The new South: Black & conservative
In 1956, 19 Democrat senators and 82 Democrat House members signed a Southern Manifesto pledging to resist the integration of Southern public schools as ordered by the Supreme Court. Only two GOP House members, both from Virginia, signed. The American South was solidly Democrat and solidly segregationist.
The break in the dam came in a special election in Texas in 1961 to fill the Senate seat of Lyndon Johnson, newly elected vice president. John Tower became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a Southern Senate seat by popular election.
After a raucous South Carolina rally in 1966, Richard Nixon told this writer the future of the GOP was in the South. That was a year after passage of the Voting Rights Act and LBJ’s forecast that Democrats could lose Dixie for a generation. History has proven Nixon right.
Southern white Democrats, descendants of the men who voted for that Southern Manifesto, are a dying breed. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas will not send a single white Democrat to Congress if Mary Landrieu loses her runoff. The only Democrats in the House from Deep South states will be blacks. Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia are trending the same way.
Republican dominance in the New South is partly explained by the conservatism of the region. But the rise of the black Democrat and extinction of the white Democrat is also traceable to the Voting Rights Act.
Required by law and the Justice Department to create districts where blacks would be competitive, Southern legislatures began to draw up districts where the black vote was so concentrated as to ensure the election of a black.
The GOP offer on the table for black Democrats was safe seats in Congress they could hold for decades, to build up seniority. As Republicans took over legislatures, they created secure House seats for black candidates, which inevitably resulted in heavily white districts, tailor-made for conservative Republicans. Moderate and liberal Democrats were squeezed out.
As Hispanics begin to register and vote in greater numbers, Republicans will likely use the same strategy to carve out deeply Hispanic districts for them. Thus the end result of the Voting Rights Act is likely to be more districts represented by blacks, Hispanics and Asians. These will be largely Democrat and come to represent a plurality of Democrats in the House, as white Democrat congressmen shrink in number.
Moreover, by using race-based ads in the Nov. 4 elections, Democrat strategists are pushing us to an America where the GOP is predominantly white and the Democratic Party, especially in Dixie, is dominated by persons of color.
As Jeremy Peters of The New York Times wrote a week before the elections: “Democrats in the closest Senate races in the South are turning to racially charged messages — invoking Trayvon Martin, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Jim-Crow era segregation.”
The ads worked. But while Dixie Democrats rolled up landslides among black voters, Michelle Nunn, daughter of Sen. Sam Nunn, carried only 27 percent of the white vote in Georgia and was wiped out.
Ironically, as Republicans capture state legislatures across the South, they will wield their power as energetically to guarantee black Democrats get safe districts as the old Dixiecrat Democrats wielded their power to ensure that black folks could not vote.
Pat Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”