Here is the third and final installment on the origins of GOP racism.
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.
As the 1968 presidential season dawned, Wallace sought out disaffected whites across the country as he launched the American Independent Party, a third-party vehicle for his presidential ambitions. “He never treated ethnic Americans of eastern and southern European ancestry with contempt,” Wallace biographer Dan T. Carter noted. “[H]e embraced them as potential allies who shared his fear of blacks as well as his cultural conservatism. But just as he had enlisted key Ku Klux Klan leaders in his 1962 gubernatorial campaign, he readily turned to the far right to furnish foot soldiers for the upcoming  presidential campaign, gambling that most of his supporters feared right-wing fanatics far less than they did Communists or Black Power advocates. And he was right.” A Detroit newspaper columnist derided Wallace’s supporters as “kooks.” Wallace scoffed. “The other side’s got more kooks than we do,” he insisted, adding, “kooks got a right to vote too.”
Wallace successfully tapped into a culture, shaped by Joe McCarthy-era claims of secret communist plots to take over America and doubts over the official conclusions regarding the JFK assassination, increasingly attuned to conspiracy theories. The race riots that had wracked the country, Wallace claimed, were the product of a sinister plan to destroy America launched by “pointy-headed” bureaucrats in Washington who were taking their orders directly from communist leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Nixon watched the Wallace movement in amazement. The more extreme Wallace sounded, the larger and more enthusiastic his audiences. Working under stringent ballot access laws authored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to block third-party access to the ballot, Wallace supporters collected 2.7 million signatures to get the American Independent Party on the ballot in Ohio. This success was repeated across the country.
Campaigning outside his native state, Wallace had to mask his appeals to anti-black resentment. He spoke instead in racial code, of lazy people on welfare and the collapse of law and order. “You people work hard,” he told a white, blue-collar California audience, “you save your money, you teach your children to respect the law.” Yet, Wallace said, when someone burns down a city and murders someone, “ ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ explain it away by saying the killer didn’t get any watermelon to eat when he was 10 years old.” Furthermore, Wallace claimed, “the Supreme Court is fixing it so you can’t do anything about people who set cities on fire.”
Wallace also included leftist professors, immoral Hollywood movies and “long-haired hippies” in his list of “sinister forces destroying America.” Across the land, crowds also cheered his denunciation of the two-party system. “You could put all them [Republican and Democratic politicians] in a Alabama cotton picker’s sack, shake them up and dump them out; take the first one to slide out and put him right back into power and there would be no change,” he told appreciatively jaded listeners. While the Northeast press derided Wallace for his simple-minded and often crude rhetoric, voters found the renegade candidate refreshingly blunt. “You don’t have to worry about figuring out where he stands,” a steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio, told one reporter. “He tells it like it really is.”
Few expected that Wallace could get on the ballot in California, but on January 2, 1968, Wallace announced that he had collected the required 100,000 signatures. A Gallup Poll at the time showed 11 percent of California voters supporting Wallace for president. By April, Wallace addressed cheering crowds in the largest Texas cities, in Houston, San Antonio, Lubbock and beyond. Near Dallas, a Wallace speech drew 15,000, who endured a driving rainstorm while sitting in a high school football stadium. The warm-up speaker, biographer Carter notes, described Wallace as “America’s divinely appointed savior.”
Across the South, White Citizens Councils, originally formed to oppose school integration, funneled $250,000 to his campaign. Arch-conservative Western movie star John Wayne reportedly sent the campaign a total of $30,000, the last check supposedly inscribed, “Sock it to ’em, George.” Dallas billionaire Bunker Hunt (son of the legendarily eccentric, radically right-wing and bigamist Texas oilman H.L. Hunt) provided Wallace up to $300,000. In the end, the Alabama politician’s amateurish campaign raked in around $9 million in contributions, enough to make his third-party bid competitive. More than 80 percent of Wallace campaign contributions, however, came from small donors who sent $50 or less. Wallace’s name would be on the ballot in all 50 states that November.
