The Southern Strategy

Speaker of the House Michael Johnson is the latest product of Richard Nixon, Kevin Phillips and what we now refer to as “the Southern Strategy.”

Speaker Johnson is an avowed Christian Nationalist, an Evangelical who attributes his election as Speaker to God.

Johnson was formerly counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund–a far-right, Christianist organization deeply committed to the culture wars. (He authored the ADF’s brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, representing the baker who argued that baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding would violate his religious freedom.)

As many media outlets have reported, Johnson was counsel to Louisiana Right to Life before starting his own legal firm, Freedom Guard, to “defend religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family.”

After the Supreme Court decided Obergefell, Johnson wrote for the magazine of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis that Christians would be increasingly “pressured to choose between their conscience and conformity.” He urged readers to read the Bible to discover “how God intends for us to live out our faith in a hostile world.” And “despite the radical secularists’ efforts to convince the public otherwise,” he argued, “it is not ‘bigotry’ to remind people of God’s claims on our lives and biological reality.” He also offered free legal services, through Freedom Guard, to any government officials, like justices of the peace, who feared they would “compromise their faith by issuing marriage licenses or solemnizing marriages under circumstances that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

There’s much more (he’s also a Young Earth climate denialist), but why do I connect his  theocracy to the Southern Strategy? Answer: because it is all cut from the same cloth–the conviction that God intended America to be dominated/ruled by White (“European”) Christians.

Jamille Bouie outlined the Southern Strategy in an essay for the New York Times.

Phillips had worked as a strategist on Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, the experience of which supplied much of the material for his book. His argument was straightforward: Nixon’s victory wasn’t just a momentary triumph but the beginning of an epochal shift in American politics, fueled by a latent conservatism among many members of the white middle class. These voters were repulsed, Phillips wrote, by the Democratic Party’s “ambitious social programming and inability to handle the urban and Negro revolutions.”

The latter point was key. “The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it,” Phillips declared. “The Democratic Party fell victim to the ideological impetus of a liberalism which had carried it beyond programs taxing the few for the benefit of the many (the New Deal) to programs taxing the many on behalf of the few (the Great Society).”

If one tallied Nixon’s share of the national popular vote, at 43.5 percent, and added it to the share won by the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, at 13.5 percent, then you had, in Phillips’s view, the makings of a conservative majority.

The Republican Party was revamped to wage culture war, to appeal to voters who see the world as an existential struggle between “us” and “them.”  The Southern Strategy defined “us” as White and “them” as people of color, and that racist element remains central, but it has been joined by bigotries against a wide variety of other “thems.” Jews, of course (history’s most durable villains); Muslims, LGBTQ people…Anyone who isn’t a White Christian Nationalist.

Every credible academic study done after the 2016 election confirmed the importance of racism to Trump’s (Electoral College) victory. Every subsequent poll and/or study has corroborated the deep divisions between values held by ordinary Americans and those held by respondents who self-describe as White Evangelical Christians.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Kevin Phillips reportedly told the journalist Garry Wills,“The whole secret of politics is knowing who hates who.”

Before he died, Phillips became a fierce critic of the Republican Party he’d done so much to create, but by then, hate had become part of the party’s DNA. As Bouie concluded his essay,

The Republican Party did not just win the white South in the years and decades after Phillips wrote “The Emerging Republican Majority.” Nor did it just become the party of the white South — or at least its most conservative elements. No, what happened is that the Republican Party Southernized, with a politics and an ideology rooted in some of the most reactionary — and ultimately destructive — tendencies of that political tradition.

So here we are– with a Speaker of the House who fully embraces those destructive, reactionary beliefs–a Speaker intent upon substituting White Christian Nationalism for a Constitution profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment.

It’s not a good omen….


  1. Yes. Mike Johnson is the latest result of our original sin: slavery. The American cultural animus of people of color is among the sorriest on the planet because our backward, reactionary Republican party uses it to win elections. Governing by these ideologues? Not so much.

    So, the Republican party has stopped hiding its racist and hateful colors and now thumps its chest about being the second coming of fascist tyranny. All in the name of God, of course. It doesn’t get more perverse than that. These whackos are NOT conservative… unless they are dedicated to the concept of “conserving” hate and bigotry.

    Now that the “other” population is about to cross the 50% line, it’s necessary that these and every other thinking person get off their asses on election day and vote these monstrosities out of power. If not, the 25% tyranny will finish the job of destroying our democracy. One only has to look at the DeSantis bulldozer is doing in Florida to see chapter #1.

  2. As a retired but passionately committed, non-religious biomedical scientist, I am concerned about what the CRT (Christianish Right Takeover) means for the future of federal research agencies (FDA, NIH, NSF, NASA, et al.) and their support for funding of academic and industrial research. Any agency or function not based on belief that the Earth is 5000 years old, humans coexisted with dinosaurs, climate change is a hoax, and every word of the King James Bible is literally true is ar risk of starvation if not execution. Much hangs in the balance, including our nation’s economy and standing as global leader in science and technology. How about killing off that atheistic, anti-religious, communistic, anti-CRT conspiracy PBS? The temperature over Carl Sagan’s grave must be approaching the boiling point as he spins in his coffin(or urn?).

  3. I cannot imagine a better website than this one to understand the current world, politically, legally, intellectually, and from diverse perspectives.

  4. All I can say is the Republican party’s Johnson is on full display for everyone to see.

  5. With the withdrawal of Mike Pence from the presidential race the position of late night tv’s “chief buffoon” goes to the new speaker, Mike Johnson. If last nights offerings are any example of what is to come, Johnson is in for a world of much deserved ridicule.
    Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

  6. “German newsweekly Der Spiegel wrote that Calvinist ideals spurred the British on to becoming a major world power. From the 19th century, the growing political strength of the United States, Germany, and Great Britain became a force for social renewal. Equality of opportunity for all was emphasized. Eddies within the mainstream of the Reformation are regarded by some as being precursors of modern socialism. A political awareness of social responsibility paved the way for the welfare state. Especially in Protestant surroundings, civil authorities gradually took over control of the legal aspects of birth, death, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The availability of divorce and legal abortion in Catholic countries is now often quite different from that in Protestant lands.”

    “Religion often goes beyond its spiritual mandate, confusing the cloak of office with the cloth of ordination, the crown with the miter, the scepter with the cross. Some years ago the Observer Sunday newspaper raised the question as to whether politicians in Ireland were prepared to take over from the priests the running of the country. Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt commented on religious interference in politics by saying, “I do not believe that this can be permitted indefinitely.” And Le Figaro of Paris accused the church of “meddling in politics” so much that “it is in danger of seeing politics meddle with religion.” From India to Egypt to the United States, from Poland to Nicaragua, from Malaysia to Chile, the weary struggle between politics and religion goes on.”

    So, is the breaking point here yet? If it isn’t, it’s really really close!

  7. What Mike Johnson calls religious freedom is, of course, not freedom at all. It is religious tyranny. If allowed to occur it would set the stage for civil war because the majority of Americans are NOT Christian fundamentalists.

    Therein lies my optimism that majority rule and the rule of law, the Constitution, are in agreement and that his vision for the future is doomed to failure. The question then is whether the war will be fought with weapons in our streets or with words in our courts.

    The next round of elections will probably answer that question.

  8. My hope is that Johnson, and what he stands for, will motivate the people who resent what SCOTUS did to Roe beyond their current ire, and kick the crazies out of congress in ’24.

  9. As long as the fascist southern evangelical leaders are able to convince their least educated parishioners to keep tithing at least 10% of their earnings to the church so they can be saved from going to hell, those leaders will become louder and louder. They will continue to demand that EVERYONE in this country live under their rule.

    I’m not sure that their more educated youth will have enough time to run away from that hell or demand change before the older generations manage to achieve their theocratic takeover via the supreme court. I can no longer capitalize the S in supreme when referring to the current bastardized right wing highest court.

    In the news this morning: OB-GYNs have been abandoning their practices in Idaho to move to other states and those specializing in high-risk pregnancies were some of the first to leave. These specialists do not want to risk losing their medical license while providing necessary care under Idaho’s strong anti-abortion ruling.

    How long will it take Indiana’s right-wing legislature to realize the damage they’ve caused our state? How many current OB-GYN’s will leave our state within the next 2-3 years and how many current IU Medical School students choosing to specialize in OB-GYN will leave after graduation? Even worse – how many students that wanted to specialize in OB-GYN will now choose another specialty?

  10. Sharon – Johnson most likely has the supreme court on his side and a lot of damage can be done before the next election.

  11. Nancy: And with such professional shortages, poor pregnant women who are forced to carry a brainless fetus to term cannot afford to hop a plane to a state where their reproductive care is not the victim of God’s will (which is in truth the will of precinct captains and insurance salesmen posing as state legislators). Dobbs was wrongly decided. Women’s right to reproductive health, in my opinion, is one of those inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution beyond the reach of legislation or even Supreme Court holding, one of those fundamental rights Sheila discussed recently immune to conventional control by government.

