You know how much we detest Republicans for their “southern strategy” of catering to racists for their votes, codifying their language with phrases such as “states rights” in particular, as well as emphasizing “law and order”?
Dent invented the so-called southern strategy, and the first person to use it was Richard Nixon when running for president in 1968.
As the New York Times tells us here…
When President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some Republican strategists saw a potential bonanza in the South. They thought their party could reap the votes of white people uneasy with Democrats, or downright hostile to them, for advancing the cause of black people.Dent died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, as noted in the article.
(South Carolina Senator Strom) Thurmond became a Republican and campaigned for his new party’s presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, in 1964. Goldwater was beaten overwhelmingly by Johnson, but he did carry five states in the Deep South. He had campaigned in part on “states’ rights,” and he had voted against civil rights legislation, facts not lost on vote-counters in either party.
Four years later, Mr. Thurmond helped hold much of the region for Nixon by reassuring Southerners that, as president, he would not be too aggressive on civil rights issues. George C. Wallace of Alabama won five states in the Deep South, but Nixon’s strength elsewhere in the region was crucial to his narrow victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
In any event, the strategy was credited with the Nixon victory, and Mr. Dent was rewarded with a post as special counsel and political strategist to the new president. Mr. Dent worked in the White House for four years, also finding time to work on the image of his old boss Mr. Thurmond.
“We’re going to get him on the high ground of fairness on the race question,” Mr. Dent said in 1971, as Mr. Thurmond was beginning to hire black people for his staff and steer federal grants to rural black areas.
(Dent) was a lieutenant in the Army infantry during the Korean War and was a Washington correspondent for several South Carolina newspapers and radio stations before joining Mr. Thurmond’s staff (two of his brothers were killed in World War II). Mr. Dent went to law school at night, receiving a bachelor of laws degree from George Washington University and a master of laws from Georgetown University.
Mr. Dent was also an adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and the first President Bush and was for a time chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.
In 1981, Mr. Dent, a Southern Baptist deacon who did not drink or smoke, left his law practice to study the Bible. He and his wife started a lay ministry that helped build churches and orphanages in Romania after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. He was also active in religious organizations in the United States.
Reflecting on his new mission in life, Mr. Dent acknowledged in a 1981 interview with The Washington Post that he had regrets.
“When I look back, my biggest regret now is anything I did that stood in the way of the rights of black people,” he said. “Or any people.”
I honestly believe that Dent tried to make amends for his tactics on behalf of Thurmond and Nixon. He came from an entirely other generation of political operative, one that was capable of understanding the need to give something back, before the party’s foul progenies such as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove emerged from the muck to take over and carry out ever-more infamous maneuvers, remorselessly continuing to modify the template created by Dent as it suited them.
For this reason, Dent will always be associated with individuals such as Atwater and Rove. But given the other accomplishments of his life, I will always wonder whether or not he deserves it.