When Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia in the late 1960s, he insisted that the problem with the state’s prisons was “the poor quality of its inmates.”
Maddox was a Democrat and an ardent defender of the Apartheid South, not exactly an American statesman. Yet his defense of Georgia’s prison system turns out to be a perfect metaphor for today’s Republican Party, created when political consultant Kevin Phillips realized that Nixon’s 43.9 percent, added to George Wallace’s 13.5 percent of the popular vote in the 1968 election, was the beginning of a coalition that would ensure a permanent Republican majority in the South. (Phillips has spent the second half of his life atoning for and writing about his Southern Strategy.)
To understand the posturing of the Republican candidates this year, you have to take into account the quality of the inmates––the Southern, conservative, anti-immigrant base that dominates the party Lincoln helped create to confront the nativism and anti-immigration politics of the Democrats and Know Nothings in the 1850s.
The candidates––not their backers and constituency-group leaders––got most of the media attention at last month’s Values Voters Summit in Washington because they are the candidates––and because their pronouncements, which range from deeply disturbing to utterly risible, are newsworthy.
When Ted Cruz implies that if elected, he will kill Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, that’s news. When Mike Huckabee promises to invoke the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to ban abortion with the stroke of a pen, because the unborn are fully fledged citizens of the United States (“None of your daughters and daughters-in-law called you up and said ‘Guess What? I’m going to have a blob of tissue.’”), that’s also news.
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