Strategy Has Bottomed Out
GOP: 'Positive Polarization' May Have
Worked At One Time, But Its Divisiveness Hurts Now
By Richard Tafel, Executive Director, Log Cabin Republicans
Los Angeles Times, Friday, February 12, 1999
� Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times
shift the Republican Party made nearly 30 years ago has helped
to slowly poison its image before the American people, and it
may be the Achilles' heel that brings it down in 2000.
In 1972, the core of President Nixon's reelection campaign was
not break-ins and wire-tapping but rather the "Southern strategy,"
or as the Nixon team called it, "positive polarization."
It was about winning over the South by pitting a singled-out minority,
such as African Americans, against a fearful majority, such as
angry Southern whites. The key was to play directly into the hands
of bigotry and intolerance, veering away from the heritage of
the party of Lincoln.
was the same Nixon who had been vice president when President
Eisenhower sent troops into Arkansas and Mississippi to enforce
desegregation orders against the insolent resistance of racist
Democratic governors and police chiefs. Nixon's Faustian reversal
radically changed the GOP, shifting the party's center of gravity
and making intolerance toward minorities of all kinds a hallmark
of Republican strategic thinking.
At first, the "Southern strategy" was a numerical success.
Some of the senior Republican senators at the impeachment trial
today are Southern Democrats wooed into the GOP -- Trent Lott
of Mississippi, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Jesse Helms
of North Carolina and Phil Gramm of Texas. All have used blatant
appeals to intolerance to score political points throughout their
In the early 1990s, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke
won the Louisiana GOP gubernatorial nomination and was beaten
by Democrat Edwin Edwards, who was implicated in some shady dealings.
The infamous Bayou bumper sticker that helped Edwards get elected--"Vote
for the Crook, Not the Kook"--speaks volumes on the public
mood toward the impeachment showdown today.
polarization" has given the party a hateful and frightening
face, ushering in spates of gay-bashing, intolerance toward legal
immigrants and declarations of a "Christian nation,"
essentially telling Jews and those outside of fundamentalist Christianity
to get lost. Over the last two general elections, the state GOP
in California has been virtually annihilated. Even Southern voters
are clearly moving on. In the '98 elections, GOP candidates were
toppled in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. But party leadership
seems reluctant to hear the message.
should be clear to GOP leaders after this election that the 'Southern
strategy' has run its course," says Faye M. Anderson, a national
vice chairman of the New Majority Council, a new Republican National
Committee project aimed at reaching out to minority voters.
is making another go at a GOP nomination, this time for the House
seat Bob Livingston is giving up. Sen. Lott and Rep. Bob Barr
(R-Ga.), meanwhile, have embarrassed the party by speaking before
the Council of Conservative Citizens, the offspring of the old
White Citizens' Councils that took up arms against Eisenhower's
Duke is now calling his past leadership in the American Nazi Party
and the Klan, in effect, "youthful indiscretion" as
he prepares to run this time around on "Christian conservative
principles." For his part, Lott said he had no prior knowledge
of the CCC's bigoted agenda. But when he addressed the CCC in
Greensboro, Miss., in 1992, he said: "The people in this
room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."
Last year, he described homosexuality as a disease similar to
alcoholism and kleptomania.
RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson did the right thing when he denounced
the CCC in strong words and called on South Carolina RNC member
Buddy Witherspoon to resign his CCC membership. Will anyone in
the party stick up for Nicholson and demand Witherspoon's head?
Will Lott and other senior Republicans continue egging on gay
bashers and racists without fear of internal reprisal? How can
the GOP rescue itself before it's too late?
The presidential campaign of 2000 will answer these questions,
one way or another. Recent polls showing both Texas Gov. George
W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole beating Al Gore in a White House match-up
indicate that a rescue of the GOP can only come from outside the
congressional party, now dominated by the sons of the "Southern
strategy." A woman running for president or a man who speaks
of "compassionate conservatism," thus attracting minority
voters, hint at new leadership. But the moment they or any promising
candidate bows to intolerance, watch those numbers -- and the
GOP's prospects -- deservedly sink like a stone.