What Nixon Can Teach the GOP About Courting Black Voters
"You may be thinking Nixon is the worst possible model for outreach across racial lines. He was hardly a model for racial reconciliation, a man who frequently let rip racist comments in private company. And it was the 1972 election in which Nixon, through his “Southern strategy,” schemed to break up the Democrats’ national coalition by exploiting the division between Northeast and Deep South Democrats on the issue of race. With a messaging strategy and policy platform that capitalized on thinly-veiled racial code, the Nixon campaign wooed the nearly 10 million voters in the American South who had voted for third-party candidate and segregationist George Wallace in the previous election. For generations since, Republican politicians have won elections by completely circumventing black voters—a strategy, it would seem, the candidates still embrace today.
But there’s another, widely overlooked Richard Nixon: the Nixon of 1968. In his first successful presidential bid, the candidate presented himself as progressive enough on civil rights to attract some black voters and white moderates, yet bona fide enough in his racial conservatism to appeal to so-called soft segregationists. With that strategy came a messaging campaign designed to appeal to the black community, even if Nixon’s sympathy for their plight was superficial. Nixon thus fashioned a campaign strategy that historian Gary Wills has described as “joining New South to new blacks”—linking soft segregationists to an emerging black middle class in a few key states in the Upper South—and in the process trimming away from Hubert Humphrey and Wallace to win just enough electoral votes, if not a majority of votes, to deliver the presidency. This wasn’t a Southern strategy, but for lack of a better term, a South Atlantic strategy."