Press: The new Southern Strategy
The French say it best: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” Roughly translated: “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”
It’s true on many fronts, but especially in politics, as I was reminded this week while reviewing an important new book, “The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics” by University of Arkansas scholars Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields. Suddenly I realized that, in accounting how President Nixon exploited “white fear” in order to win white southern voters back in the 1960s, Maxwell and Shields are also describing the same strategy Donald Trump’s employing for 2020.
“The Long Southern Strategy” isn’t over. If Nixon started the Southern Strategy, Trump has continued and expanded it. In fact, Trump’s even made it worse. As evil as he was, Nixon would never have appeared at a campaign rally and told four women of color, elected members of Congress, to leave the country. Nor would Nixon just stand there nodding his head as the crowd chanted: “Send her back.”
But their playbook’s the same. Both men stir up white fear based on a combination of economic, religious and feminist issues to convince white voters — especially older, male, white Americans — that only the Republican Party will vote to protect their historic hold on power. They know demographics are changing, they realize America will someday be a majority minority nation, they’re scared to death, and they’re counting on the Republican Party to hold off the hordes.
On the economy, Trump channels Nixon in warning whites about dark-skinned people flooding across our southern border to take their jobs, wages and homes, while draining their tax dollars for health care. In his attacks on women — four freshmen members of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Meghan Markle — Trump echoes the outdated southern belief that a woman’s place is in the background, unlike “uppity” women who run for public office.
But nowhere is the Southern Strategy more alive than in Trump’s alliance with southern evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Jr. Never having reached out to racial minorities themselves, they’re more than willing to put the Gospels on hold and support his racist campaign in order to get anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. With Trump and religious conservatives, we’ve reached the point the late Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), whom many consider the architect of the Southern Strategy, warned about: “Mark my word. If and when these preachers get control of the Republican Party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem.”
Nixon embraced the Southern Strategy to win the White House in 1968. Trump’s embarked on his own Southern Strategy of race-baiting to win reelection in 2020. The difference is that Nixon tried to mask his racism, hiding behind phrases like “law and order” and “war on drugs” to cover up the real targets of his racist policies.
Not Trump. He doesn’t care. Where Nixon was covertly racist, Trump’s openly racist. And always has been: as a businessman, sued for not renting apartments to African Americans; as a candidate, denouncing immigrants as criminals and rapists; as president, declaring a ban on Muslims, praising white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Va., and waging war on four women of color.
The worst is, Trump conducts his Southern Strategy while insisting “There’s not a Racist bone in my body” — which is the biggest Trump lie of all. His record and rhetoric prove he’s racist to the bone.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”