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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

6 - Toward a Modern Southern Strategy, 1933–1968

from Part I - The South and National Republican Party Politics, 1865–1968


The 1932–1968 period represents a crucial era of change between the Republican Party and the American South. With the New Deal realignment, the GOP slowly but surely came to the realization that some form of electoral competition in the South could no longer be avoided for the party to have a chance at winning presidential elections and congressional majorities consistently. After FDR’s death, and with liberals and conservatives in the Democratic Party divided on civil rights, Republicans – for the first time – had both the opportunity and the need to advance in the South. But how to take advantage of this opening in the South while simultaneously not alienating traditional Republican voters elsewhere proved to be a difficult puzzle to solve. While the 1964 election showed that catering to Dixiecrats could open the South up to the Republican Party, Goldwater’s dismal performance everywhere else temporarily scared Republican leaders. A breakthrough in the inherent conflict between (a) the party’s failure to succeed in the South and (b) the price it paid outside of the South for trying was forged by Richard Nixon, in his efforts to win the 1968 presidential nomination. In assessing both the internal dynamics within the GOP as well as the national effects of previous Republican southern strategies, Nixon identified a winning strategy. By rejecting segregation, Nixon reassured voters outside of the South that he was not giving in to the worst elements in the Dixiecrat movement. Yet Nixon’s support for the less extreme policies that Southern conservatives were demanding – a slowdown in the implementation of civil rights reforms – was tied to the broader sense of insecurity whites felt across the country with regard to job safety and crime.

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