In the decades following the Civil War, African Americans reliably voted for the Republican Party, which had led the efforts to outlaw slavery and enfranchise Black voters; and white southerners reliably voted for the Democratic Party. When Black voters started to vote for Democratic candidates in larger numbers, starting with the 1936 re-election of FDR, whose New Deal policies had helped poor African Americans, Republicans began to turn their sights toward white Southern voters. By the 1964 Presidential election, Republican Barry Goldwater was actively courting those voters, winning five states in the deep South, despite his otherwise poor showing nationwide. Republican Richard Nixon successfully refined the strategy in his 1968 defeat of Democrat Hubert Humphrey. In the following decades, the Republican Party continued to employ the Southern Strategy, eventually leading to a complete realignment of the parties.
Joining me for a deep dive on the Southern Strategy is Dr. Kevin M. Kruse, Professor of History at Princeton University, author of several books on the political and social history of twentieth-century America, and co-editor with fellow Princeton History Dr. Julian E. Zelizer of Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies about Our Past.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is a photograph of Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968; it is in the public domain and available via Wikimedia Commons. The mid-episode audio is the "Go, Go Goldwater" radio jingle produced by Erwin Wasey, Ruthrauff and Ryan, Inc. (EWR & R) from the 1964 presidential campaign; it is widely available on YouTube and is sampled here for educational purpose.
Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.
On this episode, we're discussing the Southern Strategy, an electoral approach by the Republican Party to capture the votes of white Democrats in the South. Before we get to that party switch, though, I think it would be helpful to give a quick overview of the history of the Republican Party. If you remember your US History courses, or you've watched "Hamilton" recently, you might recall that while George Washington opposed political parties, they sprang up pretty much immediately upon the country's founding. By the 1830s, Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party had dissolved and Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Republican Party had become the Democratic Party, headed by Andrew Jackson. Jackson's opponents formed the Whig Party, which managed to elect four presidents, all of whom are included in the Simpsons' song, "We Are the Mediocre Presidents." That brings us to the 1850s, when the Whig Party fell apart over slavery. In 1854, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, a Democrat, introduced a bill that became known as the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854. When enacted, the law organized the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, allowing them to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery, and it explicitly repealed the earlier Missouri Compromise, which had outlawed slavery above the 36'30" latitude line, in the unorganized areas of the Louisiana Territory. Groups who opposed the Kansas Nebraska Act started to organize themselves, and at one such meeting on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin, the Republican Party was founded. News of the new party spread quickly, and former members of the Whig and Free Soil parties, as well as disaffected Democrats, joined their local chapters. By 1856, the National Republican Party had formed. It's important to note here that the Republican Party at this point was largely not made up of abolitionists. Their goal was to stop slavery from spreading to the West, which would increase the power of slave states. With the Democrats running two opposing candidates in 1860, Whig-turned-Republican, Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election, with just under 40% of the popular vote, leaning on the strength of his showing in the free Northern States, along with California and Oregon. Southern states reacted to the election by seceding. Although Lincoln opposed slavery, his goal was always primarily to save the Union, and he upset many abolitionists with his moderation. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, was as much a strategic move as a moral one. But with it, and with Republicans the 13th Amendment, which finally abolished slavery, and radical Republicans passing further legislation to protect civil rights for African Americans, the loyalty of southern whites to the Democratic Party, and of African Americans to the Republican Party, was solidified. Its loyalties remained strong, even while the presidency flipped back and forth between the two parties over the next few decades, and while the two parties themselves changed, with the Republicans shifting from the party of federal power and economic liberalism, to the party of corporations and economic conservatism, and the Democrats shifting from the party of states' rights to the party of big government economic liberalism. In 1932, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won only 23% of the Black vote in his overwhelming victory over incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover. By 1936, FDR won 71% of the Black vote, having convinced African American voters who saw how they benefited from the New Deal. For a time the Democratic Party managed to hold together an unlikely coalition that included both African Americans and southern white segregationists. But the approval of a civil rights platform in the Democratic Convention in 1948, where incumbent Democrat Harry Truman was renominated, was a bridge too far for some. Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president and lost on the ticket of the states' rights Democratic Party, aka the Dixiecrats. Republicans, seeing an opening, started to court the Dixiecrats. But the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision, which was authored by Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren, didn't help the Republicans' cause with the Dixiecrats. When then Vice President Richard Nixon ran for president in 1960, on the Republican ticket, he did so with a robust civil rights plank, and a liberal Republican running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. When Nixon lost that election to Democrat John F.Kennedy, Republicans doubled down on Operation Dixie, to increase their reach in the southern states, in many places, happily recruiting segregationists. As Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater put it, they weren't going to win the Black vote in 1964 or 1968, so, "We ought to go hunting where the ducks are." Goldwater, touting his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, lost the presidential election in 1964, but he won five states in the Deep South, a sign that the Southern Strategy was beginning to work for the Republican Party. In 1968, Nixon ran again, this time following a more nuanced version of Goldwater's blueprint, allying himself with the newly Republican Strom Thurmond and selecting for his running mate, Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew, who had famously berated civil rights leaders after a riot, all while denying that they were following a Southern Strategy at all. However quiet Nixon's coded language might have been, Thurmond was less circumspect, saying, "If Nixon becomes president, he has promised that he won't enforce either the Civil Rights or the Voting Rights Act. Stick with him." Segregationist George Wallace, running an independent campaign, won the Deep South in 1968, but Nixon won the rest of the South. In 1972, with no Wallace to spoil the vote, the incumbent Nixon swept the former Confederacy, winning 80% of the white vote in the South, with Wallace voters from 1968 voting for Nixon in 1972 by a three to one margin. It would take decades for the shift to play out, with state legislatures in the South, still dominated by Democrats well into the 21st century. Joining me now for a deep dive on the Southern Strategy is Dr. Kevin M. Kruse, Professor of History at Princeton University, author of several books on the political and social history of 20th century America, and co-editor with fellow Princeton historian Dr. Julian E. Zelizer of, "Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past." Dr. Kruse also contributed an essay to the collection, titled, "The Southern Strategy."
In your heart, you know, he's right. So go, Goldwater. Let's go, Goldwater. Let's go Goldwater all the way! So make a note to cast your vote for Mr. USA!
Kelly Therese Pollock 10:17
Hi, Kevin, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 10:20
My pleasure to be here.
Kelly Therese Pollock 10:21
Yes. So I'm excited to talk about the Southern Strategy. But first I want to talk a little bit about "Myth America" and how this book came together. Can you talk a little bit about the the impetus for the book, how you and Julian Zelizer got this book together?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 10:36
Yeah, well, the book was many years in the making, and the origin is, the furthest point back was, conversations with my agent trying to capture the kind of things that historians like me were doing on Twitter, wouldn't this be a good book, and I didn't want to do an entire book of kind of fact, checking Twitter threads. That didn't seem right. But that was the kind of the, the germ of an of the idea which was to, to use that kind of approach of challenging, pushing back against the myths and the lies that are being spread largely by the right in the Trump era. And try to find a way to turn that into something a little more substantial than Twitter. And when we looked around, we saw that Julian and I were doing this, but lots of other historians were on Twitter, on Facebook on Substack, on TV, and radio, and things like that, challenging these things. And we thought, well, let's get these people who are already hard at work, pushing back against a lot of these myths and lies in the public sphere, and do what we do best, which is to, to write pieces grounded in the evidence meant to reach a general audience.
