In recent days the Yellowstone County Republican Party and the Montana Tea Party Coalition have vigorously distanced themselves from a self-styled “Tea Party Republican” candidate who espouses a racist platform. More power to them. But let’s review the political context of their dispute.
What goes around comes around. Not all that long ago, it was the Democratic Party, as political inheritor of the Old South, that found its brand constantly stained by racism. The situation flipped because national Democrats took the lead in passing all manner of pro-rights/anti-racist legislation, thus alienating a significant wing of its own party. Southern Democrats were looking for a new home, and they found it in the Republican Party.
It was an alliance made in heaven. Barry Goldwater started it, Richard Nixon accelerated it with his “Southern strategy” and Ronald Reagan sealed it when he ostentatiously announced his run for the presidency at Philadelphia, Miss., just a few miles from the spot where three civil rights activists from Freedom Rider days were murdered. The not-so-subtle dog-whistle worked. From that point on, officials and citizens of the Old South could not switch party allegiance fast enough.
Now mainstream Republicans struggle mightily to craft a national agenda that will serve all Americans with purpose and dignity. Eventually they may have to do what the Democrats did. It will not be easy with a huge portion of their adherents committed instead to reviving the Old Confederacy.