Rachel Maddow and Rick Perlstein on Michael Steele's Admission of a GOP Southern Strategy
Rachel Maddow talked to Nixonland author Rick Perlstein about Michael Steele's admission that there is actually a Southern Strategy and that they have alienated minority voters by using it. As TPM noted the Republicans are not happy with him for this.
Michael Steele's charge this week that the GOP's southern strategy has "alienated" minority voters may not have provoked as many headlines as a trip by young Republicans to a lesbian bondage club. But in the long run it could cause just as much trouble for him.
During a speech at DePaul University, Steele declared:
For the last 40-plus years we had a "Southern Strategy" that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, "Bubba" went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.
He added that, even today, blacks "really don't have a reason" to vote for the GOP.
The remarks represented a frontal challenge to the party's preferred version of history, which has long denied that race-based appeals have played any role in the GOP's success in the south, at least in the post-Nixon age. And some defenders of that line are responding as you'd expect. Read on...
I wanted to get this up right after it aired and got too busy. Her interview with Perlstein was too good not to share even if it's a little bit late.
Full transcript below the fold via Nexis Lexis.
MADDOW: An extraordinary admission from the chair of the Republican National Committee speaking Tuesday at De Paul University. Michael Steele told students, quote, "For the last 40-plus years, we," meaning the Republican Party, "had a southern strategy that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the south."
What makes those words remarkable is they come from the leader of a Republican Party that`s long denied employing a race-based southern strategy to win elections. Despite the fact that Republicans gained votes in the south during Richard Nixon`s 1968 presidential campaign and turned to southern states into reliable Republican electoral votes, the party has not usually acknowledged that it had anything to do with the calculated whites-only appeal.
To quote Pat Buchanan, a self-acknowledged a co-architect of the Nixon strategy, quote, "The charge that we built our Republican coalition on race is a lie." Not according to RNC Chairman Michael Steele, it`s not.
Mr. Steele also alleged that Republicans used their southern strategy for decades, well into the Reagan years and beyond. That view at odds even with Republicans who have tried to address the party`s history of race and politics.
Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, for example, told the NCAAP in 2005 that the Republican Party had alienated voters and had even tried to, quote, "benefit politically from racial polarization."
But Mr. Mehlman said that had happened in the `70s, `80s and `90s. He promised that the Republican Party was, as of the 2000`s, committed to inclusion.
But in Michael Steele telling this week, Republicans have pursued a southern strategy, he said, for 40 years, which would be right up through the 2008 election. Not a shocking assertion that the Republican Party might have capitalized on racial polarization in search of power during its history. But it is a doo-woop moment to hear the chairman of the party now admit it in public.
Joining us now is Rick Perlstein, senior fellow at the Campaign for America`s Future and author, most recently, of the book "Nixon Land: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America." Rick, it`s great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.
RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR, "NIXON LAND": Oh, glad to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: The southern strategy is something that gets talked about in politics a lot. But the details are always a little wooly. What really was it specifically?
PERLSTEIN: It was something very, very specific, actually. Not a lot of people remember that basically, after the new deal, black voters in cities like Chicago, New York, Cleveland, were actually considered the swing voters in American politics. There were enough of them who kept this kind of vestigial Republican loyalty from the Civil War years and the idea that the Republican Party was the party that freed the slaves.
That the idea that you had to get enough of these voters away from their economic commitment to the Democratic Party into the Republican in the presidential election basically determined how states like Ohio and Illinois and New York would go.
And what started happening in 1964, first with Barry Goldwater and then with 1968, was the Republicans basically made a very conscious decision that if they appealed to white voters in the south, they didn`t need these black voters in the north anymore.
So there literally was, we don`t need black voters anymore. So how can we get white voters instead? It was very, very specific and very deliberate. They knew exactly what they were doing.
MADDOW: Did architects of the southern strategy express regret or remorse for it at all in the way that Michael Steele seemed to this week?
PERLSTEIN: Well, the fascinating thing about it is, it seems to happen at regular intervals. I mean, one of the architects of it in the Nixon years was a guy named Harry Dent. And after he retried, he became a preacher and he apologized for it right before he died.
Lee Atwater became Republican Party chair. He apologized for it kind of when he was on his death bed. You can almost say when these guys get ready to meet their maker, they tend to man up and own up to the strategy. Even Ken Mehlman was kind of out the door and, you know, kind of writing his resume for history when he said it was happening.
So you know, it says interesting things about, you know, what we can expect from Michael Steele, whether he`s, you know, heading out the door or whether he is trying to extend his tenure by, you know, basically setting up a deal where if you kick me out, maybe it`s just because I was a truth-teller on this civil rights issue.
MADDOW: Rick, you have written epic, seminal histories of modern conservative politics.
PERLSTEIN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Is there a revisionism effort among conservatives who pretend this didn`t happen? Will what Michael Steele said be upsetting to people who want to say that this never actually existed in history?
PERLSTEIN: Oh, it will be profoundly upsetting. I mean, we saw from Pat Buchanan, like you say, the idea of - basically, you know, even Glenn Beck now is trying to claim Martin Luther King is his forebear.
You know, the idea of the civil rights movement, the idea that African-Americans were oppressed and had to be liberated is very essential to basically every American`s conception of what a moral citizenship looks like. So it`s very awkward for the Republicans to try and kind of deal with this as it comes up every five, 10 years.
MADDOW: Rick Perlstein, senior fellow at the Campaign for America`s Future and the author of "Nixon Land," which is required reading for everybody in the whole country. Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Rick. It`s good to see you.
PERLSTEIN: Love to be here.
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