South is the minority party in Congress. November 7, 2006, may well go down in history as the day the modern Republican Party became a mere Southern faction. There's only one problem: No one's talking about it on TV. Instead, Heath Shuler became the cable news bookers' new favorite guest, as if the election of a pro-life Democrat from North Carolina was the election's most important trend: As Bob Schieffer announced, "These Democrats that were elected last night are conservative Democrats." Meanwhile, the one man whose book predicted the election's actual revelation--that the South and its conservative ways were irrelevant to the Democrats' victory--has been shut out. "I managed to squeeze onto Chris Matthews once," says Thomas F. Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, "but we didn't even talk about the book."

Schaller's book is Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. Published this October, it argues, "The South is likely to become more Republican in the decades ahead," that Democrats can make and keep the Republicans a mere regional party, and that the best shot at a Democratic majority "in the immediate term is to consolidate electoral control over the Northeast and Pacific Coast blue states, expand the party's Midwestern margins, and cultivate the new-growth areas of the interior West." That's exactly how it went down November 7.

Oh, he can say this all he wants ...

"The South is likely to become more Republican in the decades ahead," that Democrats can make and keep the Republicans a mere regional party, and that the best shot at a Democratic majority "in the immediate term is to consolidate electoral control over the Northeast and Pacific Coast blue states, expand the party's Midwestern margins, and cultivate the new-growth areas of the interior West."

BUT ... we plan to make every single election in the Republican zone of Southern disComfort a struggle for them. No easy walks. Hayes and Foxx felt the cannon fire rumble from the battles this year. More Rs will feel it next year. Eventually, every Federal and State seat will be hard fought. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Even here in the South.

And sometimes, the Dems are going to win.

Which just blows their southern strategy all to hell.

Which makes me smile REAL big! :-D

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Fighting Dems

no longer refers to those who have served in Iraq, but to a Party that believes they can win anywhere, for the first time in a long time.

CountryCrats - my thoughts, my blog.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

To borrow from Stephen Colbert:

Howard Coble, you're on notice.

Hayes and Foxx felt the cannon fire rumble from the battles this year. More Rs will feel it next year.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi

We do have a historic opportunity next time around

and I hope we do not squander it. The South is inherently conservative. Just as the Northeast and West coast are solidly liberal. These realities do not mean that Dems can't run a populist campaign that could result in broad crossover support. John Edwards is already moving on it and I hope Obama does not steal his thunder.

There goes the South, taking the GOP with it....

Terrific take on the weakness of the Southern Strategy.

Reminds me of when LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act: he supposedly said "There goes the South for a generation."

Maybe that generation has finally passed, not because the South ceased being far too racist, but because, as you point out, the Southern Strategy finally drove the conservatives out of the Republican Party.

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo
http://george.entenman.name

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo
https://george.entenman.name

Ken Mehlman Agrees

There's an interesting story in today's NY Times regarding the current conclave of Republican Governors and their post mortem on the GOP's recent election losses. Among the points ticked off by Ken Mehlman, the outgoing Republican Party Chair, was this little nugget...

Republicans need to be alarmed about their declining standing in the Northeast and can not allow further slippage of support from Hispanic and black voters. “If we follow the approach of shrinking our majority, the march will be the march of a minority party,” Mr. Mehlman said. “Our party needs to be growing, not shrinking.”

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen