Rachel Maddow, in strong opening segment last night on candidates getting away with racist statements this year—no "macaca" downfalls—kept mentioning a Nixon architect of the Southern Strategy, and quoted him twice. She even put his blunt words from 1970, urging the GOP to ignore blacks and focus strictly on white voters, up on the screen, but oddly failed to name him.
This led some, in online comments, to presume it was former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan, who certainly seems capable of this in the past, perhaps even the present. Was Rachel protecting an MSNBC colleague?
That’s wrong. The former GOP strategist was Kevin Phillips. So why did Maddow choose not to name him?
I can only imagine that she was kindly avoiding tarring someone who has gone to harshly criticize the GOP, appear often on Bill Moyers’ PBS show, and write several valuable books, the latest American Theocracy. Still, made for an awkward moment.
Phillips did not invent the term "southern strategy" for the successful drive by the GOP to wrest control of the region from the Democrats, but became most associated with it, after he was interviewed for an article with that phrase in its headline on May 17, 1970. Phillips in that piece said, and Maddow quoted it, "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."
In fact, Phillips, in his influential book from that era, The Emerging Republican Majority, urged the politics of polarization in the north as well.
Bob Herbert in a New York Times column later observed, "The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the GOP’s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks."
A new edition of Greg Mitchell’s book, "The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics, winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize, has just been published.