Now that the general election campaign has started, there is a great deal of talk about the GOP’s “Southern Strategy.” Many accounts say that the strategy was responsible for electing Nixon in 1968 and thus became the template for Republican presidential politics. But the story of 1968 is more complicated than that.
During his nomination campaign, Nixon indeed courted Strom Thurmond, John Tower, and other Southern Republican leaders. In the general election campaign, he competed with George Wallace for the votes of white Southerners. The South, however, was only part of his November strategy. He ended up carrying only two Southern states that he had not won in 1960: North and South Carolina. He got a total of 57 electoral votes from states of the Old Confederacy, compared with 111 from what are now “blue states” in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast. He also made a serious effort in New York, where he took a respectable 44 percent to Humphrey’s 50 percent.
In short, Nixon had a national strategy, not just a Southern strategy.