In 1981, the legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater, after a decade as South Carolina’s most effective Republican operative, was working in Ronald Reagan’s White House when he was interviewed by Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University.
In this audio, made public for the first time ever in 2012, Atwater lays out how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves.
James Carter IV, the same researcher responsible for revealing Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks dug up the entire forty-two minute interview detailing the Republican strategy for winning the vote of racists without appearing to be racist themselves.
In November of 2012, Rick Perlstein of The Nation presented this exclusive piece, noting that the interview had become a kind of smoking gun for liberals and progressives, “enraged by the way Republicans never suffer the consequences for turning electoral politics into a cesspool.”
In the interview, below, the legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—-r, n—-r, n—-r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—-r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—-r, n—-r.”
Noting that the interview “shows Atwater acting yet again in bad faith,” Perlstein writes:
In the lead-up to the infamous remarks, it is fascinating to witness the confidence with which Atwater believes himself to be establishing the racial innocence of latter-day Republican campaigning: “My generation,” he insists, “will be the first generation of Southerners that won’t be prejudiced.” He proceeds to develop the argument that by dropping talk about civil rights gains like the Voting Rights Act and sticking to the now-mainstream tropes of fiscal conservatism and national defense, consultants like him were proving “people in the South are just like any people in the history of the world.”
You can listen to the full interview, below: