Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan has written a new book which attempts to whitewash the divisive racial tactics used during President Nixon's presidential campaigns, strategies that Buchanan himself helped devise.
In his syndicated column previewing the book, The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, Buchanan recites the history of racism within the Democratic Party, then proceeds to present President Richard Nixon as a champion of racial equity. Buchanan claims, “Nixon won the South not because he agreed with them on civil rights--he never did--but because he shared the patriotic values of the South and its antipathy to liberal hypocrisy.”
For years, right-wing media have tried to rewrite the history of the civil rights era to reflect less terribly on the conservative movement. Conservatives have sought to downplay Rev. Martin Luther King's progressive worldview and minimize the roles of Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the passage of civil rights legislation, while ignoring the conservative movement's efforts to block those laws.
Buchanan worked as an opposition researcher for Nixon's campaign in 1968, and then became an adviser to Nixon in the White House. Buchanan helped to devise the “Southern Strategy,” which was focused on smashing the New Deal coalition that had elected Democrats to the White House in 1960 and 1964 by overwhelming margins. It sought to do so by appealing directly to voters by attacking the anti-war left and by courting racist voters.
In 2008, Buchanan gave The New Yorker's George Packer a 1971 memo he wrote for Nixon laying out the strategy to divide the Democratic Party's voters. In the memo, Buchanan said that “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” and “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” The goal of this according to the memo was to “cut the Democratic Party and country in half” so that Republicans “would have far the larger half.”
Buchanan also told Packer that he discussed a “new majority” with Nixon which would include “Wallace Democrats in the South,” which was an explicitly pro-segregation voting bloc. As Wallace '68 campaign staffer Tom Turnipseed told PBS, “race and being opposed to the civil rights movement and all it meant was the very heart and soul of the Wallace campaign.”
Buchanan advised Nixon not to visit the widowed Coretta Scott King in 1969, a year after Martin Luther King's assassination, because “it would outrage many, many people” and described the slain civil rights leader as “one of the most divisive men in contemporary history.”
In a 1971 memo to Nixon, Buchanan worried that efforts at integration were doomed to failure because blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and it would produce “perpetual friction” when “the incapable are played consciously by government side by side with the capable.”
Nixon's political strategist, Kevin Phillips, elaborated on the strategy in a 1970 interview with the New York Times, arguing that Republicans shouldn't seek to weaken enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
In addition to the divisive racial politics of his political apparatus, President Nixon was recorded on his own clandestine audio recording system making disparaging remarks about African-Americans, Jews, and the Irish. In an audio recording from 1971, Nixon said, "[Mexicans] don't live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like."
Given his own history, Buchanan is uniquely ill-suited to absolve anyone of bigotry.
For example, in a 2008 column, Buchanan put an absurdly positive spin on the heinous slave trade: “America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”
Buchanan has repeatedly attacked immigrants, complained there were too many Jewish people on the Supreme Court, appeared on “pro-white” radio shows, argued that “both sides were right” in the Civil War, and argued that America “has been a country built, basically, by white folks.”
After Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election, Buchanan called for a new “southern strategy” which would increase turnout by Republican voters by demanding “the sealing of America's borders against any and all intruders.”