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The GOP's Southern Strategy lives on

I can't help but find the GOP leadership's outrage at Donald Trump's initial refusal to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan disingenuous.

Lest we forget, the Republican Party started what later became known as the "Southern Strategy" in 1964 when Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act and won five southern states away from the Democrats. The approach fed on the resentment of whites who opposed integration, school busing and other civil rights advancements, using race as a wedge issue to appeal to white southern voters. Richard Nixon adopted it for his 1968 presidential campaign and used voter prejudice to effectively flip the South, which had been solidly Democratic since the Civil War, to the Republican Party.

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We should also remember that Ronald Reagan used the Southern Strategy in his first run for the presidency. He kicked off his general election campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers had been killed 16 years earlier, at the Neshoba County Fair, which is known for hosting diatribes by segregationist politicians. His message there — "I believe in states' rights" — was also taken to mean he wanted a return to pre-civil rights days.

Remember also in 1981 that the late Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater explained in an interview with a Case Western Reserve University political scientist how Republicans could win the votes of racists without resorting to overt racism:

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"You start out in 1954 by saying, '[N-word, N-word, N-word].' By 1968 you can't say '[N-word]'— that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. ... 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than '[N-word, N-word].'"

We should remember too, George H.W. Bush, who, in his own run for president in 1988, thought it was a good idea to exploit racial fears with the notorious Willie Horton ad about a black prisoner who raped a white woman.

His son, George W. Bush also had no problem appearing at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., at a time when the school was unapologetically discriminatory.

And remember 2008, when Americans elected our first black president, conservative Republicans inflamed racial fears with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy and the false accusations that President Barack Obama wasn't born in America and that he was a Muslim. GOP leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell could have discouraged the demonizing slurs, but they did not.

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And what do we make of the Republican push to restrict turnout with voter ID laws, ending voting day registration and early voting restrictions?

Republicans have not only admitted the Southern Strategy existed but have apologized for it. On July 14, 2005, Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, told the NAACP national convention in Milwaukee that it was "wrong."

"By the '70s and into the '80s and '90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out," Mr. Mehlman said. "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."

And in April 2010, Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said during a speech at DePaul University, "For the last 40-plus years we had a Southern Strategy that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South."

Yet it appears to continue today. One element of the racism in the Southern Strategy — anti-immigration extremism — is highlighted by the Southern Poverty Law Center Spring 2016 Intelligence Report. It states that the "number of 'nativist extremist' groups dropped in 2015, but the slight decline was not a reflection of diminishing hatred directed at immigrants to the United States. What appears to have happened is that figures in the political mainstream, along with numerous state legislatures, have essentially co-opted the issue, making the nativist extremist groups' activism unnecessary."

So dog-whistle politics and racial resentments have become the mainstay of Republican strategy, with the latest targets being extremist groups — be they religious or anti-government — who can be inflamed by hot button issues. This faction now threatens to take over the traditional conservative Republican Party. The question is whether the GOP will let them do it.

We should think long and hard about what it means to win at any price.

Kenneth Buck is a retired federal law enforcement officer. His email is kpbuck@verizon.net.

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