Kelly Therese Pollock 11:47
Yeah, so let me ask about that for a second. Because this is obviously directed at a general audience. It can be well understood by people who are not historians, but it is grounded in facts, in archives. There are a huge number of notes in this book, as you would expect in an academic book. So can you talk a little bit about public history and how what it takes to sort of get the message to a general audience in a way that can be understood while still being very grounded in the way that academics are?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 12:18
That's a great question. And as you know, the essays are deeply grounded in, in historical literature and in the archives. And they're not meant for other historians, because in a lot of ways, we're taking what is kind of conventional wisdom and standard accounts, in historical profession, and using those to correct misconceptions the public has. Now to do that, we've got to talk to the general public where they can be reached, and most people aren't idiots, but they aren't specialists, right. And so what that means is being very careful to speak to them as you would you know, a colleague in another department, someone who's not an academic, you know, as we would write an op ed piece, and when you write an op ed piece editors always use this phrase of, we're trying to reach a general, generally educated audience of non specialists. And so people who are, you know, a bright, but don't have any particular background in this topic and want to know more. So you can speak to them in depth in detail, but you got to avoid kind of exclusionary language, you've got to avoid kind of seminar table jargon, and academic shorthand. And really just speak to them as clearly as you can. And again, the people that we have in mind for this project, are ones that we'd already seen, were doing this, you know, doing this in a variety of other form, and we knew could do it well, here.
Kelly Therese Pollock 13:36
Yeah, yeah. And it works really well. I think any of these chapters as a standalone essay, you know, really does give you a good overview, some of the stuff I knew in deep ways in certain topics, but it was good to see the overview. So let's talk about the Southern Strategy then. So first of all, let's talk about how it's a myth because, you know, I think a lot of people just accept it as fact that yes, of course, there's a Southern Strategy that happened. So what is the the myth around this?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 14:04
Yeah, if you told me, you know, a decade ago, that I would be writing a chapter about a popular myth, the idea that the Southern Strategy didn't exist, would have never entered my mind, because it is such, not just conventional wisdom for historians, but the general public. I mean, so the Southern strategy I should start with is the the approach the Republican Party takes in the 1960s, largely under the direction of Richard Nixon, but some other folks, to expand its its presence to reach into the south where it had never been popular and always was dismissed as the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of the North in the Civil War, and to make inroads there by making peace with white conservatives who are segregationist basically to bury the Republican Party's rich tradition of racial liberalism, and instead to make common cause with with white supremacists in a lot of ways, at least to make peace with him. And again, this was not a controversial fact. Throughout the 1960s this is openly discussed in the media, not just by reporters observing from the outside but Nixon strategists talk about this openly in the papers. Nixon, in a private speeches, we have recordings of this, we have it in the archives. This is all in the historical record, so much so that about a decade ago, Republican leaders themselves, were apologizing for this. Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee, apologize to the NAACP for the Southern strategy. Michael Steele, the first African American to be the head of the RNC did the same. And this was an effort and I think an honest one during the Bush era, to really turn the page, to say, "Look, that was an older chapter of the Republican Party. We're not proud about that. But look at us today. We're a diverse party." You know, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzalez, the Bush administration, was very conscious about having a racially diverse administration and tried to make outreach on issues of immigration and things like that. So they were trying to turn the page on this. But in the Trump era, we've gone completely in the other direction, and rather than apologizing for the Southern Strategy, contemporary partisans have tried to pretend that it never happened. Right. I guess that's easier than apologizing for something that's just pretend it never happened. And I think this is an effort to pretend that the Republican Party could not possibly be engaged in anything racist today, because it has never been engaged in anything racist before, right. And so we saw on the part of people like Dinesh D'Souza or Carol Swain, who's a political scientist, I talk about in the piece, to pretend that this was simply created out of whole cloth by liberals in the recent past, and was something that that wasn't really borne out by fact,
Kelly Therese Pollock 16:51
