Everyone sees there is no secret to Donald Trump’s electoral success. He’s applying a very old campaign tactic that has served the Republican Party well for 50 years. We know it as the Southern Strategy.
But most descriptions of that old tactic are not quite accurate. It’s said to be a tactic for winning votes based on appeals to racism. That’s an over-simplification.
More accurately, the Southern Strategy is an appeal to knee-jerk reactions that include racist reactions. We saw Sen. Mitch McConnell appeal to knee-jerk reactions when he bashed the Environmental Protection Agency instead of offering a jobs-development plan. Now, we see Gov. Matt Bevin stoking evangelical anger over LGBT civil rights instead of promoting civility and dialogue.
Trump is trying something more innovative. He’s tapping into knee-jerk reactions that the GOP has tried hard to ignore: anger over job losses and wage decline blamed on bankers, Wall Street, working immigrants and trade agreements.
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Times have changed. When Harvey Sloane called McConnell the servant of big money in 1990, McConnell immediately countered that Sloane was “waging class warfare.” That’s all it took to shut down the issue. McConnell is holding his tongue this year.