The failure of the Republican Party is rooted in its propensity for eighteenth and nineteenth century rhetoric and policies while trying to function in twenty-first century America. In 1948 Strum Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, led the Dixiecrats’ revolt against the Democrat Party’s attempt to push an expanded Civil Rights agenda. These southern Democrats walked out of the 1948 Democratic Convention and straight to a third party run for the United States presidency. Thurmond would go on to be elected as a Democratic Senator from the state of South Carolina in 1954, but ten years later changed his party affiliation to the Republican Party due to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There was no need to create a third party. The Republican Party was swiftly becoming a safe haven for disaffected southern refugees from the Democratic Party.
Republican President Richard Nixon seized upon the southern Democrat dissatisfaction in a two prong approach. First, he popularized the slogan, “the Silent Majority.” The “Silent Majority” was a call to Americans who feared the specter of violence that was consuming American cities. This violence was placed on full display with 1968 riots in reaction the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chicago riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention. Nixon placed the Republican Party as the party of law and order. With close reading between the lines one can see and hear a harkening back to the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850 which essentially criminalized all Black people in the United States of America. Nixon’s second prong was to adopt what was called “the Southern Strategy.” The “Southern Strategy” was a blatant attempt to secure Republican victories in the South with overt appeals to bigotry and racism. Consequently, bigotry and racism was encouraged and given legitimacy under the well-worn costume of “states’ rights.” At the time, the strategy proved successful. Subsequent Republican Presidents and candidates for other offices would secure office based on “the Southern Strategy.”
For example, in a 1980 campaign speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used the term “states’ rights” in a speech to fair goers. Reagan was widely condemned for his choice of words and location for the speech. The Neshoba County Fair was only a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi where in 1964 three Civil Rights volunteers were murdered. The criticism did not phase Reagan. He went on to be elected the 40th President of the United States. Later, Reagan’s Vice President, would dabble in the “Southern Strategy” when he used the infamous “Willie Horton” television ad against his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. George H.W. Bush was widely criticized for using the image of Black convicted felon to stoke White fear. George H.W. Bush, Republican, went to be elected the 41st President of the United States.
Newt Gingrich was elected to Congress in 1978 from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District which is essentially composed of Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has an inversed relationship to Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. In short, Georgia’s 5th Congressional District gave us John Lewis. Georgia’s 6th Congressional District gave us Newt Gingrich. In 1994 Gingrich devised a successful strategy for Republicans to gain control of the House of Representatives. His conservative strategy was known as “The Contract with America.” The Contract with America was a set of ten proposed laws that Congress would enact within the first 100 Days of the existence of the 104th Congress. The year of 1994 was also known as the year of the “angry White Male.” Not only did Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives, but also gained control of the United States Senate. Gingrich attempted to usurp the leadership of the President and lead the country from his position as Speaker of the House. His tactics include government shutdowns which foreshadowed the government shutdowns of Senator Ted Cruz in opposition to President Barack Obama. Gingrich was eventually deposed as Speaker due to an attempted coup within his own party and eventual ethics violations. Gingrich could lead a conservative revolution, but was not able to govern. There is a direct linkage in today’s Republican Party to the 1948 Dixiecrats. The failure of the Republican Party rests on the fact that while Republicans were moving increasingly to the right, the country has been moving more toward the center. When John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 there was a moment of extreme right wing euphoria over Sarah Palin’s mean spirited and illogical rhetoric. McCain lost the election, but Palin went on to become the darling of the extreme right wing. It was during this time that the Tea Party was born.
On June 15, 2015 Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. On January 20, 2016 Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump for President. On May 3, 2016 Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States. However, many Republicans who hold positions of power decided not to immediately support this outcome. On the other hand, the lineage of bigotry and hate within the Republican Party has come to the forefront to endorse Trump whole hardheartedly. Trump was created in the Republican political laboratory with the party’s experiments in “the silent majority” and “the southern strategy.” In doing so, the Republicans created a Party base that can elect governors, members of Congress, and nominate an overtly bigoted and racist candidate for President, but is powerless to elect a President of the United States.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”