The upcoming Republican debate will take place in the state that paved the way for Donald Trump’s GOP success

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidates will debate in Tuscaloosa, not far from the location where George Wallace protested the enrollment of Black students at the University of Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. Although Wallace was a Democrat, the state is now dominated by Republicans who support Donald Trump and his emphasis on grievance and white identity politics. Trump, although not present at the debate, remains the favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2024.

The political evolution of Alabama since Wallace’s era helps explain the rise of the Republican Party and its transformation into the Party of Trump. Trump claims to advocate for all races and portrays himself as a defender of ordinary Americans neglected by Washington elites. This message resonates with conservative strongholds like Alabama.

The state’s former Republican chairwoman, Terry Lathan, noted that Alabamians do not like being told how to live, emphasizing the state’s motto: “We dare defend our rights.” While Wallace fought federal authorities on integration, Trump has appealed to culturally and religiously conservative whites with his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Republican pollster Brent Buchanan pointed out that Trump’s message offers a form of nostalgia, similar to Wallace’s approach. Both politicians tapped into the angst and anxiety felt by many voters. Alabama, historically a Democratic state, saw a shift to the Republican Party following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson.

Historian Wayne Flynt noted that Trump’s appeal mirrors Wallace’s appeal, particularly in their ability to rally support from working-class white voters. Wallace’s campaign ended after he was shot, and Trump adopted a strategy similar to Wallace’s to combat the Democratic Party. Since 1964, Alabama’s electoral votes have only gone to one Democrat: Jimmy Carter in 1976. This pattern was reinforced when Republican candidates like Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville achieved success in elections.

The current landscape of Alabama’s Republican senators, Tuberville and Britt, reflects the divide within the Republican Party, similar to the division in the Democratic Party during Wallace’s time. The influence of Donald Trump in today’s politics is undeniable, with his impact shaping the direction of the Republican Party.

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