The chickens, having come home to roost, consumed Boehner… Nixon made a deal with the devil by opening the Republican party to southern racists, and, now, almost 50 years later, the party is paying the price

Quite a bit has been written over the past few weeks about John Boneher’s unexpected decision to step down as Speaker of the House and leave Congress. While everyone seems to be in agreement that his decision is largely due to the increasingly ugly battle being waged over the heart and soul of the Republican party, I think William Greider’s most recent piece in The Nation has really gone the furthest toward explaining why things are coming to a head right now, and how everything we’re seeing play out in present day America has its roots in Nixon’s so-called southern strategy, which successfully sought to bring racist former Democrats, who had felt betrayed by Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, over to the Republican party. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a little excerpt to give you a sense of it.

…The GOP finds itself trapped in a marriage that has not only gone bad but is coming apart in full public view. After five decades of shrewd strategy, the Republican coalition Richard Nixon put together in 1968 — welcoming the segregationist white South into the Party of Lincoln — is now devouring itself in ugly, spiteful recriminations…

At the heart of this intramural conflict is the fact that society has changed dramatically in recent decades, but the GOP has refused to change with it. Americans are rapidly shifting toward more tolerant understandings of personal behavior and social values, but the Republican Party sticks with retrograde social taboos and hard-edged prejudices about race, gender, sexual freedom, immigration, and religion. Plus, it wants to do away with big government (or so it claims).

The party establishment, including business and financial leaders, seems to realize that Republicans need to moderate their outdated posture on social issues. But they can’t persuade their own base — especially Republicans in the white South — to change. The longer the GOP holds out, the more likely it is to be damaged by the nation’s changing demographics — the swelling impact of Latinos and other immigrants, and the flowering influence of millennials, the 18-to-30-year-olds who are more liberal and tolerant than their elders.

Nixon’s “Southern strategy” was cynical, of course, but it was an effective electoral ploy. Now, however, it is beginning to look like a deal with the devil. For 2016, the GOP has to cope with very different challenges. The party has to find a broadly appealing nominee who won’t scare off party moderates and independent voters, but who at the same time can pacify rebellious right-wingers and prevent a party crackup…

Scott Lilly, a liberal Democrat who for many years was the sagacious staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, explained the GOP’s intra-party fracas in that context. Boehner’s resignation, Lilly wrote in The Washington Spectator, “was, in fact, about the steady unraveling of a coalition that has allowed the Republican Party to hold the White House for 27 of the past 47 years and maintain a seemingly solid base for continuing control of the US House of Representatives.”

Nixon’s reconfiguration brought together “polar opposites among white Americans,” Lilly noted. The traditional wing of the party — “country club” Republicans, who include corporate leaders, financiers and investors — became partners with poor, rural, church-going voters, among them the Southern “segs” who had previously always voted for Democrats. Black Southerners didn’t count in the equation, since they were still mostly being blocked from voting.

After Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson confided to a White House aide, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” Nixon’s new Republicans became a formidable national party, Lilly explained, but they always straddled the tension between rich and poor…

“The problem,” Lilly said, “is that this latter group has almost nothing in common with the country club wing… The country clubbers don’t care about prayer in the public schools, gun rights, stopping birth control, abortion and immigration.” On the other hand, common folks don’t worry over marginal tax rates, capital formation, or subsidies for major corporations.

“If they ever fully understood that their more prosperous party brethren were contemplating deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid to pay for those policies, they would be in open rebellion,” Lilly observed.

Nixon and his successors hid behind ideology and obscured the contradictions by pursuing a strategy I would call “no-fault bigotry.” Every now and then, especially in election seasons, the Republicans played the race card in dog-whistle fashion to smear Democrats, with savage effect. The GOP never attempted to repeal civil-rights legislation but sought cheap ways to undermine enforcement and remind whites, South and North, that the party was on “their” side…

So what caused the current rebellion in the GOP ranks? It finally dawned on loyal foot soldiers in the odd-couple coalition that they were being taken for suckers. Their causes always seemed to get the short end of the stick. The GOP made multiple promises and fervent speeches on the social issues, but, for one reason or another, the party establishment always failed to deliver.

This belated realization stirred the anger that has flared across the ranks of the followers — and not just in the South. The financial crisis, the bailout of the banks, and collapsing prosperity intensified their sense of betrayal. People began mobilizing their own rump-group politics to push back. The tea party protests were aimed at President Obama, of course, but they were also an assault on Republican leaders who had misled and used the party base for so long. Tea party revenge took down long-comfortable legislators and elected red-hot replacements who share the spirit of rebellion…

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5 Comments

  1. Meta
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    David Brooks joins the ranks of old school conservatives who are absolutely horrified to see their party eating itself.

    In a blistering New York Times column, Brooks accuses today’s Republican Party of betraying the actual tenets of conservatism. “By traditional definitions,” he writes, “conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible.”

    Today’s Republicans, he continues, have abandoned all that. The GOP is increasingly driven by a faction that “regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.”

    It’s perhaps not a surprise that Brooks, a Burkean conservative, finds the party of Donald Trump and Ben Carson a bit objectionable. What’s interesting is the precise nature of his diagnosis. Republicans, he says, have become prisoners of their own rhetoric:

    “Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple… This produced a radical mind-set.”

    The result is a party that has convinced its voters that America needs a political revolution and is now surprised to find its voters turning to revolutionaries. “These insurgents are incompetent at governing and unwilling to be governed,” Brooks says. “But they are not a spontaneous growth. It took a thousand small betrayals of conservatism to get to the dysfunction we see all around.”

    Read more:
    http://www.vox.com/2015/10/13/9521719/david-brooks-republican-party

  2. Kit
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    All things considered, it was a pretty good deal. The last 45 years have been great for wealthy conservatives.

  3. EOS
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    The talking heads think Boehner’s leaving is a bad thing. I wouldn’t be so quick to announce the demise of the Republican party. They’ve solidified control of most states:

    http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/statevote-2014-interactive-map-before-election.aspx

    Next move is to eliminate the RINO’s and promote true conservatism at the national level. Put an end to the neocons endless wars and expose the Democratic fraudulence of giving away “free stuff” at the expense of the few still left working. The losers want to nominate another “moderate”. The winners will restore Constitutional limits, reign in the out of control judicial branch, and return to limited Federal government with maximal individual freedoms. MSM and the old guard party members can no longer manipulate the electorate. This election is going to be a rude awakening for many. Brooks has got it backward. The betrayal has been by the officeholders. Boehner can take McCain and Graham with him. Bye.

  4. Peter Larson
    Posted October 20, 2015 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    I always love these grand predictions around election time.

  5. EOS
    Posted October 20, 2015 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Yet Mark thinks the party is in shambles… So let’s try a racist smear to obscure the facts. You are losing your credibility fast. Neither Clinton nor Sanders can win – and who else have you got?

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