S6:E4 Long Southern Strategy

S6:E4 Long Southern Strategy

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How the Republicans learned to court the South

When did Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, start courting the American South? It’s a big question! For decades, Republicans were known as the party that helped black people (except, you know, for ending Reconstruction to help gain the White House). Then, with the nomination of Barry Goldwater, the tide turned. Goldwater’s team promoted him as a racist when he toured the South. And… he won some ground in the traditionally Democratic region.

So when it came time for Richard Nixon to run in 1968, his team decided to court the South. Not out in public like Goldwater had. Instead, they decided to operate a campaign of “benign neglect” where they would not enforce existing laws meant to protect African Americans.

Our special guest this week is Angie Maxwell, author of The Long Southern Strategy.

Discussion Questions:

  • What caused the rift in the Democratic Party that made Strom Thurmond leave (hint: it has to do with Truman)?
  • What was the Democratic Party like before Truman?
  • What influence did Strom Thurmond have on Nixon?
  • Who was Barry Goldwater? How did he change the Republican Party by courting white Southerners?
  • How might the idea of the South being “benighted” impact them as a people?
  • Why do so many evangelicals see themselves as “benighted”?


  • “The Long Southern Strategy” by Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields.
  • “Reaganland” by Rick Perlstein
  • YouTube clip of Nixon not wanting “Law and Order” to mean “racist”
  • Nixon talking about “law and order” in a speech
  • Nixon’s campaign ad about protests and tear gas
  • Article about Nelson Rockefeller
  • Nixon’s civil rights ad
  • Helpful Time Magazine article
  • “These Truths” book by Jill Lepore
  • Bio on Strom Thurmond
  • Article about Reconstruction
  • “The Evangelicals” book by Frances Fitzgerald
  • Truman’s speech to the NAACP


CHRIS: This episode is part of a long series exploring how some evangelicals tied themselves to the Republican Party. It can stand on its own, but when you’re done, go back and start at the beginning of season 6. Not only do we need to understand how Christians were pulled in, but we also need to understand how the Republican Party changed in the 1900s. This episode won’t talk much about Christianity, but it’s key to understanding the Republican Party of the 1970s, one of the areas we’re spending a lot of time on this season. I think you’re really going to like it. Okay… here’s the show.

Dexter Chipps was a Catholic man in a time when Protestants didn’t much care for Catholics. He was a strong supporter of the mayor of Forth Worth, Texas, and the owner of a lumberyard. On July 17, 1926, Chipps got on the phone and called a pastor who was speaking out against the mayor. He’d said that he was “not fit to be the mayor of a hog pen”. The call, as you can imagine, did not go well. So Chipps stomped off to confront the pastor. The two men exchanged words. Their argument grew loud. Chipps challenged the pastor to a fight.

But he picked the wrong man to mess with. The pastor drew a pistol from the desk drawer and fired four shots. Three bullets pierced Chipps and killed him. The pastor called his wife and the police saying, “I just killed me a man.”2

The pastor in question is somewhat of a controversial figure, one you’ve probably never heard of before. His name was J. Frank Norris. He embodied what one writer described as your stereotypical vision of a Texas fundamentalist. Brash. In 1909 he was hired by the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, known as the “church of the Cattle Kings”

He was also nearly convicted of arson when his church burned down. And he got away with shooting Dexter Chipps on grounds of self-defense. 33 prominent Texas Baptists signed a statement describing Norris as “divisive, self-centered, autocratic, hypercritical and non-cooperative.” Then, a year later, the Baptist General Convention of Texas kicked him out.5

Norris was a founding member of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association. Fundamentalism, if you remember, began as a movement to fight modernist theology: that belief system that said you could remove the miraculous from Christianity. Maybe Jesus never rose from the dead or walked on water. Norris preached against modernism often, which is notable because, in the 1920s, there really weren’t any modernists in the South. For that reason, there weren’t really fundamentalists in the South in the 1920s. When the Scopes “monkey” trial was held in Tennessee in the south, it came as a surprise when the region was painted as fundamentalist by the press, because it wasn’t. Fundamentalism in the early years was a northern phenomenon.

Norris is credited by some historians as bringing the movement below the Mason-Dixon line He pastored two churches, one in Texas and another in Detroit. Combined, his congregations reached 25,000 people. Young men trained in his seminary and then went on to spread fundamentalism wherever they were placed.