It's a little bit wild that that they're trying to claim this not the wildest thing that they're trying to claim right now, though. Of course, although I had heard of the Southern Strategy. I think, for so long that you I've just heard in popular media, things like the parties just switched places, as if it was this passive thing, that there wasn't an action, an impetus behind it. So let's talk first about the the reasons that this switch had to happen. So up through reconstruction, of course, Black voters were voting for the Republican party, the Republican Party was the one standing up for for them, they kept voting for the party of Lincoln. So what happens in really in the 40s, to bring Black voters more to the Democratic Party?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 17:38
Well, before we even dive in, let me just say that you we've got the right long framework here, right. I think a lot of people assume that this was a party switch that took place in 1964. And suddenly, everybody just kind of moved to different sides. When it was, in fact, something that began in the 1930s and stretched on into the early 2000s. It's a very long process. As I noted in the piece, it's, I like to call it a glacial change, because it it took that long, but also it thoroughly transformed the landscape and left behind, right. So yeah, so the real roots of this come in, really the 1930s and early 1940s, when the migration of African Americans begins to the Democratic Party, and it's not that the Democratic Party had embraced civil rights, or racial liberalism or anything like that, in 1930s. This was still very much a party of segregationists, a party in a large part led by segregationists because of the power the Southern Democrats had in Congress. But But African Americans started to migrate to the New Deal for the reasons other people migrated to the New Deal, to the Democratic Party, because their lives were being bettered economically. And so African Americans have this remarkable reversal. In 1932, they are the one group that has really stuck by Herbert Hoover out of this sense of loyalty to the party of Lincoln. And in 1936, they almost completely flip and are overwhelmingly voting for for FDR. And again, they do so not because of the party's racial stance, but in spite of it. But once African Americans are part of that Democratic coalition, suddenly Democratic leaders are starting to think about them as a constituency they have to respect. So their presence in the party, regardless of any civil rights change starts to inform what the party does. There starts to be it's some symbolic things early on. A Black preacher gives the invocation of a 1936 Democratic Convention, things like that. Nothing much more serious than that. But by the late 40s, the situation has grown incredibly tempting for Democrats to get involved on this as things like the white primary have been struck down, as Black voters in the North are becoming much more powerful. And it occurs to Harry Truman, that the time has come to make civil rights a national issue. He has a presidential commission that looks into civil rights in '47, and '48. Everybody thinks Harry Truman, this kind of border state figure who's not especially known for being racially liberal, it's probably just put a rubber stamp on this of this committee and put the report in a filing cabinet. But he leans into it. He embraces these very liberal proposals and makes civil rights, a rallying cry for the Democratic Party in 1948. There's a speech that Hubert Humphrey gives at the National Convention, in which he says, "We've got to walk out of the shadow of states' rights and into the bright sunshine of human rights." And of course, it's that convention where the Democratic Party follows through his lead and embraces civil rights in its platform that leads to the walkout of southern segregationists, the Alabama and Mississippi delegation to walk out. And a few weeks later, they form the States' Rights Democratic Party in Birmingham, commonly known as the Dixiecrats. And so that's the first real fracture here. And once the Democratic Party has committed itself to civil rights, and importantly, exposed, that that old southern democratic core of the party might be up for grabs, might be willing to leave the party, suddenly you have an interest in the part of Republicans. And this is was one of the things that I found out that actually surprised me as I got into this was that the Southern Strategy, while it peaks in the 60s, really has its roots immediately in the Dixiecrat rebellion of 1948, because as soon as this happens, Republicans are down in the South trying to recruit these disaffected Democrats saying, "Don't go back to the Democratic Party you left. Look, we believe in states' rights too." The head of the RNC goes down in 1952, tells a crowd in Alabama on a Lincoln Day speech, it's great. He tells them that, you know, Dixiecrats believe in states' rights. Republicans believe in states' rights, we should have common cause here. There's a Republican senator named Carl Mundt, who tours the country for years in the late 40s, early 50s, explicitly preaching that we need to have a merger between the Republicans and the Dixiecrats. We all believe in the same things. Let's get together make it happen. That doesn't happen, obviously, that level, but you start to see some of those early Dixiecrats are supporting Eisenhower in the 1950s, are starting to break with the party. But the seeds are laid there in that moment. So it's a really long process, but really starts to gain traction, but by the early 50s.
