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Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse
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Yes, it *is* a silly argument!

That's why it's not an argument actual historians and political scientists make, but rather one partisan hacks use as a straw man.
It's absolutely true that only a small number of southern Democratic congressmen switched parties while in office.

I mean, this is the whole reason why Strom Thurmond's switch was such a huge deal at the time. It was historic because it was rare!
Conservative speculated at the time, like William F. Buckley here, that other southern Democrats might follow Thurmond to the GOP, but only if -- and it was a *huge* if -- they were allowed to maintain their seniority, and all the congressional perks and power that came with it.
Such grand plans were floated repeatedly across the late 1960s -- here's another one from 1969 below.

But they always fell apart on the issue of southern Democrats' seniority.

Without the same guarantees that Thurmond had been given, no senior southern Dems would jump.
Instead, the old Dixiecrats stayed put in the party.

But they encouraged the next generation of white conservatives in the South start their careers in the GOP.
Here's a thread I did on the first wave of southern Republican congressmen elected in 1964.

They were all former Democrats who jumped to the GOP over the Civil Rights Act, who then voted against the Voting Rights Act and opposed civil rights activists.
As I noted in this thread, that first generation set the pace for future Republicans in the region -- sparking the political careers of prominent figures like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions.
Over the coming years, countless other white southern conservatives -- who had started their political careers as strategists and aides for Dixiecrat congressmen -- ran for office themselves as Republicans.
Trent Lott had been an aide to the William Colmer, a Dixiecrat who stayed a Democrat because his seniority there made him the head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Colmer chose Lott to succeed him in 1972, but had him run as a Republican.
Same with Jesse Helms, who like Lott won a seat for the House as a Republican in 1972, after an early career helping segregationist southern Dems:
This is how the party realignment of white southern conservatives happened in Congress -- in fits and starts, over several decades of time.


That's not the only way realignment took place.
Governors, for instance, could switch more easily.

In Virginia, Dem. Gov. Mills Godwin, an outspoken leader of segregationist resistance, switched parties and won re-election as a Republican in 1973.
Even Alabama Governor George Wallace pursued switching parties in 1964, seeking to serve as Barry Goldwater's running mate:
Party switching for other statewide officials was more common.

In 1968, for instance, five of the top officeholders in Georgia switched from the Democrats to the Republicans:
Indeed, as Eric Schickler argues convincingly in this new book, these switches at the state and local level preceded the more visibie switches of national leaders:…
Party realignment was a slow, convoluted process that stretched from the 1930s through the early 1990s, unfolding case by case, in fits and starts.

Again, the idea that everything changed in a flash in 1964 *is* silly. That's why it's only used by hacks as a cheap straw man.
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