Racism and Fear: Why Republicans Will Lose
Op Ed from the GOP on how they tried this tactic before and lost
I have been a Republican for decades.
I was raised and educated in the rural South in the early 1940s. As a Jew, I was beaten up in schoolyards because of my religion. Another thing that set me apart from many of my fellow Long Island Republicans: My father was an outspoken Republican who idolized President Abraham Lincoln and wore a "Win With Willkie" button.
I was educated at a segregated university with strict quotas: 20 Jews a year and no Negroes or women. After my discharge from the Army in 1954, I moved to New York and joined the then-flourishing Nassau County Republican Party. Its euphoria lasted until A. Holly Patterson announced he would not run again for county executive and proposed Robert W. Dill to run in his place in the 1961 election.
Since President John F. Kennedy in 1962 had proposed legislation to end housing discrimination, Dill felt he had a campaign issue: Fear. The Nassau GOP chose to support Dill’s call to fight "those who would do us harm." He called Democrats "pigs." So then-Democratic Party Chairman John English populated Dill’s rallies with people in pig masks. Our campaign started sounding like an infantile warning of "an invasion of the suburbs by people we don’t want as our neighbors." Despite a 2-1 Republican enrollment margin, Democrat Eugene H. Nickerson won. For the first time, Nassau County would be governed by Democrats.
In 1964, I watched as Republicans booed Nelson Rockefeller off the convention stage while he attempted to denounce extremism and racial injustice. New York’s proposed platforms, endorsing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and denouncing extremism, were voted down. Sen. Barry Goldwater was our nominee. His campaign appealed to our tribal prejudices. He took up the "law and order" mantle, but he carried only his home state of Arizona and five Southern states. In Nassau, his appeal to suburban fear did not work. President Lyndon Johnson carried Nassau, and Democrats gained control of our congressional delegation and made inroads into our state legislative delegation. Joe Carlino, our Republican county chairman and speaker of the Assembly, was defeated.
This year, we have seen protesting, looting and arson in several U.S. cities. They are not nearly as violent as the "long hot summer" of 1967. In that troubled year, Ralph Caso, the presiding supervisor of Hempstead Town, should have run against Nickerson. When Caso refused, the party nominated me.
Nickerson had won in 1964 by some 90,000 votes. The GOP pollsters told us that 80% of Nassau residents were opposed to school busing, and that Democrats could be beaten if we played the race card. Both Ed Speno, the Nassau Republican chairman, and I refused. We were determined to win by promising budget reforms, espousing Republican principles of limited government and planning for Nassau’s future. I lost that election, but the Nassau GOP defeated Democratic incumbents in all other races and preserved the credibility of our party.
Republicans believe in the Constitution, and reject authoritarian takeover of the government. The driving force of authoritarianism is fear — fear of the other, fear of economic insecurity, fear of being subjected to foreign ideas, fear of having our way of life destroyed.
I know party discipline requires endorsing President Donald Trump. I also know he counts on the suburban vote to win reelection. But he is pursuing a dangerous path by stoking racism and fear. Not only will this be anathema to Long Island voters, but those candidates who embrace this approach will do themselves and this nation a grievous disservice — and they will probably lose.
Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge of New York State, is a distinguished adjunct professor at Touro Law School.