Kelly Therese Pollock 22:25
Especially in these early days, this isn't like dog whistle, like we think of it. They're pretty overt about the racism and that this is why you should come to the Republican Party.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 22:35
Yeah, they're very, I mean, the Republicans for their part tried speaking a little bit in code words, but the Dixiecrats, they're, they're luring are very open about this. And when they switch, there's no, again, this is why it's so amazing to say, you know, that this was invented by historians, it's all over the record. So when they switch, and it's really in the 60s that you started to see finally, people at the congressional level, are starting to switch, you start to see really the first new wave of southern Republicans in Congress. They're quite explicit about this. Bill Dickinson, who is one of the first Republican congressmen from Alabama in the 20th century, says when he switches from the Democratic Party, to the Republican Party, "I have joined the white man's party, that they're gonna stand up for what, what we believe in," right. There's the the Mississippi Republican Party in 1964, in its platform, embraces segregation and white supremacy, right. The first Mississippi Congressman elected in 1964, for the Republican Party, what's the first place he goes after he wins the election? It's a it's a speech before the Americans for the Advancement of the White Race or something like that. It's a Klan group. So again, they're not subtle about this at all. And it's not that Southern Democrats are racial liberals on this. They're still segregationists. But southern Republicans have realized that if they can act just like Democrats on that issue, well, then they're also conservative on issues of labor on issues of economics and things like that. It's a much better fit, right? So they neutralized the one advantage the Democratic Party had, which is that it was the party of segregation and said, "Well, me too." And that's their inroad.
Kelly Therese Pollock 24:14
So let's talk a little bit about the split. So this happens, this whole Southern strategy and the effectiveness of it happens sort of from the top down, like that it works first at the presidential election level, and it takes a really long time to get into the state legislator level. So what why is that?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 24:32
Yeah, that's a that's a very important point, is this doesn't happen all at once. And it does have this kind of it's what a couple political scientists call "trickle down realignment," right? And it happens because I think American loyalties to the political parties are the loosest at the presidential level, right? There's a way in which presidential candidates are kind of battles of personalities, and they change from time to time. There's some people who are diehard and will always pull the lever, but there are people in the middle who oscillate between the two parties, right? And so on matters of civil rights for southerners, this becomes starkly clear very quickly. And it happens between '60 and '64. In 1960, the two parties are basically the same on civil rights. Neither one is especially progressive, but they will maybe kind of center left. John F. Kennedy runs on a platform and to to appeal to some northern African Americans. But Richard Nixon, and the Republican Party actually has a more liberal Republican platform on this. I mean, it's it goes on and on for pages, you can read this. It's detailed proposals. He really wanted to outflank the Democrats on this, right. Well, it fails. And when it fails, Thruston Morton, the head of the RNC meet with Nixon and Eisenhower, and they basically say, "To hell with the Black vote" you know, and this is the start of the Goldwater approach, in which he says, at a meeting of Republicans in Atlanta, "We've got to go hunting where the ducks are," and in the South, that means going after white conservatives. So over the next few years, you start to see the parties really change and what happens as Democrats lean further into civil rights, and Republicans pull back. And it really comes into relief in 1964, where Lyndon Johnson is the incumbent president, and somebody who had been a segregationist in Congress for 20 years, just like any other southern Democrat, but by the time he has national ambitions, he's starting to promote civil rights causes. And in '64, he has leaned all in on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, made it much tougher than Kennedy had ever proposed, really leans on this and selects Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate, the man who put civil rights on the map in 1948. Okay, that's the Democratic side. The Republican side is Barry Goldwater, who's not personally a segregationist, but importantly, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And his running mate is William Miller, who had been head of the RNC, who oversaw the recruitment of segregationists in the South. So they're basically the Southern Strategy personified. And once you have that picture in place at the presidential level, well, it's a stark choice. And so whatever loyalty Southern Democrats might have had to that party, they see Barry Goldwater saying all the right things, and Lyndon Johnson saying all the wrong things, and they split on that. And so this is a remarkable moment. Since the Republican Party had gotten very little of the of the vote in the South previously, I think in Mississippi, it's something like 30% in 1960. In 1964, it's 87%. I mean, it's a it's a huge turnaround. In fact, the only states Goldwater wins outside of his home state of Arizona are these Deep South states. So that presidential level happens almost immediately. And you can look at the share of the Black vote as a great way to trace this. It craters in 1964, doesn't really recover after that. Right. It really is a realignment on on the presidential level. The congressional level is entirely different. And it's different because A.) These senators especially have these long tenures in Congress. And I think one of the biggest mistake people make about the party switch is, they say, "Oh, well did the senators switch?" No, they don't switch. Strom Thurmond is a famous example, but Strom Thurmond switches parties, because all of his power is protected. Power you have in Congress, and in this time, it's specially pronounced even more so than today, comes through your seniority. Right? And