2016 — June 23, 2015 at 3:54 pm

The Confederate flag needs to go for the GOP’s new ‘Southern Strategy’


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I’m cynical. When a politician is forced to do the right thing, I’m glad and don’t really care why s/he did it.

But when I see Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus standing behind Governor Nikki Haley as she calls for the removal of the Confederate battle flag* from South Carolina’s state capital, I know something is up.

The good news is that Republicans are taking the right stand because reality demands it.

What reality? They need a “miracle” with minority voters — badly.

The party faces a 5.4 percent deficit if the Democratic nominee can replicate the Obama coalition and an even larger gap if the Republicans lose white women voters, for some reason. To win with the kind of dog-whistling politics designed primarily to win in the South, the GOP nominee would have to get a higher share of the white vote than Ronald Reagan did in 1984 as he won 48 states.

Republicans have decided they to build on the coalition that “re”-elected George W. Bush in 2004. In that election, Karl Rove combined those who supported his aggressive response to 9/11 with a huge turnout of evangelical voters, many of whom were inspired by the president’s call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and anti-same-sex marriage ballot referendums in several key swing states. Bush also won a bigger share of the minority vote than McCain or Romney.

But the conventional wisdom is the 2004 coalition wouldn’t be large enough to win in 2016. So Republicans are working on disqualifying Hillary Clinton through a Benghazi probe that’s closer to a pre-impeachement over the war in Libya than a normal Congressional inquiry. And they’re also introducing a new “Southern Strategy” that has the potential to turn one of the party’s most withering weaknesses into a strength.

Same-sex marriage will likely be legal in 50 states by the end of the month. For most Americans, this issue is settled. But the more you attend church, the less likely you are to have changed your mind on marriage.

Republicans think Americans who accept marriage will also be sympathetic to the idea that no one should be “forced” to “participate” in a “sinful” act. So expect this argument for legalized discrimination cloaked in a theological veneer to play a large role in the 2016 election.

Jeb Bush — who I’ll consider the GOP nominee until I’m proven otherwise — spent a telling chunk of his announcement speech taking Hillary Clinton out of context to blast her on religious freedom.

“Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary, those beliefs ‘have to be changed.’ That is what she said. That is what she said,” he said. “And I guess we should at least thank her for the warning.”

Obviously, he was playing into the notion of fundamentalist victimhood that will be extremely aroused by a decision expanding the freedom to marry. But he was doing it in an extremely disingenuous way, by referencing a speech in which Clinton was discussing how women and girls are allowed to participate in societies around the world.

This issue is the Secretary’s wheelhouse and harkens back to her historic 1995 “Women’s rights are human rights” speech in China. Attacking her on this is like a guy who avoided the Vietnam War attacking the record of an actual war hero. Jeb wouldn’t indulge this sort of literal nonsense lightly.

Recognizing that this attack will surface again, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta responded last Friday by putting the comments in context: “ISIS claims their religious faith justifies forcing Yazidi women in Iraq into sexual slavery. Does Gov. Bush think we should respect that practice?”

The thing to keep in mind is that Republicans don’t need to dramatically improve their share of the minority vote throughout the nation to win. They just need to do better in specific states with specific groups. And to do this they need to remove as many objections minority voters might have that won’t cost them votes they need as they can.

So burning off the Confederate flag was easy, especially with South Carolina’s crucial role as the third stop in the GOP presidential primary.

Expect the entire party to completely embrace immigration reform — with the mandatory specious “secure the border” proviso that will make reform impossible — once the nominee is settled. Then, I predict, Republicans will appeal to the devoutly religious minorities who might be shaken by the warp-speed acceptance of LGBT rights and don’t feel the loyalty to the next Democratic nominee that they felt towards President Obama.

Is it fair to call this a “Southern Strategy,” which harkens to the most risible depths of American politics? Well, opposition to gay rights is strongest in states that resisted integration and this strategy explicitly plays on denying rights to a minority group that has been reviled by the majority for generations.

What else would you call it?


*I pride myself on willingly calling any flag related to the Confederacy a “Confederate flag” because who gives a shit what Confederates think?