Lydia DePillis: The GOP Can’t Afford to Ignore Cities Anymore
Lydia DePillis is a staff writer for The New Republic.
...CONSERVATIVES, BY NOW, should be very comfortable with adapting to changing demographics. They've done it before. Back in the 1960s, inner cities were on the decline, their white residents high-tailing it for the urban fringe. Democrats responded with a war on poverty. Richard Nixon, by contrast, saw an opening.
"[Republicans] recognized the same problems. They didn’t see them as something to be solved, but something to be exploited," explains Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse. Kevin Phillips' seminal 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority outlined a "southern strategy" to wrest white people away from the Democrats—by demonizing the black inner cities. "If you look at who he's talking to, it's a 'suburban strategy,'" says Kruse.
In the 1970s, Nixon followed up with a battery of policies designed to re-segregate the American landscape, most effectively through Supreme Court nominees who ruled against busing for educational diversity and upheld discriminatory zoning ordinances. The approach was validated in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the presidency without carrying a single major city. From then on, the GOP and cities seemed to be antithetical: A party that believes government is the problem won't find support where people rely on government for everyday services....
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