How did the GOP Go Wrong?

Daniel McIntosh, PhD.
14 min readApr 21, 2021

Part 2: Racism and the rise of the Christian Right

Part 1 is here.

As we’ve seen, the breakthrough of the Republican Party was with Ronald Reagan, who found a way to appeal to appeal to Democrats who felt their party had abandoned them. This, repackaged as the “Contract with America,” consolodated Republican gains and defined what the party stood for. The Contract went our of its way to avoid issues that did not command a strong majority of American public opinion. At the same time, by focusing on smaller government at the expense of social justice, it smuggled race and class into the platform.

This wasn’t all that important, anyway. The point of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract” had less to do with governing than it did with establishing a brand.

His was not the only movement to do so. “Christian evangelism” came to be increasingly defined as White Christian nationalism. The national Democratic Party found it difficult to speak in these terms. Republicans learned that what works with this demographic: appeals to fear, often connected to race. By 1981, Republican operative Lee Atwater, who had moved from South Carolina to the Reagan White House, was willing to explain how to appeal to racists without sounding too racist:

You start out in 1954 saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced bussing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things are totally economic things and a byproduct is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…. “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”.

This is the same Lee Atwater who, seven years later, worked so hard to link Michael Dukakis to Willie Horton, on behalf of George H.W. Bush.

By 2005 political scientists found that a Southern man holding conservative positions on issues was no more likely than a conservative Northerner to vote against a Democratic…

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Daniel McIntosh, PhD.

Writer, consultant, public speaker. Tired of living in the Dark Ages. Working for something better. Top writer in politics and economics.