Political Scientist Angie Maxwell on Countering the 'Long Southern Strategy'

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tags: conservatism, racism, Southern Strategy

For decades, the Republican Party has used what's known as "the Southern Strategy" to win white support in the region through dog-whistle appeals to racism, sexism, and Christian nationalism.

Facing South recently spoke with political scientist Dr. Angie Maxwell, co-author with Todd Shields of "The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics," about the deep history of political division in the region and the future of Southern politics after Democrats won the presidential election in Georgia for the first time in 28 years and defeated two Republican Senate incumbents in the state.

Maxwell is the director of the Diane Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society, an associate professor of political science, and holder of the Diane Blair Endowed Professorship in Southern Studies at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Can you explain what you mean by the "Long Southern Strategy" and the role it played in the evolution of the Republican Party?

What we think about the Southern Strategy in general, I sometimes call that the "Short Southern Strategy" because it helps me distinguish it. The Short Southern Strategy that most people know goes something like this: As the national Democratic Party started to embrace civil rights post-New Deal but really in the 1960s, the Republican Party, or some strategists in it, saw an opportunity to win some Southern white voters who felt like the national Democratic Party was moving very far away from the Democratic Party they knew or what their state Democratic Party was. There starts to be this big gap.

After the 1964 Civil Rights Act is signed, the Republican Party at their convention that summer is really divided between the Rockefeller Republicans, who were moderately pro-civil rights, and a growing, primarily Midwestern, anti-labor conservative wing of the party. The party did a lot of work in the late 1950s and early '60s to try to find a nominee that they could push for. They finally found one, Barry Goldwater, the senator from Arizona, who'd been one of the few Republican senators to not sign the Civil Rights Act.

Goldwater became a star in the Republican Party and the Republican nominee in 1964. Southern Democrats who were upset with the national Democratic Party liked Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, changed their party ID to Republican, and really only stumped for Goldwater and pitched Goldwater Republicanism as a counter to this increasingly liberal Democratic Party. Goldwater succeeds in flipping five Southern states [Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina]. He earned 87% of the vote in Mississippi, which is one of the most radical changes in all of American political history.

Goldwater only wins those five Southern states and his state of Arizona and loses the rest of the country. But that moment was the first time the Republican Party became a real viable option in the Deep South — at least at the presidential level. There wasn't much structure underneath that. There wasn't a strong Republican Party statewide, so it took a little more time. Nixon comes along four years later and manages to build on what Goldwater did but maybe not saying it so aggressively. Therefore the South goes red.

That's the story we tell. The problem with that is nothing is that simple. We forget that Nixon is successful, but in 1976 Jimmy Carter runs as a Democrat and wins the entire South back except for one state [Virginia]. Republicans have to go back to the drawing board and think of other issues that appeal to Southern whites.

Read entire article at Facing South

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