The American South is an interesting and dynamic place. One that is often misunderstood. Today we associate it with fundamentalist religion and the Republican Party. But that wasn’t always the case. But a lot changed over the decades from the 1920s to the 70s. This season I’m telling the story of how some, especially white, evangelical Christians tied themselves to the Republican Party. To do that, we have to understand not just Christianity, but also changes in the GOP. Because the party of today or even of Ronald Reagan was not the party of the early 1900s.

But soon they took notice of the south as a voting block. White Southerners had long voted for the Democrats. But that would all change as they were courted not by a pastor tried for murder, but a presidential candidate who claimed that he was not a crook.

You’re listening to the show that uses journalistic tools to look inside the Christian church. We press pause on the culture wars in order to explore how we got here and how we can do better. I’m Chris Staron. This is Truce.

To explore the topic today, I spoke with a fascinating guest.

ANGIE: My name is Angie Maxwell. I am the Diane D Blair endowed chair in Southern studies and a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas.

CHRIS: Author of “The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics” and just an all-around interesting person. I loved talking to her about the South because, not only does she study it, but maybe you noticed, she is Southern. Okay, so, there is this concept of the South as benighted, looked down upon by the rest of the country. The term “the benighted south” goes back to psychologist Alfred Adler.

ANGIE: And he originally studied organ inferiority, like how does the body compensate for a shoulder or leg or something like that…

CHRIS: But then he moved into social psychology early in the 1900s…

ANGIE: And what was so interesting about the theory he developed is that he said the first thing that was necessary for an individual to develop an inferiority complex was a moment of consciousness or recognition that someone deems you inferior.

CHRIS: For the American South, that was not just losing the Civil War, but also living through Reconstruction. That period after the war when the North occupied the South with the military. The purpose: to enforce new amendments meant to protect the rights of African Americans. A humiliation to white Southerners to not just lose a war, but be reminded of it constantly as soldiers marched through their towns.

Adler determined that someone with an inferiority complex would show it in one of three ways.

ANGIE: Either that person would withdraw from the society that deems them inferior or they would deem someone else inferior, kind of the corollary superiority complex. Or they would change the rules by which people were judged. And we see that happen in the South, particularly when there are intense periods of public criticism. So the Scopes trial is the perfect example, you know, it’s covered in international newspapers on the front page of the London Times for eleven days. And American journalists when they realize the international media was following so closely and making fun at this American experience and trial that was going on then the American journalists started saying ‘This isn’t American, this is Southern’. That critique from within the United States became very directed toward the South.

CHRIS: Even though the Scopes trial, which I covered in detail last season, was the result of a northern phenomenon. You can see this clearly if you watch the old film “Inherit the Wind” where the people of the town are depicted as mean-spirited hicks, when in fact they were warm and welcoming.

ANGIE: Probably the worst thing that white southerners thought would happen if they lost the war was that people would be bankrupt. Right? How would they have labor and how would they process an agricultural economy? They never thought their slaves would be their Senators.

CHRIS: During Reconstruction, hundreds of black men were elected to local offices. 600 to state legislatures, and 16 served in congress10. Including Hiram Revels, the first black senator who was from Mississippi.11 As a Republican, then the party of Lincoln.

ANGIE: Right? That was not something that was imagined. And it was not something that happened outside of the region, either. So that experience of being under scrutiny… totally deserved, but that experience of the world turned upside down to such an extreme degree created a tender skin to criticism. There is something in that heritage that just gets passed down.

CHRIS: You likely know what comes next. Jim Crow Laws, black codes, legislation, and social norms designed specifically to keep black people from advancing. A compromise with the Republicans that ends the military occupation of the South in exchange for the presidency.

ANGIE: Because of the experience of Reconstruction they lock that power down structurally in every possible way they can imagine.

CHRIS: Once they regain control, white southerners… by and large… vote for Democrats. For decades.

ANGIE: And so when the New Deal comes along…

CHRIS: …the big set of government programs passed under FDR that covers everything from government-backed home loans to jobs to the FDIC to building trails in national parks… People were desperate. The South, like everywhere, benefits from the programs passed by a Democratic government. But… that starts to trigger dissent in the party.

ANGIE: I feel like it’s in the aftermath of the Great Depression and New Deal that there starts to be a lot of tension between the national Democratic Party and the direction it is moving, building off of that New Deal coalition, and the state Democratic parties in the South.

