Republican President Richard Nixon's one hundredth birthday would have been last week. 1913 of Yorba Linda, CA, Nixon was born into poverty, faced trying adversity, endured privation and humiliation, only to attain the prosperity of the White House, set a course of Republican Presidential elections in seven out of ten contests, yet live out his remaining years in indifferent advisory roles and sometime infamy for his complicit choices in Watergate.
The perseverance of the man determined that the Republican Party would take over where the Democrats had failed, pushing for states' rights without alienating the expanding Civil Rights conscience of the United States.
His Southern Strategy took advantage of the South conservative disillusionment. Those who favored local control hated an expanding welfare state of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The break-down of law and order and the outbreak of race riots throughout the country exposed that Johnson's Vietnam warfare was conflicting with the domestic welfare agenda. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Tennessee, and Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in 1968. Of course, no one should forget the assassination of the elder President Kennedy in1963, which put a New Deal Southerner with venal political probity in the White House.
Richard Nixon should have won in 1960, claimed supporters. So too shared those who heard Nixon debate Kennedy. Those who watched Nixon did not know whether to trust him or not. Even Evangelist Billy Graham regretted his connections with the politician. Nixon lost 1960 by a slim margin, yet he planned a comeback not for 1964, which further focused the pro-civil rights faction against the pro-states' rights caucus with a libertarian Arizonan running for President and losing by the worst landslide in Republican history. In 1968, Nixon was the One, and he won against a divided Democratic Party that wanted peace yet prepared for war in Vietman and urban ghettos.
Nixon was the first President to make a phone call to the moon, the first President to record his every word, whether he wanted others to hear it or not, the first to shake hands with the King (that would be Elvis) and make peace with the Emperor (normalized relations with Communist China). Nixon deserves a votive "Thank You" from the Republican Party and the vast majority of voters who favored him 1972, followed by the massive upheavals of the Democratic Party in 1980, 1984, and 1988.
His legacy was the Southern Strategy. While liberal pundits would cast, or rather castigate, the strategy as a dividing policy based on racism, they cannot deny that Nixon won 36% of the black vote in 1968, and forty-nine states in 1972. His program of appealing to Southern voters rested on "states' rights", an appeal which even Ronald Reagan embraced and used to win against "Southern Son" Jimmy Carter in 1980. He used liberal policies to distract or divide the Democratic constituencies, including subsidies for conservative causes in the South. President Nixon took advantage of his power and the changing demographics in the South. Republicans had helped a Democratic president pass the Civil Rights Act. In 1968, the Democratic Party revisited its 1948 split between its Progressive and its Past and Passive wings. Instead of facing the quiet and calculated John Dewey of 1948, Democrats faced off against the calculating Richard Nixon, a moderate to some, but one who paved the way for the Reagan Revolution of tax cuts and economic prosperity in the 80's.
The Southern Strategy is still at work, not based on race-fomented fears, but the greater concern from federalist-loving Southern voters who want the federal government out of their lives. In the 2012 election, Romney may have lost Virgina and Florida, but the states retain a heavy Republican representation in their statehouses. Republicans controlled two-thirds legislative majorities throughout the South, including Alabama, which reputed supermajority Democratic hegemonies for Republican leadership. Four Alabama Democrats, appalled by the left-ward slouching of the national conference, joined the Republicans, even after winning reelection under their former party's banner.
With a final "Thank You" to Richard Milhous Nixon, Republicans now must strive to reintegrate the "live-and-let-live" moderation of the Coasts and the Northeast with the states' rights integrity of the "Solid South". Another Nixon, one without the Watergates, one not afraid to embrace state intervention in the welfare-to-work paradigm, can vacate the liberal catcalls of "heartless plutocrat" and reintegrate the displaced Rockefeller Republicans. One Southern Belle, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, is posed to replace a Democratic Rockefeller, one whose sudden departure will solidify one more resistance state to the Republicans in 2014.
The Southern Strategy worked. Reworked into a broader appeal with social toleration, much like the previous fissure in the Republican Party in the 1960's, the GOP can gain the upper hand once again.