Racism and bigotry were part of the mainstream of GOP politics long before Donald Trump and Steve Bannon

Racism and bigotry were part of the mainstream of GOP politics long before Donald Trump and Steve Bannon
Richard Nixon official White House Photo. National Archives via the Nixon Library

We called them our useful fools. Racists and bigots elected Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992. They were back in 2000 and turned out for his son George W. Bush.

Bill Kristol, Editor of the Weekley Standard, former Chief of Staff for Vice President Dan Quayle, and in my view, the standard bearer of the conservative legacy of William F. Buckley Jr., published a tweet Thursday I feel is inaccurate.


The term “alt-right” is a new term to describe what has been in the GOP for decades. It is not new, just new labeling for people that were welcomed with open arms by the GOP by Richard Nixon. Racists are essential to the GOP and without them, the GOP will not win elections.

That is a dirty little open secret inside the GOP. It bothers me that Mr. Kristol’s comment is not a condemnation of bigotry and authoritarianism. It reads as a condemnation of bringing it into the mainstream of American politics but comes up short of an outright condemnation of bigotry.

Sadly, bigotry has been in the mainstream since the founding of the Nation. Racism is a founding principle of America. In 1787, the framers of The Constitution came to a compromise which defined African-Americans as three-fifths of a person. The document mandates that states shall return slaves to their rightful owners if they escape their bondage.

That was the law of the land until after the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that eradicated slavery from our shores in 1865.

The Republican Party was the party of civil rights in those days. The two major political parties flip-flopped during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. In June of 1941, FDR issued Executive Order 8802. The order established the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

FEPC was a landmark and is one of the most important and the EO was one of the most important events between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In those days, White Southerners would prefer to be boiled in oil than be part of the Party of Lincoln. Solidly Democratic, the order sent a shockwave through Dixie. The seeds of discontent with the Democratic Party took root in the South.

From a Dixiecrat point of view, the final straw came on June 2, 1964, when a fellow Southern Democrat signed the Civil Rights Act.

Richard Nixon saw an opportunity and launched the Southern Strategy.  With Nixon, the GOP abandoned their Lincoln Heritage except when it was convenient to pull Abe out of the grave to raise money in the North.

Richard Nixon became a GOP Moses and led the Southern Democrats to the Promised GOP land. Among his new disciples were Texas Governor John Connolly, who was in the car with President Kennedy that terrible day in Dallas in 1963. Connelly suffered a gunshot wound as well.

South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond joined the party. Thurmond was a foe of integration and made no pretense about his racial hate. Nixon was not out campaigning directly against Black Americans. It was much more subtle.

In 2016, Journalist Dan Baum published an article in Harper’s Magazine, “Legalize it all.” In the article, he recalls a 1994 interview with John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon White House aide who spent time in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup.

According to Mr. Baum, John Ehrlichman speaking on the war on drugs said:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” 

[Note: since publication, Dan Baum contacted me with a clarification to the quote. In an email, Mr. Baum states: “Nixon’s crew wanted to destabilize and demonize blacks not because Nixon and Co. were racist (though they may have been), but read the quote. Blacks, like the anti-war movement were a political problem for Nixon — as many wanted to be. Ehrlichman’s quote is not about racism; it’s about bare-knuckle politics.” I would like to thank Mr. Baum for his clarification.] 


Ehrlichman’s children dispute the quote. They think the comments are out of their father’s character.

I believe the words. My belief in them stems from forty-four years as a Republican in Washington, DC, working at high levels as a lobbyist and in campaigns. I heard many things that confirm this is the view of the GOP.

If you want to find bigots in the GOP who are openly racist, look no further than the Ron and Rand Paul movements. They have been mainstream in the GOP a lot longer than Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.

How many recall when Mississippi Senator Trent Lott waxed nostalgic for the days of segregation at Senator Thurmond’s retirement party? It cost the GOP Senate Whip his seat in Congress. The Senator tried to dismiss his remarks as trivial and making an old and distinguished man feel good at his retirement party. Nobody bought the Senator’s excuse.

The GOP has been opposing Civil Rights since the day Johnson signed the law. The South had an easy solution to the empowering of African-Americans, just deny them the right to vote.

So onerous were the voting statutes in the New South, in 1965 Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which bound nine Southern States to notify the Federal Government before they could change voting laws. In a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down the law.

When I read we should be slow to forgive Donald Trump for letting bigots into the mainstream, we need to add to the list of the unforgiven, every GOP President after Eisenhower except the first President Bush who was not a puppetmaster for racism.

We should also be slow to forgive every Republican who turned a blind eye to what was happening in the party, and that includes me. I have remorse for working to advance the party agenda. I turned a blind eye to the racism and bigotry and viewed racists as controllable useful fools.

They are fools, but they are no longer controllable. It is not just Trump’s fault. It is the fault of all of us who place winning ahead of common decency. I regret the decades of bigotry and racism which I ignored. Bill Kristol is a good man, a great man, and I hope one day soon he will repudiate the generational racism in the GOP.
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