No Comment — November 4, 2008, 1:06 pm

The Southern Strategy Comes of Age

As Ken Silverstein and others offer their election predictions, I’d like to contribute one of my own. This will be a transformative election. The focus, appropriately, is on the likely victors. But I believe the longer-term consequences can be seen in what has happened to the Republican Party. Karl Rove came to Washington in 2000 promising to change the nation’s political landscape. He expected to establish the Republicans as a new natural party of power, with majorities that would lock in control for a generation. At the heart of the Rovian calculus was America’s Southland, which he saw as the ideological and political base of the reshaped Republican Party of the age of Bush. But the very success of this strategy has been the party’s unmaking. It has also marked a complete betrayal of the founding values of the party of Lincoln and Frémont—an act of ultimate political cynicism.

In the early Seventies, Richard Nixon seized on an initiative popularized by Kevin Phillips called the “Southern Strategy.” Phillips noted that in the wake of Democratic sponsorship of the Civil Rights revolution, the Republican Party’s historic base in the South—black voters—had been shattered. Whereas once the Republican Party had commanded the absolute loyalty of the Southern blacks, during the Kennedy and Johnson years, Phillips reckoned, the Republicans had done well to draw 20 percent of the black vote. However, the Southern white middle class was smoldering over the grant of civil rights—especially voting rights—to blacks. They were alienated by the Democrats and, notwithstanding the threat of opportunistic third-party candidates like George C. Wallace, ripe for the plucking by the Republicans. Phillips suggested that a new Republican majority could be fashioned in the eleven states of the Old Confederacy, to which would be added the existing Republican base in the North, Midwest and plains, Mountain West, and Pacific West. The election of 1972 showed that Phillips’s math was right, and in 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan pursued an electoral strategy similarly built on the transformed allegiance of white Southerners. Rove altered this grand design, tweaking it by placing the religious right at the heart of the G.O.P. effort (and thereby displacing the more prosperous middle-class voters who had been there before). This strategy succeeded beyond the expectations of its authors. Today it has become an albatross for the G.O.P.

When the votes have been counted tonight, the G.O.P. will reap the final fruits of its Southern Strategy. The Republican Party will have transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln into the Party of the Old Confederacy. We will find that John McCain has achieved his best results in the Old Confederacy—to which only a sprinkling of thinly populated states of the Plains and Mountain West will be added (states that share strong demographic similarities with the “Confederate” states). The core of the congressional G.O.P. will be drawn from the Old South. Moreover, surveying the party’s leadership from the last decade, the predominance of white male Southerners will be clear. The 2008 elections will likely see Republicans falling to their Democratic adversaries in New England (which is now unlikely to return a single Republican to the House of Representatives), the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Pacific states.

Much as the post-Thatcher Conservatives in Britain ceased to be a British party and instead became the party of the England’s prosperous southeast, the Republicans will cease to be a national party. They will instead be a regional party. But whereas England’s southeast was and is the nation’s economic engine, attracting the best and the brightest from throughout the realm, the American South is largely a backwater. And within that region, the G.O.P. is, not coincidentally, weakest among the best educated and most prosperous populations (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida) and strongest in the areas most beset by social and economic difficulties. The nation’s political pendulum swings constantly, and the Republican Party will reshape itself and will come to power again. But the Republicans hold on to a final redoubt that offers them little sustenance and little hope for an easy rally and return. This reveals the serious miscalculation of a master tactician. It is the legacy of Karl Rove.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Neoliberal Arts

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn
Article
A Goose in a Dress·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Through Itself is not a restaurant, although it looks like one. It may even think it is one. It is a cult.”
Illustration by Steinman and Tear

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today