I think Paul Krugman is wrong--or at least incomplete. He argues:
The awful truth, and the better future: [T]he simplicity of the story is almost embarrassing: American politics changed [and turned] because Southern whites started voting Republican after the civil rights movement.
To give you a sense of just how little there is to be explained once you take this shift into account... Larry Bartels... [says that it is not true that] white men have left the Democratic Party... [once] you exclude the South. In 1952, 40 percent of non-Southern white males voted Democratic; in 2004, that was down to, um, 39 percent. (And no, the choice of years doesn’t matter – a fitted trend line tells the same story.)
Now, you could argue that the distinctiveness of the Southern vote isn’t about race. But during the rise of movement conservatism, conservative politicians clearly campaigned on race – that is, they behaved as if they thought that was what it was all about. Ronald Reagan – the real RR, not the latter-day saint – was best known in the 70s for his tales of welfare queens driving Cadillacs. He began his 1980 campaign with the infamous states’ rights speech at Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers were murdered. And the distinctiveness remains even now. In last year’s election, Southern whites were basically the only large demographic group that favored Republicans by a large margin.
But I argue in COAL that the Southern strategy is now in its last throes... we’re a less white country, with growing Latino and Asian shares in the electorate. And Latinos in particular can’t be brought into the conservative coalition – the base won’t have them. Anti-immigrant feeling is similar to anti-black feeling, and comes from the same people.
A more uplifting change is that we are, genuinely, a less racist country... interracial marriage: as late as 1978 a majority disapproved, but now 77 percent approve.... [T]he change is real.
I believe that Macaca was the defining moment of last year’s campaign. Racist remarks – against a child of immigrants, by the way, so the incident also demonstrates the changing ethnic balance -- aren’t new. What’s new is the unwillingness of Americans, including the people of Virginia, to accept such remarks. In other words, I think that the game is up. Race, the original sin of America, is losing its sting...
I think it is more complicated. Back in the 1920s, you see, there were a lot of northern liberals who voted Republican because Lincoln had freed the slaves (they were called "Progressives") and a lot of southern conservatives who voted Democratic because Lincoln had freed the slaves ("Dixiecrats"). The Great Crash and the Great Depression broke the allegiance of northern Republican liberals, so from 1933 on northern liberals vote Democratic. Southern conservatives, however, by and large continue to vote Democratic until the 1980s or so.
This means that from 1933 to 1994 the partisan balance of seats in the congress (and, to a much lesser extent, the presidency) is substantially to the left of where America is. From 1933 to 1960 or so the fact that southern conservative Democrats are long-serving and hold the committee chairs moderates the effects of the partisan balance. But by the 1980s the committee chairships are mostly held by northern liberals--pushing the balance of power in congress substantially to the left of the country. And in the 1990s the balance shifted back as southern conservatives stopped voting Democratic.
Going forward, however, I think Krugman is onto something. The Republicans--from Goldwater through Nixon and Reagan to Gingrich and Lott and DeLay--could have welcomed southern conservative Democrats by saying: "the Civil War is long over, think about which party better represents your interests and values, but remember that we Republicans are committed to a better deal for African-Americans." But they were in a hurry. They preferred to say: "the Democrats have become the party for people who like Black people; we want to be the party for people who don't like Black people"--thinking that that would accelerate the shift.
That was truly an evil deed. Only Richard Nixon--that spawn of Satan and Cthulhu--could have carried it through, and he and his enablers have consigned the Republican Party to hell by attracting to it a base that makes it impossible for Republicans to compete for African-American or Latino or indeed nearly any first or second-generation immigrant voters for the foreseeable future.
But we should not forget that Tip O'Neill was Speaker of the House in the 1980s not because Americans wanted a Great Society urban liberal from Massachusetts as Speaker, but because there were a lot of southern conservatives who still in the 1980s refused to vote Republican because Lincoln had freed the slaves.
But let's give the mike to Republian Svengali Lee Atwater:
Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964... and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster...
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps...?
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'
It did not sound so 'abstract' when Reagan talked about the:
Chicago welfare queen... [who] has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans' benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she's collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000...