The Republican Party entered the political scene as the party of “free soil, free labor, and free men.” When Republican Abraham Lincoln captured the presidency, white Southerners seceded from the Union. During and after the Civil War, Republicans became the party of emancipation, a legacy that their modern-day successors like to invoke to ward off criticisms of racism (while reminding Democrats of their past hypocrisy on race).
And yet this weekend’s white supremacist campaign to defend the legacy of the confederacy in Charlottesville occurred under the banner of “Unite the Right.” The white supremacists proudly identified as part of the party that Lincoln built.
The horrific spectacle highlighted the complicated relationship that the modern Republican Party has with racial conservatives. GOP political success over the last half-century has hinged on courting white Southerners who have steadily migrated away from their ancestral Democratic home. Through a combination of racially coded phrases like states’ rights and law and order, the Republican Party has absorbed the rhetoric and ideas of the former confederacy.
With the eruption of domestic terrorism perpetrated by white nationalists in Charlottesville, the GOP stands at a crossroads. Most conservative Republicans are not racist and reject the overt bigotry on display this weekend. They understand their party as one uninterested in accepting the costs (financial, philosophical and political) of ameliorating past racial ills, rather than one advancing segregation or bigotry. (Washington Post)