CHRIS: Because, try as they may, they couldn’t keep black people from benefitting from all of the programs. They made it hard for them to get those home loans… but… the New Deal still managed to lift up black people.

ANGIE: There were early efforts at FERA which was an early welfare program, and there were southern states that turned that money away rather than give it to African Americans in their state.

CHRIS: That tension escalated when FDR died and Harry Truman came into power in 1945.

ANGIE: Truman makes a speech to the NAACP. He’s the first president to make a president to make a speech to the NAACP, and he doubles down on the direction the National Democratic Party is going.

TRUMAN: It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in the long history of our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens. Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to ensure that all Americans enjoy these rights. And when I say all Americans – I mean all Americans.12

CHRIS: It’s a moving speech. I’ll post links in the show notes.

ANGIE: And then of course desegregating the military by executive order…

CHRIS: This again, is a democrat talking. What had been the party of Jim Crow.

ANGIE: And so the 1948 Truman re-election becomes the watershed moment.

CHRIS: Northern Democrats like him…

ANGIE: But Southern Democrats think ‘we’re just going to get rid of this guy. We’ll get someone good in there as our nominee’. When Truman succeeds in getting the nomination in the 1948 convention southern democrats get worried, they really see this kind of slipping away, their national party slipping away. And they walk out, not all of them but most of them. And they run their own candidate in Strom Thurmond.

CHRIS: Strom Thumond. One of those names you probably heard in high school history class. He’d been a lawyer, state senator of South Carolina, and participated in D-Day in Normandy. Then governor of South Carolina. Super into states’ rights and segregation.13 We’ll hear more about him later, so try to remember Strom Thurmond. This splinter group of the democratic party makes him their nominee.

ANGIE: If Truman loses because of these Southern Democrats then the democratic party is going to realize they can’t win without the South and come crawling back. Or if no one can get the majority of the electoral college then they’ll be in a position to do some negotiating.

CHRIS: They’re holding their own party hostage. We’ll see this a bunch this season as the extreme wing of a party, a movement, a conference threatens to split if the moderates don’t give in to their wishes. This is where moderates have to choose between allowing their movement to become extremist, or risk losing to the other side. Which will it be? Which is the lesser of two evils. Some folks in the South were so against Truman that he didn’t even appear on the ballot in Alabama14. This group calls themselves the Dixicrats. But the Dixiecrats failed.

ANGIE: It’s close as we all know, the famous picture saying “Dewey Won” but Truman is successful, and that puts the Southern white segregationist/ pro-Jim Crow Democrats into a purgatory of sorts.

CHRIS: Because, yeah, they’ve got a Democrat in the White House, but it’s Truman. A guy who is pro-desegregation. Truman, by the way, is someone we should all know more about. Did you know that he was close to passing national healthcare? Something he called “simple Christianity”.15 Anyhow…

Then you get to this interesting moment in American politics, kind of like what I talked about last season in the election competition between William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt. Where the parties were just… harder to tell apart. Starting in 1948 the University of Michigan ran a study. They collected data every four years and devised two questions for voters about the pair of major political parties in the US.

MICHIGAN: (question on a survey, so say it straight-forward) “Would you say that either one of the parties is more conservative or more liberal than the other?”

CHRIS: Believe it or not, between 1948 and 1960 many voters could not answer this question16. So the U of M researchers asked a bonus question:

MICHIGAN: “What do they have in mind when they say that the Republicans (Democrats) are more conservative (liberal) than the Democrats (Republicans)?”

CHRIS: A full 37% of those surveyed did not know how to answer the questions. They had no idea which was conservative and which was liberal or how to tell the difference. Wilder still is that only 17% gave the answer that the people running the survey considered the best, correct answer. Eisenhower may have been a reflection of that since both parties wanted him.

Now, if you’re a white Southerner who is really into segregation… this is untenable. But changes were also going on in the Republican Party.

ANGIE: Some union-busting Republicans are upset and they start to feel the wealthy Rockefeller Republicans, the East Coast and West Coast more liberal Republicans are just manipulating the party and controlling everything. And that conservative faction starts meeting and talking about where they can find bedfellows. How do we grow our wing of the party?

CHRIS: And maybe we can bring some white Southerners to the party. It’s not a clear line. Eisenhower, the Republican, sends troops to Arkansas to enforce the integration of schools in Little Rock in 195718. Making it harder to bring racists into the party of Eisenhower.

