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Republicans: Abandon the Cities?

4 minute read

Despite Richard Nixon’s victory in November and his robust showing in opinion samplings since then, the Republicans remain the minority party. The latest measurement was a recent Gallup poll showing that 42% of the public considers itself Democratic, 29% Republican, and the balance independent. But many Republicans think that the G.O.P. now has the opportunity to capitalize on developing new alignments. Strategists differ on just how to turn the trick. One approach—which might be called the politics of retreat—is outlined in fascinating detail in a book published last week titled The Emerging Republican Majority.

The author is Kevin P. Phillips, 28, a graduate of Harvard Law School (’64) who was a voting-trend analyst for Nixon Campaign Manager John Mitchell. Since the election, he has followed Mitchell to the Justice Department and is now an assistant to the Attorney General.

Social Engineering. More than anything else, Phillips’ book is a master plan of how the G.O.P. can corral voters troubled by what he calls “the Negro problem.” The Democrats, says Phillips, have shifted from the economic populist stand of the New Deal to “social engineering.” As a result, writes Phillips, “in practically every state and region, ethnic and cultural animosities and divisions exceed all other factors in explaining party choice and identification.”

Accordingly, Phillips would work toward a Republican majority* by embracing disgruntled white former Democrats. He sees voting strength in the suburbanites who flee the cities when the blacks move in. He would plow the Midwestern blue-collar enclaves, where white lower-middle-class voters fear economic competition from ambitious blacks. Special emphasis would be given to what he calls the “sun belt”—prospering areas such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California—where middle-class whites cherish their freshly earned fortunes.

In his survey of G.O.P. hopes, Phillips dismisses some areas as places where “Democratic trends correlate with stability and decay (New England, New York City, Michigan, West Virginia and San Francisco-Berkeley).” Certain heavily urbanized states, according to Phillips, “are no longer necessary for national Republican victory.” Urban populations in some regions are static or declining, and presumably Phillips believes that the city will soon belong to the blacks, who are either Democrats or uninterested in exercising their franchises.

Phillips, among others, sees the Deep South and the border states as a future stronghold of the G.O.P. “Now that the national Democratic Party is becoming the Negro party throughout most of the South,” says Phillips, “the alienation of white Wallace voters is likely to persist.” He reasons that the G.O.P. must be conservative enough to undercut George Wallace or any third-party leader like him.

Cleavages. To an extent, the strategy that is set forward in Phillips’ book is an aggrandized version of the 1968 Republican presidential-campaign strategy—though Nixon, in his pre-election speech on new alignments, specifically sought to appeal to both black and white liberals. Phillips acknowledges that he expects to be accused of deepening racial discord and promoting segregationist politics, but, he adds: “I don’t say that it should happen, I just say that it does happen. We have always had these ethnic cleavages, despite a lot of effort to pretend that they will go away.”

Many progressive Republicans, amateurs and academics, such as the Ripon Society leadership, would find life within Phillips’ G.O.P. untenable, as would many working politicians, including Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller, Hugh Scott, Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, George Romney and Edward Brooke. As they see it, the Phillips type of strategy would split the nation. For them, a Republican majority must be broadened along racial, as well as class, lines. They have demonstrated that Republicans can contend for power successfully without abandoning either the cities or the blacks.

* Phillips anticipates that the Republican majority will dominate both the electoral and popular vote. Last week the House Rules Committee cleared a proposed constitutional amendment that would substitute direct popular election for the Electoral College.

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