A thoughtful op-ed in the New York Times looks at the demographic changes occurring in Georgia and how, in some ways as has happened in Virginia, the Republican Party's increasingly overt racism and socially reactionary policies are alienating moderate Republicans and independent voters. It compares Donald Trump's campaign to that of George Wallace which played well with segregationists but which failed to gain support of educated and more moderate whites. The history of the Republican take over of the South and how it may now be unraveling is thought provoking. The lessons will likely be lost on the GOP. Here are op-ed highlights:
Atlanta — Recent polls show something that has caught even the most optimistic liberals by surprise: Hillary Clinton is tied with Donald J. Trump in Georgia, catching up with him in South Carolina and generally showing strength in traditionally Republican parts of the South. It seems like the Democratic dream come true — demographic changes are turning Southern states purple.But this story has less to do with the future than the past, and both parties run a risk in misreading it. Mr. Trump’s racially charged hard-right campaign reveals a fault line in Republican politics that dates from the very beginning of G.O.P. ascendancy in the South.
The Republican’s Southern Strategy is one of the most familiar stories in modern American history: Beginning in the 1960s, the party courted white racist voters who fled the Democratic Party because of its support for civil rights.
But things were never quite so simple. Yes, racial reaction fed G.O.P. gains in the 1960s and ’70s. And yes, Barry Goldwater called it “hunting where the ducks are.” . . . . Goldwater, however, maintained that he was going after college-educated white collar professionals who were building the modern Southern economy.
That was the vision he described in his speech at the Georgia Republican Convention in May 1964. . . . Goldwater had a point. It was Southern businessmen who grew the party in the 1950s.
Yet there were never enough of these sorts of Republicans to put together electoral majorities in most Southern states. A notable exception was Virginia in 1969, where Linwood Holton, the father-in-law of the current Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, put together a progressive Republican coalition to win the governorship. In almost every other case, however, the G.O.P. had to have the old Dixiecrats, too.
The scene played out dramatically at the Georgia Republican convention where Goldwater spoke. He left for California immediately after his speech and thus missed the political decimation of Georgia’s Eisenhower Republicans. In a six-hour political rout, hard-line segregationists swept them out, along with longtime African-American leaders.
The new order was symbolized perfectly later that campaign season when South Carolina’s Democratic senator Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat presidential candidate in 1948, switched parties. Thus was established the political strategy in the South that Republican presidential candidates have followed ever since — melding an overtly conservative, socially moderate economic appeal aimed at the middle class with a politics of rage geared toward disaffected white voters.
Ronald Reagan folded in religious conservatives in the 1980s to replace the generation of Dixiecrats dying off, thus consolidating the powerful mix of cultural reaction and economic conservatism that is modern Republicanism.
Yet this year that mixture may not work. Mr. Trump’s extreme language and divisive policies are alienating moderate Republicans in places like the Atlanta exurbs — where Mrs. Clinton is running nearly even with Mr. Trump. And across the state, polls show a significantly low number of Republicans saying they’ll support their party’s candidate.
Mr. Trump’s campaign most closely resembles the presidential campaigns of George C. Wallace, the arch-segregationist Alabama governor. Indeed, Wallace’s legacy is telling. . . . . he never had much appeal among the new class of suburban whites; the two were like oil and water. So, too, it would seem, are Donald Trump and moderate Southern Republicans today.
Whether or not Republicans hold on to Georgia and South Carolina this year, the lessons they are likely to take away are predictable. Democrats will assume that these states, like Virginia and North Carolina, are part of a long-term liberal trend and push traditional liberal ideas harder in future elections. Republicans will most likely write off Mr. Trump as a one-time phenomenon and not do anything. In doing so, both parties will ignore lessons from the history of the Southern conservative majority.
What might be happening instead is something new in the South: true two-party politics, in which an urban liberal-moderate Democratic Party fights for votes in the increasingly multiethnic metropolitan South against an increasingly rural, nationalistic Republican Party. If that happens, it will transform not only the politics of the American South, but those of America itself.