ANGIE: It’s Strom Thurmond who works out a deal.

CHRIS: Remember him? He was the South Carolina Democrat who wasn’t thrilled with Harry Truman’s civil rights ideas…

ANGIE: That kind of works out a deal after the Civil Rights Act Right is signed and he can keep his seniority.

CHRIS: That was in 1964. Remember, he was a racist. He’d said earlier, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches, and our places of recreation.”The guy jumps from Democrat to Republican and has plans to help the conservative faction of the Republican Party. This conservative group wants Barry Goldwater to be the nominee for president. You may not remember that name, but he comes up a lot when discussing the radical shift of the Republican Party. If you were to draw a roadmap that showed when the GOP took that turn, Goldwater would be where the highway took a sharp turn.

ANGIE: And in 64 at the convention the conservative wing has gotten behind Goldwater because he’s one of the few Republicans that had voted against the Civil Rights Act. They think he’s dynamic. He made some pretty aggressive speeches about Eisenhower being soft on unions. You know, it’s a long shot for him to get the nomination. But Nelson Rockefeller who the other wing of the party had put up was newly remarried to a former staffer with whom he had an affair and she was having a baby and it brought some of those kinds of social taboos up at that time and decreased his popularity. And so Goldwater squeaks it out. The conservative faction of the Republican Party has its moment. They send a team of people that stump in the South hard for Goldwater and they use some pretty explicit language about Goldwater will not enforce any of these civil rights changes. They’re worried about the Voting Rights Act looming on the horizon because that’s one that could change the power structure in the region.

CHRIS: The Voting Rights Act made polls taxes, literacy tests, intimidation at voting places, that kind of stuff, illegal and would be passed by President Johnson in 1965.21 Racists obviously didn’t want this to pass because it meant that they could no longer play their usual tricks and their people would be voted out of office.

ANGIE: So Mississippi goes in the 80 percentile for Goldwater.

CHRIS: White Southerners eat up the rhetoric of Barry Goldwater. A Republican, a man from the party of Lincoln, takes a formerly Democratic state by appealing to white racists. This is the power of Barry Goldwater and why he’s worth remembering. He demonstrates that Republicans can make headway in the South.

ANGIE: So it’s nuts, right? The messaging was very effective. What Goldwater believed personally is not something I can express. But how he was portrayed on that tour in the south called “Operation Dixie” that his team did was explicitly anti-civil rights and pro-segregation.

CHRIS: Does that mean he wins because he speaks to racists?

ANGIE: No, he wins five deep south states and his home state of Arizona and loses everywhere else in the country.

CHRIS: So he loses, but… he demonstrates that there is room in the south for the conservative wing of the Republicans. All it takes it the right messaging.

ANGIE: You know the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party kind of thinks they’ll go back to being the party in power

CHRIS: We let the far right have their fun and they lost the vast majority of the states. Time to get real. Let’s get Nixon up to bat next.

ANGIE: And in a sense, Nixon in 68 is a compromise candidate. Nixon had been the candidate in 60. He’d almost won and he had a pretty pro-civil rights campaign. Compare his 60 campaign and 68 campaign they are wildly different.

CHRIS: You can hear that in one of his televised campaign ads in 1960.

ANGIE: And he courted the black vote outside of the South, particularly in some of the urban areas in big cities. He had somewhat of a friendship with MLK. He had gone on record after Brown v Board when he was VP under Eisenhower saying the Warren court had made the right decision.

CHRIS: Backing school integration. Amazing stuff. Not the guy you’d think would turn and give in to the racist wing of the party in order to court the South.

ANGIE: The Goldwater wing, this conservative faction, they don’t have a leg to stand on after his terrible showing. And Nixon is still very bitter about the close loss in 60. The strategist thing is like, we can’t put another Goldwater out there because the party’s not going to stand for it, but if we can take a well-known person, a well-known name and we can skate the middle here, build on some of the gains Goldwater made in these deep South states, but code the language in a way that doesn’t offend so many Republicans in the region we might have a winning combination now.

CHRIS: We need to look moderate, but send a message to the south that we are on their side. We just can’t do it outright. We have to be sly. In doing so, maybe we can tip the scales and win a presidency.

