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Donald Trump’s Southern Strategy: What His Alabama Pep Rally Revealed About the Right’s New Racial Politics

August 24, 2015 in Blogs

By Joan Walsh, Salon

Trump is banking on support from the South. But he hasn’t decided whether he’s Richard Nixon or George Wallace.

I got to watch Donald Trump’s Alabama pep rally from the distance of a brief vacation, and that made it at once more entertaining and more chilling. I could admire the spectacle: “Sweet Home Alabama,” that sea of adoring white faces, the proprietary American flags. Trump himself channeled Richard Nixon, claiming his Alabama backers represented a modern “silent majority” that would be silent no more.

Personally, I can’t decide whether Trump is playing Nixon or George Wallace. Of course, in polite journalistic company, we’re not supposed to say either. We’re still supposed to act like Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign represents the legitimate frustration of the white working class. The frustration is real, but the solution is Nixonian: Get those white voters focused on a menacing “other,” rather than plutocrats like Trump.

The Alabama spectacle gave Trump’s team the opportunity to showcase his Nixonian “Southern strategy.” Sure, he’s focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the Washington Post, but he’s looking forward to Southern Super Tuesday, March 1. “Then comes the South. That’s the path to the nomination.”

Still, Lewandowski and other Trump backers aren’t quite sure how to deal with the racism they’re channeling. On CNN, the Trump campaign manager ducked a question about cries of “white power” heard in the Alabama crowd, though he did condemn the attacks on a homeless Latino man by Trump supporters in Boston last week. (Trump himself refused to condemn the attackers, then backtracked.)

“If that is what happened in Boston, that is not acceptable in any nature,” Lewandowski told Jim Acosta. Then he added an odd note: “We should not be ashamed to be Americans and we should be proud of our heritage, and proud to be American.”

It’s hard not to hear a dog whistle in that comment about “our heritage,” given the element of white nationalist support Trump is enjoying. The New Yorker has a great piece out Monday about Trump’s white nationalist fans. I wrote about this earlier in the month, but the …read more


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