Juan Williams: Republicans and racial resentment


Why do Democrats in Congress have trouble with white men?

The easy answer is President Obama.

On May 9, the nation will mark 150 years since the end of the Civil War. Given the nation's history of legal racial segregation for most of the 150 years that followed a war over slavery, it is an incredible political fact that the United States elected a black president. 

White voters, especially older men in the states of the former Confederacy, made a major shift to the Republican Party in reaction to Democrats backing civil rights and voting rights laws in the 1960s. Many of them have remained in the GOP’s camp ever since.

Now, two terms of the first non-white president are amplifying this trend even further.

White-male voter discontent with Democrats now defines the Republican Party by shaping the priorities of its members in the House and Senate. It is also going to shape the 2016 presidential race.

Obama won the 2012 presidential race by 4 percentage points, 51-47. But if the contest had been limited to white male voters, Republican Mitt Romney would have crushed him 62-35. 

Romney won a majority of white men in 45 of the 50 states, losing only five in the northernmost swath of the nation: Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon and Washington.

The power of white male allegiance to the GOP in the nation’s 16 southern states was in evidence when the Obama-Biden ticket lost the 2008 general election in 11 of those 16 states. They did worse in 2012, losing 12 of the 16. Remember that in both elections Obama won more than 50 percent of the nationwide vote. The south was far outside the mainstream on Obama. 

That could be good news for Democrats in 2016 when Obama won’t be on the ballot.

It is a sad reality that any Democrat who is not black has reason to expect better results. But a candidate with roots in the south could be even better positioned. That fact holds great potential for Hillary Clinton, former first lady of Arkansas and Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia.

But even a Clinton or Webb campaign will have to contend with the fact that there is now not a single white Democrat in the House or Senate from the deep southern states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. 

The last southern white male Democrat in the House fell when John Barrow lost his seat in the Georgia delegation in 2014. In addition, 11 of the 16 southern states have a Republican governor and a GOP majority in the state legislature.

The political take-away is that the Republican Party, thanks to the strength of its white male base, now has the highest percentage of southern House seats in its history, if you define the south as the states of the Confederacy in addition to Oklahoma and Kentucky. 

Among the 22 senators now holding seats representing the states of the former Confederacy, there are only 3 Democrats, all white men: Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia and Florida's Bill Nelson.

If Sen. Warner had not held on by a thread to win the Virginia race — he won by less than one percentage point — every Democrat running for Senate in the old Confederate states would have lost. The actual losers included Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.


This animating force of southern white male dominance in the Republican Party is now so pronounced that it has prompted alarm.

Colby King, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, wrote in March that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never miss a chance "to undercut and insult" the first black president.

In April, Harold Meyerson, another Post columnist, described the southern, white-male dominated GOP as no longer the party of the Great Emancipator of slaves, Abraham Lincoln but now "really the party of Jefferson Davis,” the president of the Confederacy.

Meyerson extends his argument to Republican Congressional policy priorities: The southern-dominated party "suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum south opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all-white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee's Army and the descendants of [Union General Ulysses S. Grant] have yet to subdue it."

Similarly, the New York Times editorialized in April that efforts by Congressional Republicans to obstruct President Obama's legislative agenda go well beyond policy differences. They said those efforts amount to "denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009." The Times wrote that "it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it."

The Republican strategy could be more than "ideological extremism and personal animosity" but "it is not clear what that might be," the Times said.

Finding an answer is essential to defining a GOP agenda for 2016 and beyond.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.