so if you are a senior Democrat, as many Southern Democrats were, they were the ones who've been elected the longest. And if you were in the majority party as the Democratic Party was, you can be assured a committee chairmanship, right? Or a very strong ranking role. That gives you a lot of power. But if you switch parties, your clock starts over and you're now the most junior member of the minority party, you go back to square one. No 65 year old, 70 year old politician is going to start over that way, right. So they just ride out their careers in Congress. Strom Thurmond got a special deal that preserved his committee seniority, and he took it. The Republicans weren't willing to give that to everyone who wanted to switch. So these conservative Southern Democrats, guys who are getting 100% rating from the American Conservative Union, they're very conservative. They just happen to be Democrats. They ride out their careers in the Democratic Party, but when the new generation comes up, they instruct their aides and their friends, start your career, because you're starting from scratch start it as a Republican. Right? So this is what happens with Trent Lott, Senator from Mississippi becomes Senate Majority Leader in the end of the 90s. He had been an aide to William Comer, a Democratic Representative, but a very segregationist guy who'd been talking about party switches for a long time. And when Comer finally retires in the early 70s, he taps Trent Lott to run as his replacement, but tells Lott to run as his replacement as a Republican, right. And so that kind of pattern to varying degrees plays out across the South. So it's it, you've got to wait for this older generation to basically die out and be replaced by younger people who are running as Republicans.
Kelly Therese Pollock 30:15
And so what's the role of Watergate in there then? Because that it slows things down a little bit from what it might have been.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 30:21
It really does. There's a moment in it when Nixon wins in '68, it's still not clear how successful the Southern Strategy will be, because George Wallace is in there as an independent. There's a lot going on in '68. But in '72, he wins in a landslide. And he blows out McGovern. And it's very clear to southern conservatives where their allegiances lie, and they're very impressed with Nixon. And there's a moment right after the election landslide, where it seemed like there is going to be a massive switch taking place, that Republicans in Congress are willing to grant some seniority to Democrats who will join their ranks. There's a, it's led by Joe Waggonner who's a Democratic congressman from Louisiana, a member of the White Citizens Council is down there, an ardent segregationist who leads these negotiations and it seems likely that they're gonna get a lot of people to switch. The problem is is then Watergate blows up. And suddenly the Republican Party is in this gleaming paradise where you want to be, it's suddenly under fire. And it's taking a lot of water so a lot of these Democrats decide, "No, actually we're gonna we're gonna hold hold tight and stay put," so you don't have those massive switches that you seem to be having in '73, really called off at Watergate.
Kelly Therese Pollock 31:39
Yeah. And then of course, the the Democrats run a southerner in Jimmy Carter and do manage to get the presidency for four years, but then Reagan has his own version of the Southern Strategy, but clearly is also using it.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 31:54
That's right. Yeah, Carter is really an interruption here, not just running against Watergate would he have done well. But the fact that he's a born again Christian, a brand new concept in American politics at the time from Georgia, he really cracks a lot of those Republican inroads. But the shine when it comes off Carter, especially for southern conservatives, evangelicals don't believe he's really one of them, despite his credentials, largely because of his stances on abortion and gay rights and the ERA. And they rally around Ronald Reagan, Reagan himself, a former Democrat, makes this plea to Southern Democrats explicitly to them, you know, "I know what it was like. It only hurts for a second when you pull that lever for the first time." But he tells them over and over again that, you know, they're not leaving the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left them right and to come home to the Republicans. And he does have his own version of the Southern Strategy. And again, it's remarkable to hear people like you know, Dinesh D'Souza and Carol Swain, insist that the Southern Strategy was a fiction, because we have Lee Atwater on tape talking about it. And he says in his famous tape, and it's often been misconstrued with his famous interview he gives in 1981, to the nation where he says, "Oh, yeah, Nixon had a Southern strategy that was all about coded appeals to racism." That was racism through and through, he's very clear about this. So Lee Atwater, if you if you don't trust me, Lee Atwater himself is talking about Richard Nixon's racist appeals, in the Southern Strategy. What Lee Atwater says is, "What we're doing today is different. And we're not talking about open appeals to racism. We're talking about taxes and welfare." And he says, and then look, he says, "You liberals are gonna say those are just code words, but trust me, it's very different" Now, I think he's overstating the difference here, given the appeals that Reagan made. He made a speech at the Neshoba County Fair where a famous site of the Mississippi Burning murders, talking about states' rights. He would make references to welfare queens and things like that. There was enough coded racism there, I think, to to see the the linkages to Nixon's line. As political scientists, Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields have shown in a book called, "The Long Southern Strategy," what Reagan did was take those old coded appeals to racism, and blend them with a couple other things: religious appeals to evangelicals and fundamentalists on the conservative end of the spectrum, and sort of anti- feminist family values, politics, right. And that extended these appeals to the same kind of southern conservative voters, but not just on a racial lens, right, there was a religious angle, a cultural angle, a gender angle, and that was the way in which they deepened that Southern Strategy.