A NEW NIXON
For Nixon, politics was about winning, and in pursuit of victory he proved willing to jettison any previously expressed belief. The one-time moderate Republican, even as he tried to shed his image as a dirty politician and promote himself as a mature, wise “New Nixon,” sought to market himself during the 1968 campaign as a better-educated, more reasonable version of Wallace. In private, as would be shown later when Nixon’s taped conversations in the White House became public, the Republican was as likely as Wallace to use the word “nigger,” and, unlike Wallace, Nixon was an anti-Semite. Sometimes his speeches sounded like slick versions of Wallace’s.
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 mastered Orwellian doublespeak in 1968. When asked by journalists if his endorsement of an avid Southern segregationist Republican in Mississippi meant he backed Jim Crow, Nixon didn’t deny this but evasively answered, “I will go to any state in the country to campaign for a strong two-party system, whether or not I agree with local Republicans on every issue.” Nixon said he opposed any “segregation plank” in the national Republican platform and even though, he insisted, he was personally opposed to Jim Crow, he criticized Washington dictating to the South what it should do on the issue.
As biographer Rick Perlstein notes of Nixon’s new approach to racial issues, “The cleverness was sublime. He was ventriloquizing a generation of Southern Lost Cause speechifying about Yankees dictating to Dixie.” At a Republican Party dinner, Nixon urged both major parties to stop talking about race but to focus on what he called “issues of the future.” Nixon spent much of 1966 wooing segregationist and former Democrat Sen. Strom Thurmond. Thurmond became the first of a wave of well-known Southern race-baiting politicians who switched parties after concluding that the national Democratic Party had become too liberal on civil rights and social programs.
Thurmond had run as a third-party “Dixiecrat” candidate for president in 1948 because of his opposition to a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party’s platform that year. “And I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches,” Thurmond said in speeches during his 1948 race. His States’ Rights Party included a platform that said, "We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race." In 1957, Thurmond spoke for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes on the floor of the Senate as part of his filibuster to block then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act. The bill passed in spite of the filibuster.
Nixon anticipated a close race against President Johnson in 1968. Although he publicly dismissed the impact of a likely Wallace presidential bid, Nixon privately worried that he would lose the votes of white Southern conservatives to the former Alabama governor. Nixon saw getting the support of Thurmond as a key to winning over that Southern right-wing constituency.
By the time of his party switch, Thurmond had moderated his language, but not his attitudes, on race, which gave Nixon an opening to stand side-by-side with the pro-Jim Crow icon. “In the years after his 1948 presidential campaign, he modulated his rhetoric and shifted the focus of his grim maledictions to the ‘eternal menace of godless, atheistic Communism,’” Carter wrote. “He had even learned (when pressed) to pronounce the word ‘Negro’ without eliciting grimaces from his northern fellow Republicans. But race remained his subtext: he continued to red-bait every spokesman for civil rights from Whitney Young of the Urban League to Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panthers. For the traditional southern campaign chorus of ‘Nigger-nigger-nigger,’ he substituted ‘Commie-Commie-Commie.’”
At a 1966 press conference, Nixon said, “Strom is no racist. Strom is a man of courage and integrity.” Thurmond craved respectability among his new GOP comrades, and from that moment on the South Carolina senator campaigned enthusiastically for Nixon. “To Thurmond, laboring under the burden of his past as the ‘Dr. No’ of American race relations, it was like being granted absolution from purgatory by the pope of American politics,” Carter wrote. “Almost pathetically grateful, the senator seldom wavered in his support for Nixon in the years that followed.”
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.
