In 1968, Richard Nixon won the White House by exploiting racial resentments. (Photo from http://american-studies-uea.blogspot.com/2008/05/talking-point-1968-redux.html)
As he plotted his political comeback in 1968, former Vice President Richard Nixon watched with intense interest and fear the career of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had performed surprisingly well in Northern Democratic primaries in 1964. Running against an incumbent Democratic president, Wallace won 34 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 30 percent in Indiana, and a shocking 43 percent in Maryland. Politicians like Wallace, Nixon and former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan perceived the growing white backlash in the United States, even in places as far from the South as California, where 65 percent of voters in 1964 approved Proposition 14, a measure that overturned a previously passed fair-housing law prohibiting home sellers from discriminating against racial minorities. In 1964, Wallace found receptive audiences outside the former Confederacy even though his political supporters and volunteers included men and women with ties to the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan and even Neo-Nazi groups. Not personally an anti-Semite, he sought out alienated white ethnic voters who felt they had lost status to African Americans in Eastern and Midwestern cities.
Segregationist Gov. George Wallace, an independent candidate for president in 1968 and inspiration for the Republican Party from 1969 on. "Kooks got a right to vote too," he once said. (Photo from http://www.controlyourcash.com/2011/11/14/carnival-of-wealth-chief-executive-edition/).
Nixon reached out to Southern whites, cloaking his appeals to prejudice in legalisms, even as he gave himself enough rhetorical cover to not scare away Northerners. Frequently, he began speeches reminding audiences that he had embraced the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, and had backed Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Then he would subtly pivot as he denounced “riots, violence in the street and mob rule.” In spite of the overwhelmingly disproportionate rate of white violence against blacks, instead of vice versa, Nixon blamed bad race relations on “extremists of both races.”
Nixon would have Southern Republicans in his pocket by the time of the 1968 party convention. He smartly spent 1966 campaigning for Republican congressional candidates in normally GOP districts that had voted Democratic during Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential landslide. On Election Day 1966, 27 of the 48 freshmen Democratic congressmen were swept out of office. The candidates Nixon backed won, giving him an even larger slate of important allies in his campaign for the Republican nomination two years later.
Pat Buchanan; one of the architects of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" which aimed to exploit the racial resentments of whites over school busing and urban riots in the 1960s. (Photo from http://www.notablebiographies.com/Br-Ca/Buchanan-Pat.html#b).
Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a former segregationist Democrat turned Republican, supported the insurgent primary campaign of Ronald Reagan who sought to unseat GOP incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 primaries. For both, Ford was too moderate. When Reagan became president in 1981, the two pushed the Republican Party further right on racial issues. Both, for instance, opposed affirmative action and wanted to support the apartheid regime in South Africa. (Photo from http://stage.commercialappeal.com/photos/2008/jul/04/65585/).
Even towards the end of his career, Helms didn’t flinch to win the plaudits of other open racists. Once as a guest on a Larry King Live segment in 1995, Helms simply smiled when a caller said he should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for “everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.” Rather than denounce the racial slur or make a comment on the evils of racism, Helms chuckled and said, “Whoops, well, thank you, I think.”
Former Klanman David Duke's extremist past was well-known to Republican voters in Metarie, La., when they elected him to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989. (Photo from
Most establishment Republicans were horrified by Duke’s success, but that didn’t mean they were unwilling to borrow his ideas. Pat Buchanan, now a frequently invited TV talking head and co-host of the CNN show Crossfire, urged his fellow Republicans to borrow Duke’s platform. In a February 27, 1989 syndicated column, Buchanan wrote: