Nixon didn't have to look to Wallace to see the rising importance of the South and Southern concerns for the Right's coalition. The Goldwater race in '64 had already shown what opposition to busing and support for states' rights could do for Republicans. Goldwater only carried six states — but five of them were Deep South states that hadn't voted Republican since Reconstruction. If the GOP could keep those states and reclaim Northern and Midwestern strongholds that Goldwater had lost, the party would be on the way to steady wins. Which turned out to be the case, at least for a time.
Well, McCarthy is partly right: I shouldn't have written "spurred." I should have written "encouraged." The Wallace campaign reinforced the reality of something Nixon and his Ben Wattenbergs and Kevin Phillips had already been convinced of, and that Wallace had been warning the high-and-mighty Democrats about in his forgotten 1964 Democratic primary campaign. The great liberal consensus would crumble once blacks began shopping for real estate in white Northern neighborhoods. The Wallace campaign simply made this obvious, and in 1972 his vote moved in one big bloc over to Richard Nixon.
Antle has a different point about what Wallace really stood for:
If we define the "Southern position" as being George Wallace's circa 1968, that was certainly not the position Nixon ever took.
In fact, Nixon played a large role in the desegregation of Southern schools, presided over the nationalization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, implemented the Philadelphia Plan, expanded affirmative action, and gave aid to historically black colleges at a time of dire need. It's undeniable that Nixon did all of these things with more sensitivity to the concerns of white Southerners and Northeastern white ethnics than most liberals would have preferred. But this wasn't the Wallace '68 platform.
Right: Nixon didn't adopt all of the Wallace positions of 1968. He squared the circle: He stood with liberals on some civil rights legislation and then stood with Wallaceites against school busing and open housing. He won over many of them by appointing judges and adjudicators who didn't force civil rights down their throats the way the Democrats had. As Stewart Alsop wrote in 1972:
The nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court were, of course, aimed at the South. They did the President some harm in the North, but memories fade fast (quick now, who was Francis Xavier Morrissey?). The names of Haynsworth and Carswell are already fading in Northern memories, but they still are vividly remembered in the South.
Replace the names "Haynsworth" and "Carswell" with "Roberts" and "Alito" and replace "the South" with "religious conservatives," and you can see why the right's rallying behind McCain even though he's against a federal marriage amendment &c. A protest bloc of voters can't seriously expect to get everything it wants, but the Wallaceites got a hell of a lot of it. Without getting any further into the weeds, the point is the Wallace coalition, by threatening Nixon's power, coaxed a lot of concessions from him. It was a messy coalition, but it was enormous. Right now the members of Ron Paul/Bob Barr bloc can only say half of that about ourselves.