Beginning with Barry Goldwater’s Operation Dixie in 1964, the Republican Party targeted disaffected white voters in the Democratic stronghold of the American South. To realign these voters with the GOP, the party capitalized on the white racial angst that threatened southern white control. However—and this is critical—that decision was but one in a series of decisions the GOP made not just on race, but on feminism and religion as well, in what is called here the “long southern strategy.” In the wake of second-wave feminism, the GOP dropped the Equal Rights Amendment from its platform and promoted traditional gender roles in an effort to appeal to antifeminist white southerners, and it politicized evangelical fundamentalist Christianity represented by the Southern Baptist Convention. Over time, that made the party southern, not in terms of place, but in its vision, in its demands, in its rhetoric, and in its spirit. In doing so, it nationalized southern white identity, and that has changed American politics.
Angie Maxwell is the director of the Diane Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society and is the Diane D. Blair Associate Professor of Southern Studies in the political science department at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She received herPhD in American studies from the University of Texas, Austin, and is the co-chair of the Politics and Policy Caucus of the American Studies Association.