One of Nixon’s chief rivals for the Republican nomination in 1968, Ronald Reagan, also learned from Wallace to play on racial resentments. Reagan criticized the California Supreme Court when it overturned Proposition 14, which had reversed a California law requiring that housing be open to all potential buyers, regardless of race. “I never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property,” Reagan said, tacitly suggesting that the government should do nothing to prevent segregation. “This has nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with our freedom, our basic freedom.” A budget mess created by his tax cuts, however, and a scandal surrounding the revelation that the governor had gay men on this staff, scuttled the former actor’s White House ambitions, at least this time around. In any case, Nixon’s alliance with Strom Thurmond insured that Southern Republicans would back the former Vice President. Reagan could not win the nomination without the backing of such delegates. Nixon won the nomination. He narrowly won the election against the Democratic incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Wallace, who split from the Democrats and ran on the third-party American Independent Party ticket. Even though Nixon’s margin of victory was narrow, when his 43.4 percent of the popular vote is combined with Wallace’s 13.5 percent, this suggests how successful a tactic appealing to white fears and resentments had become. Many Nixon and Wallace voters didn’t like programs such as affirmative action, which seemed to give African Americans an advantage over whites in hiring, and were outraged by the black uprisings between 1965 and 1968 in cities like Los Angeles, Newark and Detroit. Coded racism, inspired by Wallace’s campaigns, became a norm in Republican politics.
One of the most perceptive politicians of his era, Nixon quickly recognized shared grievances. “In his  campaign, Nixon spoke about healing the nation’s wounds,” the author Mark Hamilton Lytle said. “As president, he tended to exploit them. On the domestic front he sought to forge a new Republican Majority . . .
Nixon’s new majority would include such traditional Democrats as white Southerners, blue-collar unionists, and what he called the ‘silent majority.’ In the wake of the Civil Rights Act and Great Society affirmative action programs, many conservative Democrats were ready to switch parties. Nixon [cracked] . . . down on protest, pot, pornography, and permissiveness in favor of a ‘law and order’ agenda popular with unionists and Middle Americans. He would also turn loose the forces of law and order on his enemies in a campaign that would be noteworthy for its lawlessness.
The Nixon coalition brought together those, as Perlstein notes, who resented “condescending and self-serving liberals ‘who make their money out of plans, ideas, communication, social upheaval, happenings, excitement,’ at the psychic expense of the great, ordinary . . . mass of Americans from Maine to Hawaii.” Nixon began to call such culturally conservative Americans the “silent majority,” a group involving “millions of people in the middle of the American political spectrum who do not demonstrate, who do not picket or protest loudly.”
Nixon and his aides sought to walk a tightrope, wanting to appear moderate compared to explicit racists like Alabama segregationist governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, while still appealing to Wallace’s resentful Southern white constituency. This approach came to be known as the “Southern Strategy.” During his career in the United States House and the Senate, Nixon acquired the reputation of a racial moderate, so much so that for a time he was seriously competitive for the African American vote in his presidential race against John Kennedy. While vice president, Nixon supported the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, a step further than President Eisenhower was willing to take. He backed civil rights bills introduced in the Congress in the 1950s and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and met publicly with Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. Nixon, nevertheless, “thought, basically, they [African Americans] were genetically inferior . . . He thought they couldn’t achieve on a level with whites,” said John Ehrlichman, White House counsel and assistant to the president for domestic affairs.
Audio tapes Nixon made in the Oval Office when he was president revealed he frequently used the word “nigger” and other slurs to refer to blacks. Nixon told his personal secretary, Rosemary Woods, that it would take 500 years for African Americans to catch up with whites. Nixon claimed, according to biographer Richard Reeves, “that there had never in history been a successful or adequate black nation. ‘Africa is hopeless,’ he told Ehrlichman. ‘The worst is Liberia, which we built.’” Nixon also said that the Irish were mean drunks as a “natural trait,” and that Italians “just don’t have their heads screwed on right.” Nixon, in particular, harbored a deep distrust of Jews, whom he described as “disloyal” and out to get him. “The Jews voted 95 percent against me,” Nixon complained. Even the Jews he was close to, such as his foreign policy advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and speechwriter William Safire, had to deal with the president’s anti-Semitism. Nixon would contemptuously refer to Kissinger as “my Jew-boy” while the senior diplomat was in the same room.
Nixon, however, to a large degree kept these prejudices close to his vest. “When Nixon embraced a ‘Southern strategy’ that involved turning his back on the civil rights movement, his actions were dictated more by a cool calculation of political advantage than by any personal racial animosities,” historians Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin write. “Once in the White House, Nixon’s handling of racial issues continued to be dictated by political considerations. He hoped to head off or blunt a possible Wallace electoral challenge in 1972, while extending Republican inroads into formerly Democratic constituencies in the South and the white working class North.” Seeking the support of angry whites in 1969, Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell asked the courts to delay enforcement of the desegregation of Mississippi schools. “Do only what the law requires,” Nixon wrote in a memo. “Not one thing more.” When expiration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act approached in 1970, Nixon unsuccessfully urged Congress to allow the law to lapse.
One of Nixon’s top advisors was speechwriter Pat Buchanan, a former newspaper columnist who was one of the creators of the “Southern Strategy.” Nixon had once described Buchanan’s position on Jim Crow schools as “segregation forever.” Buchanan advised Nixon to not visit Dr. King’s widow on the first anniversary of the Civil Rights leader’s assassination because, Buchanan wrote, King was “one of the most divisive men in contemporary history.” After Nixon’s 1972 reelection, Buchanan urged the president to not “fritter away his present high support in the nation for an ill-advised governmental effort to forcibly integrate races."
In a memo to Nixon, Buchanan once defended the infamous massacre by South Africa’s white supremacist police of 67 blacks during an anti-apartheid uprising in Sharpsville in 1960. Like Nixon, Buchanan was not above using the n-word. Buchanan dismissed Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as "the house nigger of the Politburo." Towards the end of his tenure, a disillusioned Buchanan bemoaned that “conservatives were the niggers of the Nixon administration.”
Temporarily leaving public life, Buchanan returned to his roots as a right-wing newspaper columnist and on August 25, 1977 the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published a column in which Buchanan argued that Adolf Hitler had a positive side. Buchanan in part argued that:
"Those of us in childhood during the war years were introduced to Hitler only as a caricature . . . Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him. But Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."
In spite of this background, Reagan appointed former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan as White House Communications Director, where he served from 1985 to 1987. Both direct and indirect anti-black rhetoric became the norm in Republican politics by the 1980s, the way paved by Nixon and Buchanan and former segregationist Democrat and firebrand TV editorialist Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who won a Senate seat as a Republican in the Nixon electoral landslide of 1972. Helms had a long history of crude racism. At one point he warned that, “Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced." After the institution was integrated, Helms referred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as the "University of Negroes and Communists."
Speaking against civil rights demonstrators, he sternly warned, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." When Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, Helms (who would later oppose making King's birthday a federal holiday), chose not to remember the greatness or bravery of the man but to evoke the sexual phobia that animated so much white violence against African Americans. Referring to students at Duke University who held a vigil to mourn King's passing, Helms said, "They should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro." Black poverty, Helms openly stated, was a product of intellectual inferiority, which made any programs aimed at economic uplift pointless. “No intelligent Negro citizen should be insulted by a reference to this very plain fact of life. It is time to face honestly and sincerely the purely scientific statistical evidence of natural racial distinction in group intellect. ... There is no bigotry either implicit or intended in such a realistic confrontation with the facts of life. ... Those who would undertake to solve the problem by merely spending more money, and by massive forced integration, may be doing the greatest injustice of all to the Negro.”
Helms never apologized for his hard-line defense of segregation or his support for white supremacist governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, and he was relentless in his opposition to creating a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King. Running for re-election in 1990 against popular Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African American, the Helms campaign released an infamous advertisement that was the most explicit appeal to white racial resentments since George Wallace’s campaigns for president in the 1960s and 1970s. Noting Gantt’s support for affirmative action, the campaign spot featured a closeup of a white man’s hands after he has crumpled a letter as the narrator says, “You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority." Helms played on the association white racists had long made between black men and rape, noting in one spot Gantt’s opposition to the death penalty. "Women beaten and raped," a voiceover in one advertisement says, over the image of a body crumpled on the ground. "The death penalty for rapists who brutally beat their victims? Gantt says, 'No.' Helms says, 'Yes.' "
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.”
