Republican strategist | “The Architect” of the “Southern Strategy” & neo-con movement
St Mathews , SC ( Feb. 21, 1930-Sept. 28, 2007)
Most noted for devising the “Southern strategy” that was crucial to Richard M. Nixon’s winning the White House. Dent was “the architect” and Lee Atwater “the practitioner.”
Dent was born in St. Matthews the son of Hampton N. and Sallie P Dent. He had four brothers. He attended high school in St. Matthews and, graduated cum laude from Presbyterian College in Clinton in 1951. He was as eagle Scout and a member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternnity.
He was a lieutenant in the Army infantry during the Korean War and was a Washington correspondent for several South Carolina newspapers (including columnist for The Orangeburg Times and Democrat) and radio stations before joining the staff of US Senator Strom Thurmond.
In the 1950s, Dent joined Thurmond’s staff (1955-65). Thurmond was then a Democrat and had run for president as a segregationist Dixiecrat in 1948.
Dent went to law school at night, receiving a bachelor of laws degree from George Washington University (1957) and a master of laws from Georgetown University (1959).
When President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some Republican strategists saw a voter windfall in the South with the belief that their party could reap the votes of white people uneasy with Democrats, or downright hostile to them, for advancing the cause of black people.
Thurmond became a Republican and campaigned for his new party’s presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, in 1964.
Goldwater was beaten overwhelmingly by Johnson, but carried five states in the Deep South. He had campaigned in part on “states’ rights,” and he had voted against civil rights legislation, facts not lost on vote-counters in either party.
Four years later, Thurmond helped hold much of the region for Nixon by reassuring Southerners that, as president, he would not be too aggressive on civil rights issues. George C. Wallace of Alabama won five states in the Deep South, but Nixon’s strength elsewhere in the region was crucial to his narrow victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
Dent has been described as having helped articulate the Southern strategy. Its detractors call it racism cloaked in code words like “law and order.” He was dubbed the “Southern-fried Rasputin” by political adversaries. But the strategy was hailed by allies for setting the “gold standard” for the GOP. Its advocates still call it a legitimate appeal to people left on the sidelines while other groups benefit from affirmative action and government aid programs.
In any event, the strategy was credited with the Nixon victory, and Dent was rewarded with a post as Deputy Counsel to Nixon in 1969 and special counsel and political strategist to the new president (1969-72). Dent worked in the White House for four years, also finding time to work on the image of his old boss Thurmond.
“We’re going to get him on the high ground of fairness on the race question,” Dent said in 1971, as Thurmond was beginning to hire black people for his staff and steer federal grants to rural black areas.
In 1972, he accepted the position of general counsel to the Republican National Committee (1973-74).
In 1974, after he had left the administration, Dent pleaded guilty to aiding an illegal fund-raising operation (Watergate scandal “Operation Townhouse”) organized by the White House. He complained that he had pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor because he was sure he would not receive a fair trial in the post-Watergate era. A federal judge described Dent as “more of the victim than the perpetrator” and placed him on one month’s unsupervised probation.
Dent was also an adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and the first President Bush. He served on the Republican National Committee Campaign Advisory Committee (1977), and was for a time chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.
In 1981, Dent, a Southern Baptist deacon who did not drink or smoke and organized the first White House prayer breakfast, closed his law practice to study the Bible at Columbia International University. He and his wife started a lay ministry that helped build churches and orphanages in Romania after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. He was also active in religious organizations in the United States. In 1981, however, the longtime Southern Baptist in Columbia to study the Bible at Columbia International University.
He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest citizen honor from Governors Jim Edwards and David Beasley.
He earned the Good Shepherd Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the Golden Palmetto Father-Son Eagle Scout of the Year award, the Salt and Light Award from the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Alumni of the Year Award from Columbia International University.
Dent served as the first director of the Billy Graham Lay Center in Asheville, N.C., and was the founder of Laity Alive and Serving, a ministry that took him across the United States and around the world.
Both Presbyterian College and Charleston Southern University presented Dent with honorary doctorates. He served as a trustee at Charleston Southern and Southern Seminary and was a member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. He served as the chair of the 1986 Billy Graham Crusade in Columbia and as vice chair of the 1996 Carolinas Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, N.C. He earned the Golden Apple Award for his work in character education in the schools of South Carolina and was the author of five books, including The Prodigal South Returns to Power; Coverup: The Watergate in All of Us; Right Versus Wrong; A Layman Looks Through the Bible for God’s Will; and Teaching Jack and Jill: Right Versus Wrong in the Home and Schools.
Dent died in Columbia of Alzheimer’s on September 28, 2007. He was 77. Surviving him include his wife of 56 years, Betty Francis; two sons, Harry Jr., a well known economist, and Jack; two daughters, Dolly Montgomery and Ginny Brant, of Seneca, S.C., and nine grandchildren. Mr. Dent had four brothers, two killed in World War II.
In a 1981 interview with The Washington Post, Dent acknowledged his regrets. “When I look back, my biggest regret now is anything I did that stood in the way of the rights of black people,” he said. “Or any people.”
Dent said, “I always thought I knew what sin was.” “But I have learned that the real sin is in selfishness, or pride. And politics is very selfish, very self-oriented. And I’ve been part of that.”
(additional source: The New York Times)6|11|08 edited by KAG