When Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act that June, GOP leaders said he'd never get the 1964 GOP presidential nod. He did. Outside the South, the anti black segment of the nation had already gravitated to the GOP. Goldwater's self described vote against was based on principles of states rights and anti governmental intervention, not racism. But bigots knew the 'code' and rallied to the charge, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice", pushing Goldwater to the GOP pinnacle. Moderates in the GOP, like Nelson Rockefeller, were no longer welcome. .
Inside the South, white supremacist Democrats ruled the racist Solid South for a century, creating a two headed Democratic Hydra; Southern Dems championing segregation, the rest pushing black civil rights and equality. President Johnson, a New Deal Democrat from Texas who never bought into white supremacy, used his accidental presidency to pass the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts, destroying de jure segregation and black vote suppression.
After passage of the '64 Act, LBJ said, "I know this will cost us votes in the South." But even Johnson underestimated the transformation. A year earlier, white supremacist SC senator Strom Thurmond, took his racism to the GOP. Over the years, nearly every other Southern Senate and House seat flipped to the GOP, becoming a home for the previously Democratic racists.
Richard Nixon exploited this trend, concocting his "Southern Strategy" to grab the presidency in 1968. He courted Thurmond, won his endorsement, and by extension, put the South in the GOP camp for the following 47 years (with a couple of defections for Obama in 2008 and 2012).
Ronald Reagan, as savvy as they come, learned the drill, kicking off his successful 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, MS, home of the infamous triple killing of civil rights workers in 1964. Reagan's pitch? states rights.
And in 2015, we learn more every day about the white supremacist tentacles poisoning the GOP. The hate group Council of Conservative Citizens, a mentor of mass murderer Dylann Roof, has given some of its $57,000 in donations to four GOP presidential aspirants, as well as a number GOP congressmen. The Council as been addressed by top GOP leaders including former Senate leader Trent Lott and former Republican National Chairman and presidential contender Haley Barbour.
Now, GOP leaders are scurrying like rats on a drowning ship to disavow the Council and its symbol of slavery, racism, and sedition: the Confederate Flag. SC Gov. Nikki Haley, who waffled at first, gets kudos for coming out strongly for taking down Dylann Roof's favorite logo ware from the Capitol grounds. But even Haley is tainted by the Council, having had one of its members on her campaign advisory committee. We don't know exactly what he advised the governor, but it surely wasn't about outreach to the black community.
From whining that the mass murder was not about race but either 'religious liberty', a crazed loner, or even 'gun control', the GOP is starting to get the message: soft racism to win elections only works under cover of darkness. Dylann Roof's deadly rampage has turned a light on the GOP that will shine long after the sparks of his deadly gunfire. That should be his fitting legacy.