ANGIE: There was a young super-conservative in Ronald Reagan trying to make headway in that 68 primary and it was Strom Thurmond who convinced these newly converted southern Democrats turned Republicans and the convention. He said, “I know you think Reagan is the true conservative, but Reagan has assured us he will not enforce civil rights changes. We’ve got to stick with him”. He wielded that power. It’s not that there were huge numbers of delegates, but when a party is split any group that has any influence has a lot of power.

CHRIS: With the help of Strom Thurmond, they tip the scales for the Republicans. Nelson Rockefeller loses the nomination yet again. Twice to Nixon, once to Goldwater, and the conservative wing of the Republican Party gets their man nominated for president. Richard Nixon.

ANGIE: Nixon recognized that George Wallace was going to enter the race as the third party candidate and that he was the segregationist governor of Alabama.

CHRIS: You may know George Wallace from the song “Sweet Home Alabama”. When he was inaugurated as the governor, he said…

WALLACE: And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

CHRIS: Just in case you had any questions about where he stood. This guy’s running as a third-party candidate. He’d going to take the hardcore racists.

ANGIE: You can’t out anti-civil rights George Wallace in 1968, so your option is only to go toward the middle.

CHRIS: That is what Nixon did. He was the middle guy. He was Eisenhower’s VP. Remember the 50s? Remember how nice they were? After all of the tumult of the Kennedy assassination and student protests, Nixon had nostalgia on his side. But his team still wanted to court the South, whatever they could peel loose from Wallace.

ANGIE: George Wallace is going to win the hard-line segregationists but Nixon picks up enough support to win the South. It didn’t work with Goldwater, but with some fine-tuning this long attachment of white Democrats to the Democratic Party has somewhat been broken.

CHRIS: Leaving an opportunity for Republicans. Bringing us to a moment that borders on legend.

CHRIS: The details of the meeting are sketchy, as, you know, folks are not likely to take good notes on backroom deals. But Nixon’s trying to gain the nomination in his party, and there was the option of courting the South. To do that, he had to kiss the ring of Strom Thurmond.23 The two met in a hotel room in Atlanta on June 1, 1968. One historian said it was the most important event in the election of that year. Another compared it to the election of Rutherford B Hayes that got him the presidential win but ended Reconstruction in the South and protection for black people there. Essentially, it amounted to a commitment to “benign neglect”. Yes, Brown v Board of Education was a done deal, ending separate but equal in public schools. But that didn’t mean that the federal government had to enforce it. Whatever the exact details, Nixon and Thurmond entered the hotel ballroom where the state chairs were gathered. A few weeks later, Strom Thurmond formally supported Nixon.

ANGIE: We do see a very changed Nixon in that campaign. And we do see Strom Thurmond who naturally would have endorsed a Wallace decide not to.

CHRIS: Right? Makes sense that Thurmond would want to nominate Wallace, the Sweet Home Alabama racist governor. But Thurmond backs Nixon. Now, Nixon couldn’t just come out and bash black people like Wallace had because he’d alienate the party’s base who weren’t racist. Instead, it comes down to benign neglect and… dog whistles.

The dog whistle term gets used a lot these days. There are those who deny that Nixon used them, like Dinesh D’Souza26. But it seems clear that there was a major change in Nixon’s behavior, and it’s hard to deny since there was a playbook released as a best-selling book called “The Emerging Republican Majority” by Nixon staffer Kevin Phillips that pretty well lays out the plan.

At first, Nixon zigged and zagged. He appointed two white supreme court justices who had resisted civil rights but then backed affirmative action27. Confusing. But the language was there.

ANGIE: What they mean by political dog whistle, and they’re really hard to do now because of technology, is saying something in a way that a certain community hears it and knows what you mean even if other folks take a totally different meaning from it.

CHRIS: The name comes from whistles that put out frequencies so high that only dogs can hear them.

ANGIE: And that isn’t necessarily bad in its context, right? Maybe you’re just trying to communicate something to a community.

CHRIS: Like when a candidate says “I was tried in the wilderness” or “though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death” it signals to people who know their Bibles that this candidate understands Scripture. Or is religious? To those who don’t get the reference, it’s just a folksy saying. To the true believers, it says “this person gets me.”

ANGIE: An example would be “law and order”

CHRIS: This audio is from a 1968 campaign ad for Nixon. Remember how Angie said there was a big difference between the Nixon campaigns of 1960 and 68? Here it is. Instead of a calm Nixon chatting into the lens, this one has him doing a narration over photographs of burning buildings, protestors with signs promoting socialism, and officers with what looks like tear gas launchers.

