Ever since 1968, when Richard Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy for winning the White House, the GOP has used racism to beat Democrats in national elections. The thinking is that you capture the 11 states of the Old Confederacy, combine them with farm belt states, and then get enough of the industrial states to win the electoral college. This thinking has paid off in wins in every presidential election since 1968 except in 1976, 1992, and 1996. Of course, the GOP lost the popular vote in 2000, but with the aid of the Republican United States Supreme Court managed to win the electoral college.
The strategy also paid off in Congressional races, as the states of the Old Confederacy provide the GOP with 18 Republican Senators and a substantial part of its membership in the House of Representatives.
There has been, however, a political price paid for that success. In the 1960s, the GOP carried most of New England, now it is barely competitive in New England. Nixon saw California as essential to his election prospects, now a GOP candidate cannot carry California. Still, during the 40 years from 1968 to 2008, the GOP has controlled the White House 28 of those years, and controlled both Houses of Congress for 12 of those years.
Given that success, you would think that the GOP would be chomping at the bit to run against either Obama or Clinton. Yet, according to a story in Politico, GOP operatives have become concerned over the possibility that the media will call their attacks on either Obama or Clinton racist or sexist.
This is an interesting dilemma for the GOP, and of course, one of their own making. It also shows how far we have come as a society since 1968, something that those of us who are Democrats tend to overlook.
Of course, we fully believe that the GOP will overcome its reluctance to engage in negative attacks against either Clinton or Obama when faced with the possibility of losing the White House. We also think that 527 groups, created just for this election, won't be nearly as squeamish about being called racist or sexist since such groups won't have a "brand" to worry about damaging. So we still expect one bitter and divisive campaign. After all, what can the Republicans run on, the great success of the Bush presidency?