Kelly Therese Pollock 34:38
Yeah. So let's skip ahead a little bit. You mentioned these apologies that the RNC has done had done in, you know, 2005 and later. How do we get from there to the post mortem that the Republican Party did after the 2012 election saying we need to be friendlier to minorities, to Trump? Like what, what happens there?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 35:01
I mean, I think Trump happens. I mean, I think that post mortem, the recognition that the Bush era folks had, and I think some of it is sincere, I don't think I don't think George W. Bush was, you know, a racist. I think he really wanted to bring racial minorities into his coalition, and was sincere about that. But it's, um, it's it's it's a slightly contested view, right, there are those within the party, who see that as a misstep, who see that as mistake. And so when he, you know, pushes for immigration reform, it blows up in his face, largely because he doesn't have the kind of the Fox News base around him. The post mortem happens in 2012, and again, they're saying, "We''ve got to, you know, we've got to keep, you know, turning the page on this, make it clear that we're not that old party." And that works for some people. But there's a minority within that a white group, but it but a minority numerically, among the other Republican ranks, that resents that. And that becomes the real rallying cry of Donald Trump. He that is not, you don't have to change. In fact, what we need to do is maybe go back, we need to make America great again, roll the clock back to that earlier period. Right now, I think you'd have to be, you know, have an actuarial table out here to see, that this is a losing proposition of a long term. He's largely appealing to an older part of the party there. It's not gonna last forever. But it's a part of the party that is dedicated, that comes out to vote. And as the rest of the field largely splits that kind of George W. Bush legacy vote Trump takes that lane and wins. And once he's got control of the party, the party bends around him. Right. And so it's remarkable to see all the people who were criticizing Trump, in 2016, Lindsey Graham, saying this is going to be the death of the party are, you know, licking his boots a couple years later, and that just shows how much he I think bent it to, to his will. Again, I don't think this has, you know, maybe have legs for one more election cycle, but long term, demographically speaking, that's not going to work. So we're going to see a reckoning with this at some point. But in the short term, it worked fine for Trump to get elected. He'll try it again.
Kelly Therese Pollock 37:16
So it's difficult if not impossible to imagine the Republican Party today winning without the South. We're starting to see, you know, Georgia has two Democratic senators, for instance, could there be will there be another alignment? Do you think realignment?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 37:29
I think there absolutely will be I mean, American history is a series of these, these political reinventions. It will take, you know, a couple of devastating losses nationally, I think, for the Republican Party to kind of come to terms with this. They have lost, what, five of the last six national elections in the popular vote, but thanks to the Electoral College, that has inflated their strength, not just in the presidency, but in the Senate. Right. And so the rules are kind of delaying I think, what will be a natural realignment here. But sooner or later, yeah, change will come at least, there's one thing about politics, it's never kind of a permanent state. And as the country changes, the political dynamics will change too.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:14
So how can listeners get "Myth America?"