Helms was an extreme example of GOP race-baiting (and homophobia as well), but more subtle appeals to racism became the new norm in the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan borrowed Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” when he challenged incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primaries. Reagan accused Ford of failing to rein in the excesses of the liberal welfare state and made numerous, repeated false claims on the campaign. A favorite, racially-charged tall tale of his concerned a “welfare queen” who supposedly used 80 false identities, had a dozen Social Security cards and allegedly cashed in on veteran’s benefits from four husbands.
When pressed for details such as the name of this welfare cheat, Reagan and his campaign couldn’t produce any supporting evidence. Such stories were fictions. The tale was aimed straight at angry Southern white men who believed that black malcontents in the 1960s had manipulated liberal guilt to gain undeserved benefits. The stories got Reagan’s audience riled, so he kept telling them regardless of their authenticity. Other times in 1976 without documentation, Reagan spun tall tales of welfare recipients driving Cadillacs. To another audience, he spoke of a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at a grocery store. (“Buck” was a term commonly used in the South to refer to aggressive black males.)
Reagan picked up where he left off as he challenged Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, choosing to make a speech strongly defending “state’s rights” – the phrase segregationists rallied behind in defense of Jim Crow – within spitting distance of Philadelphia, Mississippi, scene of the infamous 1964 murders of civil rights crusaders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney by law enforcement officers and the local Ku Klux Klan. Reagan complained that the 1965 Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South” (thus ignoring that blacks lived in the South as well as whites and that voter disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws had been humiliating to the African American community.)
The Reagan administration fought an IRS rule banning tax-exempt status for institutions that practiced racial discrimination. Reagan personally sought an exemption for evangelical Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which specifically prohibited interracial dating by students and employees. (Bob Jones remained segregated until 1971, when it first allowed entry to married black students. It adopted the interracial dating ban when it opted to admit unmarried African Americans in 1975.) Bob Jones University sued to earn back tax-exempt status with the support of the Reagan Justice Department. (The court turned down BJU and the Justice Department in an 8-1 decision in 1983.) As president, Reagan opposed a King holiday until the proposal passed the Congress by a large enough measure to override a veto; and he opposed imposing sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The marriage between Republican presidential politics and white supremacy was consummated in the campaign waged by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Bush ran for the United States Senate in 1964 in Texas against incumbent Ralph Yarborough, in part attacking the senator’s support of black rights and stating that he would oppose the proposed Civil Rights Act passed that year. Bush used the standard segregationist code words. “Texas has a comparably good record in civil rights,” he said in one speech, “and I’m opposed to the Federal Government intervening further into State affairs and individual rights.” In an era in which African Americans were routinely denied the right to vote or to serve on juries and Southern police departments routinely collaborated with the Ku Klux Klan and were implicated in the murder of civil rights workers, Bush argued that civil rights was not a federal issue but should be left to state and local authorities. Twenty-four years later Bush reverted to form, using a third-party Political Action Committee to smear Dukakis with the infamous “Willie Horton ad” featuring the black face of Horton, a man convicted of murder who committed robbery and rape while on a weekend furlough while Dukakis served as Massachusetts governor. The ad also depicted a prison entrance as a revolving door, implying that white liberals would unleash a flood of black criminals on an innocent public.
Unlike the Jesse Helms ad against Gantt, the pro-Bush ad did not even have to specifically mention “minorities” to get its demonizing message across. After the turn of the century, similar techniques were used to depict Democrats as weak on illegal immigration, with numerous Republican campaigns using grainy black and white footage depicting sinister, shadowy figures sneaking across the border.
