1828: The Democratic party is formed by supporters of President Andrew Jackson, an agrarian populist from Tennessee. The party was most popular among small farmers and unskilled workers, particularly in the South and frontier west. The Democrats competed against the Whigs, who were strongest in New England and represented the interests of the East Coast’s emerging urban middle class and financial and industrial elite.
1854: The Whigs have recently collapsed over the issue of the expansion of slavery America’s new territories to the west. The Republican Party or Grand Old Party (GOP) is founded in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin by former Whigs and anti-slavery Northern Democrats committed to halting the expansion of slavery into the new states of Kansas and Nebraska.
Map of the United States and the Confederate States of America during the Civil War
1860: Abraham Lincoln is elected the first Republican President of the United States in November on a platform of halting the further expansion of slavery, sweeping all the North bar its sole slave state of Missouri. In the following months, most of the South will secede from the Union over their right as states to practice slavery and launch the American Civil War, still the bloodiest conflict in American history.
1865: With the North having won the Civil War, the states of the now-defunct Confederacy are gradually re-admitted into the Union. White Democrats in the South brutally suppress the vote of newly freed African Americans, with the KuKluxKlan and similar terrorist organisations acting as the paramilitary wing of the Democratic party to maintain segregation and White supremacy. Almost all the South now is dominated by the Democratic party at every level of government, effectively becoming a one-party region.
While the Democrats enjoy a stronghold in the “Solid South” and among the swelling ranks of Catholic and Jewish immigrants in the cities of the industrializing North, the Republican party will dominate Presidential politics for most of the next 70 years with the support of Northern Protestants, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.
The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Marion, Indiana, 1930
1932: In the aftermath of the Great Depression, a liberal Democrat from New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) is elected President in a landslide. FDR assembles a coalition of the White working and middle classes at a time when most African Americans still lived in the South and were unable to vote. This “New Deal” coalition enabled the passage of sweeping left-wing social democratic reforms and wins most Presidential elections until 1968.
Both parties are home to prominent liberal and conservative wings. With liberal Republicans and Democrats strong in the more urbanised North East, conservative Republicans in the Mid West and conservative Democrats dominating the South. Meanwhile, African Americans have engaged in the Great Migration from the segregated rural South to cities in the North, which lasted from 1916 to 1970. Previously pro-Republican even though the vast majority were unable to vote, African Americans gradually begin to become more Democratic.
July 1964: After a great struggle, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Texas, oversees the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. First introduced by President John F. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, before his assassination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination and segregation based on race, sex or religion in education and employment. While Democrats held very large majorities in both the House and Senate, it was the Republican party which provided the bulk of House votes in favour of the bill, owing to intense opposition from Southern Democrats.
November 1964: Barry Goldwater, a leading GOP conservative and libertarian and Senator from Arizona runs as their candidate in the 1964 Presidential election. Goldwater was a vocal opponent of Republican President Eisenhower’s acquiescence to much of the New Deal in the 1950s. Although Goldwater opposed segregation, he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis that it violated states rights.
President Johnson successfully painted Goldwater as an extremist, arguing that his hyper-aggressive stance against the Soviet Union and the use of nuclear weapons could start a nuclear world war. While Goldwater was able to win all the Deep South and his home state of Arizona, he lost every other state to Johnson in the biggest landslide in modern American history. However, 1964 would be the last Presidential election where Democrats managed to win White voters, while African Americans now begin to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
1968: Due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War within his party, President Johnson decides not to run for a second full-term. Richard Nixon, a moderate Republican from California wins the 1968 Presidential election, bringing an end to the New Deal Coalition by winning the “Silent Majority” of White voters who opposed the blooming feminist, anti-war and student movements. Nixon ran a law and order campaign in response to a wave of riots and civil disobedience in Black neighbourhoods following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr that April.
While Nixon wins several states with his Southern Strategy of racial dog-whistling to appeal to ancestrally Democratic White voters in the region, much of the Deep South votes for former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who had quit the Democratic Party to run as an independent. Wallace had shot to national fame for his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” in 1963, physically blocking black students from entering the University of Alabama and fulfilling his promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, requiring JFK to send in the National Guard to force Wallace to step aside.
1972: Nixon wins his re-election in 1972 in a landslide, including the vast majority of former Wallace voters and every state in the country bar Massachusetts. The GOP begins to very slowly shed its socially liberal wing in favour of conservative White voters in the South and Catholic “White ethnic” Americans (largely of Irish, Italian, German and Polish ancestry) who are fleeing the increased diversity and now skyrocketing crime rates of Northern cities for their suburbs. Disproportionately secular and socially liberal Jewish Americans however, remain heavily Democratic-leaning to this day.
1973: The United States Supreme Court delivers a landmark ruling in Roe v Wade, upholding women’s rights to have an abortion.
