Thursday, October 12, 2023

Kevin Price Phillips, 82, Dies; Political Analyst Predicted G.O.P. Resurgence (Sam Roberts, NY Times)

This Republican strategist stoked racism, saying the most important thing about politics is who hates whom.  I did not recall until I read this article that reactionary KEVIN PRICE PHILLIPS gave the tip to the Nixon re-election campaign that led to the burglary and illegal surveillance of Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence F. O'Brien. (Fun fact: at our St. Augustine, Florida downtown Post Office, a prominent plaque bears the names of President Lyndon Johnson and Lawrence F. O'Brien, who was Postmaster General before the reorganization created the U.S. Postal Service.)

From The New York Times: 

Kevin Phillips, 82, Dies; Political Analyst Predicted G.O.P. Resurgence

A conservative mastermind of the race-based “Southern strategy,” he later, as an author, had second thoughts after assessing income inequality under three Republican presidents.

Kevin Phillips, a dark-haired man wearing a checked sports jacket, a striped tie and glasses, sits at a typewriter in front of a bookcase.
The political commentator Kevin Phillips at his home in Bethesda, Md., in 1982. A colleague once called him “the prophet-geographer of the New Right.”Credit...Diana Walker/Getty Images

Kevin Phillips, a self-taught ethnographer whose groundbreaking findings in the mid-1960s heralded what he called an “emerging Republican majority” in national politics, based on a so-called Southern strategy that would help the party win five of the next six presidential elections, died on Monday in Naples, Fla. He was 82.

His wife, Martha Phillips, said the cause of death, in a hospice near his home, was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr. Phillips was in his late 20s when he published his first book, “The Emerging Republican Majority” (1969), which, refining earlier studies he had done, predicted a rightward realignment in national politics driven by ethnic and racial divisions and white discontent.

With that book, he emerged as an influential, if controversial, conservative theoretician. (He called himself a “political analyst,” not a strategist.) He would be credited with predicting and even masterminding the Southern strategy, which in large part enabled Richard M. Nixon to narrowly win the presidency in 1968 by appealing to the grievances of white voters in the South who had historically voted for Democrats. (Nixon said he did not read the book until after the election.)

“All the talk about Republicans making inroads into the Negro vote is persiflage,” Mr. Phillips wrote.

In what many considered a cynical calculation, he recommended that Republicans not dilute the Voting Rights Act because “the more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

“That’s where the votes are,” he added. “Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

“The whole secret of politics,” he told the journalist Garry Wills during the 1968 presidential campaign, “is knowing who hates who.” 

After Nixon was elected in 1968, Mr. Phillips was recruited as a special assistant by Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who had been Nixon’s campaign manager. But he left the administration after less than two years for a career as a political sage, through his own syndicated newspaper column and newsletter and as a television and radio commentator. 

Mr. Phillips “helped formulate the 1968 Southern strategy for the Nixon campaign, and for years his newsletter was a must-read for anyone in politics,” Edward F. Cox, the New York State Republican chairman and the former president’s son-in-law, said in an interview.

The author of 15 books, a number of which made the best-seller lists, he would popularize the term “New Right” — to distinguish “populists” like Ronald Reagan and George C. Wallace from “elitists” like Nelson A. Rockefeller, Gerald R. Ford and William F. Buckley Jr. — and coin the term “Sun Belt,” for the states from Florida to California. As destinations for many migrating white ethnic Democrats, those states, in his view, were ripe for Republican gains.

The Newsweek columnist Meg Greenfield called Mr. Phillips “the prophet-geographer of the New Right.”

The titles of his books suggest a distinct trajectory — from his view of Republican hegemony as a source of stability and order to what the historian Alan Brinkley, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called “a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness,” as exemplified in the best-selling Phillips book he was reviewing, “American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century” (2006).

A later photograph of Mr. Phillips, now gray-haired, wearing glasses, a blue blazer, a light blue shirt and no tie, sitting at a desk and once again in front of bookshelves.
Mr. Phillips in 2012. He came to change his view of Republican hegemony as a source of stability and order.Credit...Martha Phillips
A later photograph of Mr. Phillips, now gray-haired, wearing glasses, a blue blazer, a light blue shirt and no tie, sitting at a desk and once again in front of bookshelves.

Among Mr. Phillips’s other best sellers was “Wealth and Democracy” (2002), an indictment of Reagan administration policies that he said induced income inequality and represented “a plutographic revolution comparable to that of the late 19th century.” In his jeremiad “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” (2004), he accused both President George Bush and his son President George W. Bush of “favoritism toward the energy sector, defense industries, the Pentagon and the C.I.A., as well as insistence on tax breaks for the investor class and upper-income groups.”

It was a long way from “The Emerging Republican Majority.” In that first book he had written: “Liberalism has turned away from the common people and become institutionalized into an establishment. Its spokesmen are driven around in limousines and supported by rich foundations, the television networks and publishing houses, the knowledge industry, the billion‐dollar universities and the urban consulting firms which profiteer from poverty.”

His expectations of Republican supremacy through the 20th century were doomed, he later wrote, because of the Watergate scandal, which prompted Nixon’s resignation. The break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington was prompted in part by White House efforts to obtain damaging information on Lawrence O’Brien, the Democratic national chairman. Jeb Magruder, a Nixon operative, later testified that the tip about that information had come from Mr. Phillips.

A beige book cover with Mr. Phillips’s name in red letters and “The Emerging Republican Majority” in black alongside a black-and-white photo of Mr. Phillips as a young man.
Mr. Phillips’s first book, published in 1969, predicted a rightward realignment in national politics.Credit...Princeton University Press
A beige book cover with Mr. Phillips’s name in red letters and “The Emerging Republican Majority” in black alongside a black-and-white photo of Mr. Phillips as a young man.

Kevin Price Phillips was born on Nov. 30, 1940, in Manhattan. His father, William, was the chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority. His mother, Dorothy (Price) Phillips, was a homemaker.

He had his first brush with politics when he supported the presidential candidacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952; four years later, while attending the Bronx High School of Science — he would graduate at 16 — he headed the Bronx Youth Committee for Eisenhower and trumpeted the president’s re-election from a sound truck on the streets of the Bronx.

He grew up in a Manhattan that after World War II was populated by often mutually hostile ethnic groups, to none of which he fully belonged. His heritage was Irish, English and Scottish, Democratic and Republican. His father was Roman Catholic, his mother Protestant.

Feeling excluded, he turned to statistics as a teenager to look beyond the melting pot and study it scientifically. Examining the working-class Roman Catholic offspring of Irish and Italian immigrants and their counterparts of Eastern European descent, he discerned among them a growing antagonism toward the Black and Hispanic people who had become the beneficiaries of government programs.

“I guess my after-school study of ethnic political behavior was a natural progression from taking zoology in the classroom,” he told The Times in 1970.

Mr. Phillips graduated from Colgate University in upstate New York with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1961 after studying economic history during his junior year at the University of Edinburgh. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1964.

He later tested the maps and predictive voting surveys that he compiled as a 23-year-old congressional aide to Paul A. Fino, the Bronx’s last hometown Republican representative, who retired in 1968 after serving eight terms in the House.

By the time he finished working for Mr. Fino, Mr. Phillips told The Times, “You could ask me about any congressional district in the country, and I could tell you its ethnic composition, its voting history and the issues that would appeal to its electorate.”

In 1968, Mr. Phillips married Martha Henderson. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their children, Betsy Khamdiev and Andrew and Alec Phillips; seven grandchildren; and a brother, Steven.

In reviewing “American Theocracy” in the Jesuit magazine America, Olga Bonfiglio, a professor of English at Kalamazoo College in Michigan and a social justice activist, wrote: “Throughout the pages of Phillips’s book, readers will find a consistent warning undergirded by hope. It is this: Americans who believe in civil liberties, the Constitution and democratic values must pick up the leadership for the nation themselves. Relying on a savior, an Antichrist or the Democrats to fill the void will not work.”

In that book, published during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Phillips prophesied what he called an “unholy alliance” of extremist religious fundamentalism and a dependence on foreign oil and borrowed money. He invoked his first book in titling his last chapter “The Erring Republican Majority.”

“The popular conservative majority now taking shape, like past popular movements, is vulnerable to aberration,” Mr. Phillips wrote. “With its important component of military, apprehensive bourgeois and law‐and‐order‐seeking individuals, there is a proclivity toward authoritarianism and overreaction to the liberal-engendered permissiveness and anarchy of the ’60s. This is a danger the administration should watch carefully.”

A correction was made on 
Oct. 10, 2023

An earlier version of this obituary, using information from Mr. Phillips’s family, omitted the name of a survivor. In addition to those named, he is survived by a brother, Steven.

When we learn of a mistake, we acknowledge it with a correction. If you spot an error, please let us know at more

Sam Roberts, an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV. More about Sam Roberts

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 11, 2023, Section A, Page 21 of the New York edition with the headline: Kevin Phillips, 82, Who Foresaw G.O.P.’s Southern Strategy, DiesOrder Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


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