Saturday, February 20, 2016

Running the table

One of these men was out of his mind on drugs
Joe Beese asks:

So who was the last person to win the Republican nomination after losing Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina?
Has anyone?

Not that I recall. Many of the coming primaries are winner-take-all or winner-take-most, which means Trump runs the table, as he claimed he would. (He didn't really lose in Iowa which was effectively a 3-way tie.)

Even before he won South Carolina, I was thinking this morning that Nixon didn't really think through his Southern Strategy to steal the racist vote from the Democrats.

I was started thinking about this by an analysis in the New York Times by Alec MacGillis. MacGillis was reflecting on Mitch McConnell's relentless focus on winning elections, rather than advancing policies, but the thought applies equally well to the Democrats between 1860 and 1968 and to the Republicans since.

In 1860, the Democrats split into northern and southern factions. When they rejoined, after the Southern white racists regained the franchise in 1877, they were an ill-sorted marriage: Southerners who cared nothing except for maintaining race privilege, and northerners and westerners who were interested in things like higher wages. Since the South did not mind giving up prosperity in exchange for keeping the lid on African-Americans, the South ran the party.

Into the ground. The Democrats could win the presidency only when an election year coincided with economic distress plus division among Republicans. Even spotting the Democrats the Solid South, the Republicans almost couldn't lose.

Looking back on it, Nixon's paranoid decision to appropriate the South's electoral votes by reversing the Republican Party's historic role as the party favorable to blacks seems insane. It's true that FDR had switched the allegiance of black voters to the Democratic Party (at least in presidential elections), but black votes did not swing Electoral College votes.

Looking ahead, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 foretold that black votes might someday determine the electoral votes of the South -- and more doubtfully, some urban states. But that wasn't going to happen in 1968.

By hiving off the racist vote, Nixon unified the Democratic Party, moving it left, and divided the Republican Party. However, rather than staggering forward, Democrat style, with a party at war with itself, the Republicans purged their liberals -- the Javitses, Cases and Rockefellers.

Winning the South did not give the Republicans a lock on the presidency any more than it had for the Democrats. The Democrats were only able to win the White House by nominating men with liberal policies and Southern roots, but they did that 3 times.

Then Obama came along and, taking advantage of shifts in population, upset all the old calculations.

But that left the Republicans in a fix. They now had to keep their racists or decline rapidly into long-term minority status. Thus the landslide in South Carolina for the nakedly racist candidates Saturday: Trump and Cruz got 55% combined.

It's not easy to see where non-racist Republicans go now.


The more I think about the Southern Strategy, the stupider it seems from a purely political standpoint. That it was evil goes without saying, at least if you re a liberal.

I confess I never thought about it in a purely political sense until just now. Of course, going racist was personally congenial for Nixon and most of his closest minions. But he was supposed to be so calculating. The liberal chronicler Rick Perlstein ("Nixonand") considers him the most skilled politician of his time.

Maybe so. He and FDR were the only men to win the presidency 3 times; since Nixon was robbed in '60.

But . . .

Did he really have to go Southern? Even before the Southern Strategy the South was trending Republican. Goldwater won the Deep South in '64 in the biggest Democratic landslide since '36.

While I do not believe Goldwater was personally racist, his John Birch-inflected positions overlapped a lot with those of the White Citizens Councils.

The councils existed to maintain white supremacy, but no political movement can exist without having subsidiary ideas adhering to it. The councils were as antisemitic as theywere antiblack, despite Jewish influence in the South being nearly invisible. They also tended toward small town populism and small town middle class (merchant) resentment. Feelings not unlike those that adhered to Hitler's antiJewish shtick.

It was a mixture seen before in Tom Watson's populism in Georgia around 1900.

What I am saying is that Nixon could have had the South without nakedly repudiating the legacy of his party.

But perhaps I have it wrong. Perhaps the Southern Strategy was not designed to get votes in the South but from copperheads in other states.

We see today the Confederate flag waved by a certain kind of anti-gummint anti-modern redneck in states as far from Dixie as you can get. I don't think those guys are a significant voting category, but possibly (like blog commenters) their views represent a larger category of silent lurkers who do vote.

In 2016, as the Republican Party seems ready to tear itself to bits, the Southern Strategy looks like a slow-acting poison pill.

No comments:

Post a Comment