In a recent letter to the Chronicle, Harriet Heywood tries to obfuscate the racist past of the Democratic Party by invoking various Democrat anti-Republican talking points that have been around for decades. The purpose of her diatribe is to paint Republicans as racist idiots because of a past electoral campaign approach generally known as the “Southern Strategy.” This “top-down” political tactic was advanced in the ‘60s by Nixon’s chief political strategist, Kevin Phillips, and further refined by one-time Republican National Committee head Lee Atwater in the early ‘80s. To bolster her attack, Ms. Heywood paraphrases Atwater’s notorious 1981 interview as proof of her argument.

The Southern Strategy approach was ostensibly designed to increase the number of Republican southern white voters by appealing to their “inherent” racism. A few political pundits reasoned (incorrectly, in many scholars’ view) the more Democrat politicians supported civil rights initiatives, the more Southern whites would switch from Democrat to Republican. Ms. Heywood proposes this strategy accounts for Republican presidential wins in the ‘60s through the ‘80s, and that now President Trump is somehow employing it.

Well, Nixon won because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, disastrously managed by a Democrat president and his incompetent secretary of defense. Nixon was re-elected in a landslide because he was an incumbent, the war was winding down, and the economy was in good shape. Reagan won in 1980 because of Democrat Jimmy Carter’s abysmal presidency, that saw scores of Americans held hostage over a year in Iran, the loss of the Panama Canal, double-digit interest rates, long lines at the gas pumps and public malaise. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide because of a robust economy, much lower interest rates, a strong U.S. military buildup, and because people liked his positive, “shining city-on-the-hill” demeanor.

For a counter view regarding the so-called Southern Strategy, peruse Sean Trende’s April 2013 article at titled “Southern Whites’ Shift to the GOP Predates the ‘60s.” In this well-researched article, Trende shows that the white shift to the Republican Party significantly predated the advent of the Southern Strategy. Next, see Pat Buchanan’s July 3, 2014 article “Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and a Liberal Big Lie” at Buchanan wrote, “‘For the first time since President Richard M. Nixon’s divisive ‘Southern strategy’ that sent whites to the Republican Party and blacks to the Democrats ...’ began a New York Times story last week. Thus has one of the big lies of U.S. political history morphed into a cliché that Richard Nixon used racist politics to steal the South from a Democratic Party battling heroically for civil rights. A brief stroll through Bruce Bartlett’s ‘Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past’ might better enlighten us.” Finally, please visit,thomas-sowell-goes-through-the-history-of-slavery for noted conservative and Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Dr. Thomas Sowell’s take on slavery, along with various resources debunking the assertion that the Phillips/Atwater et al. Southern Strategy was responsible for any Republican presidential victory or that the strategy is the raison d’être of any Republican Party platform. These are but a few of the references readily available to anyone who cares to spend the effort to review them.

It is entrenched in the left’s playbook to label Republicans and political conservatives as bigoted idiots who are incapable of reasonable thought. So, in consonance with this nasty tactic, Ms. Heywood trots out the generally discredited Southern Strategy in a lame attempt to tag those on the right who support President Trump, and Trump himself, as racist. That dog won’t hunt, Ms. Heywood.

Mike Nielsen

Pine Ridge