The Republican Southern Strategy:
A Case Study of the Reciprocal Campaign
DURING THE SECOND televised debate in the 1960 presidential election, moderator Alvin Spivlak asked Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon, “Mr. Vice President, you have accused Senator Kennedy of avoiding the civil rights issue when he has been in the South, and he has accused you of the same thing. With both North and South listening and watching, would you sum up your intentions in the field of civil rights if you become president.” Nixon responded with a lengthy defense of civil rights, including his support of government action to ensure fair treatment in employment and education and offering his support for lunch-counter sit-ins:
I have talked to Negro mothers, I've heard them explain—try to explain—
how they tell their children how they can go into a store and buy a loaf of
bread but then can't go into that store and sit at the counter and get a Coca
Cola. This is wrong and we have to do something about it.… Why do I talk
every time I'm in the South on civil rights? Not because I'm preaching to the
people of the South because this isn't just a Southern problem. It's a North-
ern problem and a Western problem. It's a problem for all of us.1
Nixon's pro-civil rights response is especially notable because he is more frequently remembered for promising to slow the pace of civil rights as part of the Republican “southern strategy” to recruit southern white Democrats to the Republican Party. In a 1968 televised interview in the South, for instance, Nixon argued that federal efforts to enforce school desegregation “are going too far…. and in many cases … should be rescinded.”2 Did Nixon change his rhetoric on racial issues as a deliberate campaign strategy aimed at driving a wedge in the traditional Democratic coalition? Moreover, did this change in campaign rhetoric influence voter decision making?
In this chapter, we examine the Republican southern strategy as a case study of our expectations about the interaction of candidates, vot-
1 The full text of debate, nomination speeches, and party platforms cited in this chap-
ter are available online through the American Presidency Project (www.presidency
2 Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 187.