CHRIS: Nixon spoke about law and order in speeches and when accepting the Republican nomination. Yet, when some people heard “law and order” they took it to mean control over black people. Dog whistle.

ANGIE: I mean, there are tons of people in the country who hear “law and order” and think “law and order”.

CHRIS: Great TV show. (laughing)

ANGIE: That’s exactly right. Who doesn’t want there to be orders and law to be followed? But that phrase in the South was messaged to say an end to the civil rights protests, the boycotts, and organized crackdowns. That spoke to a lot of white Southerners that the civil rights beat of covering all of these protests in the South, just make the South look terrible… there’s people all the way from that to those who worry that it’s going to erupt in violence. What I’m always pushing myself to think about is the actual lived experience of people and when you think about white communities in the South during segregation for so many decades they… it was like a co-existence that was so separated. It wasn’t in your face all the time. It was real easy to pretend this is just how life is and this is just peaceful. Really easy to not see some things for your average white Southerner living this existence in a separated white world. Even non-violent protests, which were in the South, pops that bubble where people believed African Americans supported segregation too. This is good for them or paternalistic. This is just how life was supposed to be. The protests, even non-violent, showed them that African Americans did not want this. This has hurt and oppressed. The media calling it all out… it’s hard to keep that conditioned life lie going that this is all benevolent. Law and order meant we’re not going to have these walkouts and protests and that spoke to a lot of moderate white Southerners who just wanted a system that was polite. Polite racism.

CHRIS: Yet to white southerners, law and order signaled an end to the protests and a re-establishment of the old way. Again, they didn’t need to reach the extreme racists. George Wallace did that. They couldn’t compete with him. Law and order, though, could appeal to moderate white Southerners in a way that outright racism couldn’t. Hence the dog whistle.

ANGIE: In this case, they were very concerned about communicating it so directly as the surrogates to Goldwater that it is offputting to those moderates who didn’t want to be thought of that way, didn’t want to be called out for being racist. Didn’t want to support violence, but things to stay where they were. The hardliners didn’t vote for them either. They didn’t want complete and total social change.

CHRIS: And the South goes with Nixon.

I realize it may feel like I didn’t prove my point well enough. But African Americans certainly felt the change in mood from Nixon. In 1960, 40% of African American voters went with Nixon. In 68 only 13% of non-white voters went with him.30

Despite what Nixon said on TV and what D’Souza claims today, African Americans clearly picked up on the dog whistles. They were aware in the moment what was going on31. Then there’s this idea of neglect. What you believe isn’t signaled just by what you do, but also by what you don’t do.

ANGIE: There’s a continued effort by a lot of southern governors to block integration into universities and into different spaces and you do not see an Eisenhower level of response. Where he sends in troops. People saying this was the administration you were a part of… and then you see the same thing happening at other southern universities and southern towns and there’s just no action and at that point, those laws are in place. Eisenhower took action when you didn’t have a Civil Rights Act. Then you do get a Civil Rights Act and you don’t see action when those laws are violated.

CHRIS: You’ll see something like the Kent State shooting where they send in the military then but not to protect African-Americans.

ANGIE: The expectations were different after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Those were such enormous efforts and we just don’t see an executive response anywhere near what had happened 10 years prior.

CHRIS: And you see the rise of segregation academies where white people send their kids to private schools rather than have them integrated. Government dollars start flowing in that direction. Like in the state of Virginia which offered grants to draw teachers to private schools.

CHRIS: So it’s the benign neglect, it’s what Nixon didn’t do compared to what people expected. What racist thing did he say? It’s not that. It’s that the country gets a Civil Rights Act passed and the executive does nothing to enforce it.

CHRIS: This is going to be important in a few months when we talk about school integration and bussing. Because one of the key issues that catalyze white evangelicals to the Republican Party in the Carter era is fear of losing their tax-exempt status due to the enforcement of integration laws. It’s a wild story, one that, honestly, we’re telling the wrong way. Pray for me. It’s going to be a tough episode to make… Anyhow, pay attention as we go because the theme of dog whistles will come up again, as will dueling themes of quiet racism and peace and quiet. Note that this disjointed arc from Truman to Nixon demonstrates how the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, changed its attitudes toward African Americans in order to court the Southern white vote.

