The story of which this is a part goes back to the 1930s and the New Deal. No region was hit harder by the Depression than the South, and Roosevelt probably saved thousands from starvation. His relief and agricultural programs, as well as the construction of infrastructure including the Tennessee Valley Authority, benefited millions. White Southern politicians tried to keep the benefits out of the hands of blacks, but they cold not entirely do so. Until 1937, FDR's economic help trumped his wife's open sympathy for the civil rights movement. But the 1936 elections threatened the South with a terrifying prospect. For the first time in about a century, as a I learned writing my last book, the Democratic Party won majorities in Congress that did not depend on southerners. The Negro vote (as it was then called) already played an important role in northern states, and the southerners feared that FDR's activism might draw on these majorities to overturn their social order. In 1937 they immediately joined the decimated Republicans to block FDR's court packing plan, and that signaled the end of Roosevelt's legislative juggernaut. A coalition of southern Democrats and conservative Republicans was strong enough to block effective civil rights legislation for a quarter of a century.
Meanwhile, however, the federal government undertook the massive effort necessary to victory in the Second World War, and, subsequently, the construction of the permanent Cold War military establishment. Because its warm weather, the South was a preferred territory for military bases, and by the 1950s, the South was a large net gainer from its relationship to the federal government, a situation that persists today. In response to the Civil Rights movement southern politicians routinely adopted anti-government and anti-spending rhetoric, but this did not prevent them from taking more than their share of federal largesse. Politicians might rail against welfare queens and wasteful bureaucrats, but they knew how to exploit the system as well as anyone. Jesse Helms, perhaps the last overt racist in the Senate, even interceded with David Stockman to prevent cuts in the Rural Electrification Agency, whose work had been finished decades earlier, in the early Reagan years. Their constituents, who had turned decisively against the federal government when it integrated southern schools, understood this game.
All this seems to have persisted through the George W. Bush years, only to change in 2009, when the Tea Party was founded and began to take over the Republican Party in many Red states. Why? I can see only one reason: that a black man had been elected President of the United States.
The overwhelming majority of white southerners, as well as many white voters in other parts of the country, had long viewed the federal government as the patron of lazy, dependent, worthless minorities, but they tolerated this situation as long as they felt the government was still in friendly hands. This may have applied even to Bill Clinton. Yes, Toni Morrison described him as "the first black President," but he hailed from Arkansas, and he did end welfare as we knew it in 1996. But the election of "community organizer" Barack Obama meant something else. It meant, to millions of voters, that the federal government had definitely fallen under the control of lazy, dependent, worthless minority voters, and was therefore totally unworthy of respect, support, or taxpayers' money. Obama represented the coalition of leftist intellectuals and dependent citizens against which Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest had been railing for twenty years. As Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson discovered in their research on the Tea Party, older white folks were convinced that a vicious left-wing conspiracy had found a way to sneak Obama into the White House to do their bidding. Mitt Romney famously pandered to these sentiments when he spoke of the 47% of the population that paid no taxes (a lie, of course) and therefore was bound to vote for Barack Obama.
In support of my argument, I would note that Eric Cantor's defeat, it has widely been reported, reflected a view among Tea Party activists that any cooperation at all with the Administration on any issue now discredits even the most prominent Republicans. In the same way, it seems, many white Mississippians view Thad Cochran's willingness to appropriate federal funds, even for themselves, represents giving money to the enemy. Here are two quotes from Mississippi Republicans from the Times story:
“Everybody’s got their hand out like these damn people at the food stamp office,” Mr. Harris, 67, said between sips of coffee on Thursday at a local barbecue restaurant. “They’ve got to put an end to all of this spending.” Others, like Jane Buehl Coln of Olive Branch, suspect that whatever benefits have come to Mississippi have come at a steep price. “There’s no telling what kinds of liberal things he had to vote for to get those kinds of things for Mississippi — what kind of trading he had to do,” she said.
Q. E. D.
Q. E. D.
The same kind of hatred is being expressed much more openly towards immigrants. Ann Coulter bluntly argues that the Republican Party must oppose a path to citizenship for illegal aliens because they will vote Democratic. It's easy to dismiss Coulter, but it's wrong: her endorsement may have won David Brat his victory over Eric Cantor. Among the tiny minority of Americans who can win a Republican primary for the House-or even for the Senate--she and Limbaugh are powerful names to conjure with.
For the record, I still do not think that any of this would have been much different had Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, won the White House in 2008. To conservatives, she simply represents another element of the coalition of communistic intellectuals, licentious feminists, and dependent minorities that have been the enemy at least since the time of Ronald Reagan. Looking ahead, she will clearly face an even dirtier campaign than Obama did in 2016, and I do not think she can rally all of the coalition that elected him. To be quite honest, I think the Democratic Party would have its best chance not only of winning again, but of governing successfully, if their candidate were a white male. That's not bigotry on my part, it's the political realism I grew up with. "Let's get a woman on the ticket," Richard Nixon said to William Safire just before its death. "It hurts the Democrats, but it would help us." That's the kind of realism Democrats need--but they have no realistic white male candidate on the horizon.