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 38:17
You can get it anywhere books are sold online, ideally in your, in your local, non- chain bookstore would be my preference. You find it in libraries. Get it wherever you can.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:28
Yeah, no, it's it's terrific. I really enjoyed reading it, really the whole thing. I mean, it's, you know, it's a series of different essays, but it goes together very well, and I think gives you a good overview of American history.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 38:39
Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:41
Yeah. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 38:43
No, no, no. You hit it all. This was a great conversation. I really enjoyed it.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:47
All right. Well, Kevin, thank you so much.
Dr. Kevin M. Kruse 38:49
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. Please subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app. You can find the sources used for this episode, and a full episode transcript @UnsungHistorypodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on twitter or instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook @UnsungHistorypodcast. To contact us with questions, corrections,praise ,or episode suggestions, please email Kelly@UnsungHistorypodcast.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate, review, and tell everyone you know. Bye!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Kevin M. Kruse is a Professor of History at Princeton University. He specializes in the political, social, and urban/suburban history of twentieth-century America, with a particular interest in conflicts over race, rights and religion and the making of modern conservatism.
Kevin is currently conducting research for his new book, The Division: John Doar, the Justice Department, and the Civil Rights Movement (contracted to Basic Books). The point man for civil rights for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Doar was a vital actor in countless crisis moments in the civil rights movement — personally confronting segregationists at Ole Miss and the University of Alabama, putting Klansmen on trial for the murders of civil rights workers (including the famous “Mississippi Burning” murders), helping draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, literally leading the way in the Selma-to-Montgomery March, etc. Through the previously untapped papers of Doar, he hopes to provide new insights into these civil rights milestones as well as a new understanding of the ways in which the federal government worked (and didn’t work) during the racial revolution unfolding across the South.
After The Division, Kevin will turn his attention to Law and Order: The Politics of Crime and Culture in New York City (contracted to Basic Books). Chronicling the political life of calls for “law and order” in NYC — from George Wallace’s 1968 appearance at Madison Square Garden through 1970s and 1980s scandals like Bernie Goetz and the Central Park Five, from Rudy Giuliani’s “broken windows” policing and the post-9/11 crackdowns, on to Donald Trump’s 2015 presidential campaign announcement at Trump Tower — this book will explore the origins and evolution of a powerful force in contemporary American politics.
He is also the co-author of Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (W.W. Norton, January 2019). A sweeping history of the past four decades of American history, the book chronicles the origins of the divided states of America, a nation increasingly riven by stark political partisanship and deep social divisions along lines of race, class, gender and sexuality. Co-written with Julian Zelizer, the book tracks not only the course of our current state of political polarization, but also the ways in which an increasingly fractured media landscape worked to aggravate divisions in American politics and society as well.
His most recent book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, published by Basic Books in April 2015, investigates the making and meaning of American religious nationalism in the mid-twentieth century.
Kevin has discussed One Nation Under God in feature interviews on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, KCRW’s To the Point with Warren Olney, KPFA’s Letters and Politics, Sirius XM’s Majority Report with Sam Seder, BBC World Service’s Business Matters, ABC Australia’s Religion and Ethics Report, C-SPAN’s Book TV and Politicking with Larry King, among others. The book has been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, The New Republic, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, and many more.
Kevin is also the author of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, published by Princeton University Press in 2005. That book won prizes including the 2007 Francis B. Simkins Award from the Southern Historical Association (for the best first book in the field of Southern history, 2005-2006) and the 2007 Best Book Award in Urban Politics from the American Political Science Association.
In addition, he has co-edited three essay collections: The New Suburban History (University of Chicago Press, 2006), with Thomas Sugrue; Spaces of the Modern City (Princeton University Press, 2008), with Gyan Prakash; and Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2012) with Stephen Tuck. He has been honored as one of America’s top young “Innovators in the Arts and Sciences” by the Smithsonian Magazine, selected as one of the top young historians in the country by the History News Network, and named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians.
A Nashville native and an alumnus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Kevin went on to earn his MA and Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2000. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with his family.