    I marvel at the audacity of those who tell us what God thinks in re unaddressed matters in their bible such as, inter alia, women’s reproductive care, an omission which they have cured with their own moralistic view while telling us their view is God’s view. I have also have a problem in trying to understand how another unaddressed problem in scripture, cake baking, can afford a setting for violation of anyone’s freedom of religion. I’ve a feeling, if there is a God, that he, she or it is a pragmatist and that he, she or it expected humans to use reason in managing the details of socialization.

    Being effectively forced to carry a brainless fetus to term is not reasonable by any standard, moral or otherwise.

  12. One thing that worries me is the current state of the Democratic Party. It seems to be fracturing into its various parts. The war in the Middle East is having an effect on the party. Part of the problem seems to be Biden’s full throated support for Israel. That wouldn’t be so bad, if there were as full throated support for more aid to Gaza. What’s happening there is horrible. Since half of the population is under18, that means that many of those killed in the bombardment are children. Golda must be rolling in her grave!

    I know that the October 7 attack was horrific. Does Israel have to be even more horrific as it seeks vengeance? Dropping leaflets telling everyone to leave when you know there is no place to go seems to stretch the concept of fair warning. What will it take to stop the carnage and come to the table and find a path to peace.

  13. Doesn’t Mike Johnson realize that if we allow our government to convert/force all Americans to obey his religious tenets, that the government then has the power to rid all of any religion? He should be thankful that he can believe what he wants in this country, but he has to learn not to
    to impose his religious beliefs on others. A stay in your lane class is needed for these elected officials.
    I’m glad Kamala Harris will preside over the certification of votes in 2024 in case there’s a repeat of the fraudulent attempts to change the outcome if the Republican candidate doesn’t win.
    Another factor that contributed to the 2016 presidential outcome was sexism, Magas would rather have an incompetent, corrupt grifter man over a highly qualified, connected and intelligent woman.
    Enough of Magas stupid un-American activities in the heart of our government causing chaos and division. Vote them out and lock them up!

  14. Johnson is a wild-eyed maniac in a Brooks Brothers suit. Well crafted appearance, horrific reality. Happy Halloween. The monster is indeed going to get us.

  15. Gerald – you mentioned marveling at the audacity of those who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what the bible says. I would wager that many of them only know what they have been told it says and have never really studied the bible themselves or they would know that they’ve either been misled or they are incapable of reading comprehension.

    Either way, those (mostly) white males have been raised to believe that God proclaimed that they should have complete power over everyone else and even though Christianity did not exist in the old testament (or new testament) they always refer to their perverted interpretations of old testament books when claiming religious liberty. Never mind that the books of the bible have been revised/reinterpreted more than 400 times and that many of those interpretations were created to suit the demands of their leaders at the time. Sigh….

  16. Nancy, Johnson is terrible, for sure. But, I am choosing to look at it more positively. First, since Biden can veto bills, there isn’t much he can actually do legislation-wise. Second, if Johnson behaves truly awfully, and he may, then that could galvanize the reaction of our side, and maybe jeopardize various seats won by Republicans in Biden areas. It’s possible, we gain a few seats directly because of him. (McCarthy’s bland, ineffectual incompetence didn’t provoke this reaction.)

    Peggy, it feels to me like the tide is turning a bit. Fox and right-wingers have always equated criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, quite purposefully. Similarly, for support for the people of Palestine. As a result, people tend to react as many reacted when this horrible attack occurred; they supported Israel unquestioningly. This applied to the politicians, as well. They were fractured as were all people. I hope the trend toward reasonable consideration of all actions in this conflict continues. The Palestinians have been abused for decades despite the fact they were already there when the country was formed. Netanyahu has been escalating the abuses during his tenures, and is taking his opportunity for “cleansing” now. These are war crimes we’ve been witnessing, not just now but for decades.

    Personally, I want a ceasefire and a resolution. I don’t want any innocents on either side to have to face terror, pain and death. I don’t even want the members of Hamas or the Israeli forces to face this, either. It’s inhuman, or at least it should be. I am truly heartened by the various protests that are happening around the world in support of the general Palestinian population, some of them made up largely of Jews. And I need this; the world can seem awfully dark sometimes.

  17. One last thing (which I’ve said before), the setup of the antisemitic label–the framing of the issue–is making everyone be extremely careful with their words. This is especially true of politicians. Even Bernie Sanders infuriatingly avoided the word “ceasefire”, and instead called for a “humanitarian pause” in fighting.

    Criticism of the Israeli government’s actions–its inhumane war crimes–is NOT antisemitic.

  18. John S,

    Christian Post? Lol, what are you thinking man. They don’t have one morsel of Christ in their brand of Christianity.

  19. I loved all of the comments I read. Thank you so much. We have a busy road ahead of us. I know too many uninformed and those that are so called believers. Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” These people are the same. Love one another. Is so important and most so called Christians understand that it only mean….their small group.

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