Presidential Campaign

The end of the ‘Southern Strategy’?

Confederate Flag, MoveOn, Charleston, Take down the flag
Getty Images

Symbols are important. They mean something and they affect people’s views and actions. The Confederate flag has been a mighty and powerful symbol. American politicians have, up to today, mostly steered clear of bringing it up or addressing its significance. Preserving the status quo or stating that the individual states should make the decision is usually the safe way to go.

But after the terrible and horrific acts in Charleston, S.C., and after photographs in which the confessed murderer is seen hoisting the Confederate flag, things are now different. Now, cautious and timid politicians are speaking plainly and clearly. The overwhelming sentiment is “take it down.”

The present Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, ignited the momentous change. At first, she made some tenuous remark that could only be interpreted as “not now.” Now the “not” has been totally and completely removed. As she said: “It came down to one simple thing. I couldn’t look my son or daughter in the face and justify that flag flying anymore.”

{mosads}I believe in her sincerity. You just had to look at her face and listen to her words immediately after the tragedy and know she was speaking from her heart. You couldn’t act or fake that. She has also said of the white South Carolinians who see the flag as remembering and honoring those who fought and died in the Civil War, that “That is not hate, nor is it racism.” I don’t believe that is having it both ways.

What Haley has done is genuine and real. I believe that it was not politics that moved her, but truly her innermost feelings. Somebody who should be noted is former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley (R). In 1996, he proposed that the Confederate flag be removed from atop the South Carolina Capitol and he paid for it by losing the next election. The New York Times, in their front page story has described all the calls for removal as being with “striking speed.”

I am astounded that Republican Speaker of the Mississippi House Philip Gunn has called for the Confederate battle cross, which appears in the upper corner of the state flag, to be removed. Mississippi, the most “Southern” of the Deep South states: the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the state where Ronald Reagan chose to start his 1980 presidential campaign and court white Southern voters (in Philadelphia, Miss., of all places, where civil rights activists James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 1964).

To quote an old Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Is the “Southern Strategy,” first originated by a South Carolina operative named Harry Dent for President Nixon, now over? The South Carolina Republican primary is key to any candidate seeking the nomination.

President George H.W. Bush, a decent man, was not above employing another South Carolina operative named Lee Atwater to get his way. I don’t remember Bush calling for the flag to be taken down. In 1988, that was tantamount to political suicide. What will the other supposed front-runners do when the South Carolina primary comes along and the debates take place in the Palmetto State? I don’t expect Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), to name a few, to follow Haley’s lead and example. Those three and others will look at who’s voting, and that’s where they will go.

Those who will be voting in the South Carolina Republican primary will be predominately those who don’t want the Confederate flag taken down, and most of all don’t want the subject brought up. Will former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) speak up and remind the South Carolina Republicans of his earlier stated aversion to the flag? I don’t think there will be many “profiles in courage” among the GOP contenders.

Beyond the South Carolina Republican primary, what will last is a deep remembrance of that awful Wednesday night in Charleston and how, after, for a time, that glorious and beautiful city came together as one and showed solidarity and embraced love of all.

Maybe, just maybe, the politics will be changed and the Republican “Southern Strategy,” which seeks to divide and separate people by race, will at least falter, if not vanish. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, and too soonto happen. Or was Charleston the tipping point?

A reference to President George H.W. Bush originally referred to President George W. Bush; it has been corrected.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags 2016 presidential campaign 2016 Republican primary 2016 South Carolina primary Charleston Confederacy Confederate flag David Beasley Jeb Bush Mississippi Nikki Haley Philip Gunn South Carolina Southern Strategy
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video