In 1989, Neo-Nazi and onetime Grand Dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke won a seat in a special election for the Louisiana state House of Representatives representing Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, in spite his known ties to hate groups. Duke ran as a Republican. Duke tried to enter the Republican mainstream, describing himself as “pro-white” rather than “anti-black.” In the early 1980s, Duke formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People, which he called “a Klan without sheets” that would attract a more intelligent group of followers other than unsophisticated “nigger haters.” His background was well-known to voters during the 1989 House race, yet Duke finished first in the open primary, winning a third of the votes. However, he did not get the required 50 percent-plus to claim victory.
To their credit, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush endorsed Duke’s runoff opponent, John Treen, but Louisiana voters catapulted the former Klansman to the state House in the second round. Duke earned national attention as he proposed bills calling for welfare recipients and residents of public housing to be tested for drugs. He sold books singing the praises of Adolf Hitler from his House office and arguing that blacks were less intelligent than whites. Never serious about his job as a mere legislator, after one term Duke entered the gubernatorial race for Louisiana. Duke was able to raise a shocking $2.4 million, beating the incumbent governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Buddy Roemer, and ending up in a runoff with the famously corrupt former governor Edwin Edwards. Duke ended up carrying 55 percent of the white vote in the second round, but still lost to Edwards, who had the backing of Louisiana’s business community and celebrities such as New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebret.
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:
The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, paraded around in a Nazi costume to protest [anti-war radical lawyer] William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan. Everybody in Metairie knew that. The way to deal with Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the far more formidable challenge of George Wallace. Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles.
Duke did not beat John Treen because he is an ex-wizard; he beat him in spite of it; he beat him because he was tougher on taxes and made an issue of urban crime, the primary source of which is the urban underclass; he beat Treen because he lit into set-asides and "affirmative action" in hiring, scholarships, and promotions, i.e. reverse discrimination against white folks who happen to make up 99 percent of his electorate.
What Duke did, after he turned in his robes and signed up with the GOP, was run over and seize terrain vacated by the GOP. Duke walked into the political vacuum left when conservative Republicans in the Reagan years were intimidated into shucking off winning social issues so we might be able to pass moral muster with [African American civil rights leaders Benjamin] Hooks and [Martin Luther] King.
When was the last time a Republican president attacked the injustice and immorality of quotas? When was the last time the GOP denounced social engineers and their endless plans for the forced integration of neighborhoods and schools? Where was the GOP when Yonkers was being kicked around by that federal judge?
The Republican Party, post-election, is getting wonderful press embracing Jesse Jackson, flirting with Ben Hooks, Andy Young and King. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong at all; so long as the GOP does not pay for its press clipping in the currency of old principles. Right now, though, my sense is the GOP is throwing away a winning hand, and Duke is only the first fellow to pick up the discards.
By the early 1990s, the Republican Party had rejected the Buchanan wing by embracing military imperialism and free trade policies, but they accepted his proscriptions on how to deal with racial issues. Attacking “racial quotas” allegedly required by affirmative action (when such quotas were in fact illegal), and by suggesting that blacks and Latinos primarily benefited from food stamps and welfare (when in fact whites, particularly poor Southern white women, represented the largest demographic receiving anti-poverty aid from the federal government), Republicans were able to disguise their agenda promoting robber baron capitalism and social Darwinism under the cloak of tribalism. Such was the case when Newt Gingrich led the so-called “Republican Revolution,” the GOP control of the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007. As historian Dan. T. Carter put it in his book, From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994, “When [Gingrich] complains of inner city ‘welfare Americans’ who ‘quit their jobs’ and ‘start cheating on the rent,’ ‘who start fighting on Saturday night’ and ‘break up their family,’ he does not have to refer to skin color.” So ingrained are the slanders against black and brown people in white American culture that, by the time of Barack Obama’s supposedly post-racial America, a GOP politician can suggest that a highly-intelligent, Hawaii-born African American president is somehow an illegal alien who relied on affirmative action to get through law school and still maintain plausible deniability as log as he doesn’t use the “n-word.” The GOP has evolved from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Pat Buchanan and David Duke.
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.