1980: Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican and former Governor of California, wins the 1980 Presidential election. He gave his first campaign speech after winning the GOP nomination in Neshoba County, Mississippi, site of an infamous murder of civil rights activists in 1964, proclaiming “I believe in state’s rights”. Reagan actively courted the vote of White Evangelical Christians, organizing them for the first time into a large and highly motivated block of voters in opposition to Roe v Wade and pornography and in favour of reintroducing prayer in public schools.
Reagan is heralded as the ideological successor to the Barry Goldwater with his staunch anti-Communism and rejection of the New Deal in favour of free-market, small-government fiscal conservatism. Columnist George Will remarked after Reagan’s victory that “It took 16 years to count the votes from 1964, and Goldwater won.”
1984: Reagan wins re-election in a landslide in 1984, winning every state bar Minnesota and cementing the conservative factions takeover of the Republican party. Reagan owes his enormous to the support of the “Reagan Democrats”: socially conservative, working and middle-class “White ethnic” Democrats in the North East and Mid West who feel that their party has become too liberal since the 1960s. Macomb County, Michigan in the suburbs of Detroit comes to be identified as the epitome of Reagan Democrat country.
1990/1991: David Duke, former Grand Wizard (or leader) of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, wins the Republican primary for Louisiana’s Senate election. Duke loses, but still wins 44% of the vote. Before running again the next year for Louisiana’s Gubernatorial election, where he wins 39% of the vote. Given that Louisiana is in the racially polarised Deep South, it is almost certain that the former KKK leader won the majority of the White vote in both of these elections. The Democratic party has clearly lost its monopoly on the racist vote in the South.
Bill Clinton gives a campaign speech on law and order at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan and a Confederate monument. Standing behind him are the predominately Black inmates of a local prison
1994: President Bill Clinton, a conservative Southern Democrat from Arkansas who successfully appealed to White supremacist sentiment during his 1992 election campaign, faces his first mid-term. Democrats lose their majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, as the GOP accuses Clinton of not governing as conservative as he had promised on the campaign trail. Republicans gains were concentrated in Southern and rural seats largely held by conservative Democrats and where Clinton had performed well. Newly appointed Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a conservative firebrand from Georgia, then pursues a strategy of all-out obstructionism with his new House majority, eschewing bipartisan deal-making to reduce Clinton’s chance of re-election by denying him any chance of passing major legislation.
1998: Barry Goldwater passes away. Goldwater, once the hero of the GOP’s conservative movement, begins to distance himself from the party’s direction in the 1980s, as his liberal stances on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality came into conflict the growing stature of the Christian Right in the party. In a speech to establishment Republicans, Goldwater says “Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican party much more than the Democrats have.”
Goldwater had also given an interview to the Washington Post in 1994 where he stated: “When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like (televangelist) Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”
2008: Barack Obama wins the 2008 Presidential election, the first ever African American and first Democrat from outside the South and first liberal Democrat to do so since JFK in 1960. Obama did better among White voters in the North than any Democrat since Johnson in 1964. Yet he sheds votes among the party’s already poor post-Clinton numbers among White voters in the Deep South and heavily White and rural Appalachia, winning as few as ~15% of White voters in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
America witnesses a surge in gun sales, while Obama quickly becomes subject to a range of popular conspiracy theories among Republican voters, most notably that he is the anti-Christ, a Muslim and was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible to be President. The latter of which was propagated by New York real estate billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump. Congressional Republicans refuse to work with Obama in a bipartisan manner, aiming to reduce his chance of re-election as they attempted under Clinton.
2010: Democrats experience a huge backlash in the 2010 mid-term elections. Losing their majority in the House and wiping out most of the few remaining White Democrats in the South. Once the bastion of racist sentiment in America, the Democrats are shedding their remaining racist White voters, disproportionately without college-degrees, towards to the GOP. Republicans spend the rest of Obama’s term engaged in all-out obstructionism, bringing Congress into total gridlock and, after winning the Senate in 2014, going so far as to eventually deny Obama even a hearing on his final Supreme Court nominee.
2012: Mitt Romney fails to make Obama a one-term President, despite matching Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide margin of 60% of White voters, due to the electorates growing diversity and increased turnout among people of colour for Obama.
2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry. A devasting blow for the White Evangelical Christians, ~80% of whom now routinely vote Republican and have the highest rates of turnout in the nation. With White Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics and Mormons together accounting for the majority of Republican voters.
2016: Donald Trump wins the Republican primary by appealing to White Christian nationalist sentiment, before going on to win the Presidential election in November by taking a number of industrial states in the Mid West which hadn’t voted Republican for President since Reagan in 1984. Trump turns out and wins record numbers of White Evangelical Christians, despite his numerous personal scandals and notable lack of religiosity.
Once the party of Lincoln and abolishing slavery, the Republican party has now descended into a right-wing authoritarian reaction against the advances of Civil Rights, secularisation and the country’s first African American President. The Grand Old Party is now the party of a radicalised minority of overwhelmingly White voters who reject the direction the country has taken since the 1960s, if not the Civil War.
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