Nixon wins two terms and eventually resigns after the Watergate scandal, as discussed in the last episode. It’s tempting to end the story there. But what I appreciate about Angie Maxwell’s work is that she studies what she calls “the long southern strategy”. Despite some oversimplifications of this story, the South does not stay with the Republican Party after Nixon’s resignation. The following election it’s Gerald Ford against Jimmy Carter. And Carter, the Democrat, wins the South.

ANGIE: What Jimmy Carter portrayed is that he was one of them.

CHRIS: A white Southerner. Really, there isn’t anything easy about this moment. Here was Nixon, the law and order candidate and both he and his VP Spiro Agnew were obvious criminals and both of them got away with it. Ford, running for president, is the guy who pardoned Nixon. Carter wins the South and the presidency, but only by a narrow margin.33 Helped by burgeoning evangelical involvement, Carter being an evangelical, and by the fact that the darling of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, avoided supporting Gerald Ford34.

It’s tangled. But the south goes for the Democrats under Carter. Then it goes for Reagan and it seems like the Republicans have their attention once more.

Until Bill Clinton comes along and wins it back for the Democrats. The “Southern strategy” didn’t always work for the Republicans. It isn’t a straight line like it’s sometimes portrayed. Again, the South is a dynamic place like anywhere else.

ANGIE: It’s such a simple explanation, right? The Civil Rights Act passed and suddenly all these white Southerners become republicans. Right? It’s so much more complicated than that and there is a lot of in-fighting in the Republican Party. Lots of Republicans are very upset about this trying to appeal to white Southerners. It was a very mixed and tumultuous time.

CHRIS: And it will take a long time to fit all of the pieces together this season. Because so much was happening. We haven’t even touched on women’s liberation, the ERA, the anti-ERA movement, other supply-side economics, changes in theology, the New Right. We’ll get to all of that. It’s fascinating. Race is just one part of what changes the Republican Party, and just one component of what nudges some evangelicals to support them. It would be a mistake to pin it all on just one part of this complicated story. Settle in, gang, we’ve got plenty more to cover.

For now, let’s circle back to J. Frank Norris at the beginning of the episode. The brash, love him or leave him preacher who shot a man and also introduced fundamentalism to the South. Fundamentalism wasn’t really there until he brought the kind of fear and anxiety that was his trademark into Texas. By the end of the century, fundamentalist Christianity would overtake denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention. Norris and men like him laid the groundwork for that decades earlier. Racism and a bunch of other issues would converge to swing party politics and drive evangelicals to make strange bedfellows in order to become a voting block.

One of the ways they did this was by convincing us that not only is the South benighted, but so are Christians. Same playbook, a different target. Norris brought that fear to the South. A host of others tried to hitch it to the gospel.

Listen to preachers on the radio or on TV. Tune into the news. Do you hear that Christians are being overlooked, left behind, and that our way of life is disappearing? Whether or not you agree with that statement, do you like what gets marketed with it? It’s the language that convinced the South that they had to use force to keep their way of life.

In the Christian world, it’s not fear of the North occupying our territory that riles people up. It’s a concern that “those people” or the government are coming for your children. That they are using textbooks to turn your kids against God. That the media and society look down on us. Say we’re backward. We’re constantly being told that we’re a benighted people and that the elites are coming for us. Do we want to live life as a benighted people?

Is it a statement of fact, or a trojan horse meant to manipulate? Is it possible that political forces need us to believe that so we’ll vote for them? And what could we do if we rejected that idea?

Special thanks to the amazing Angie Maxwell. Her books are “The Long Southern Strategy” and “The Benighted South”. Patrons of the show can hear a lot more good stuff from her by giving a little each month to help the show at patron.com/trucepodcast. We had a much longer conversation than what I could fit into the episodes. She was so generous with her time.

Thanks also to everyone who gave me their voices for this episode including my friends Jackie Hart and Chris Sloan.

Truce is listener-supported. To learn how to help via check, Paypal, Venmo, whatever, visit trucepodcast.com. There you can find previous episodes as well as show notes, sources used, an email list, pictures… so many good things. Please also take some time to tell your friends and family about the show. This is a small, independent operation. There is no marketing staff. Give a little bit so I can get one step closer to doing this show full time which would mean more and better episodes for you and a healthier work/life balance for me.

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