The GOP Is Strong In The South, But It’s Not Just A Southern Party

by John Hawkins | December 8, 2006 9:56 am

Harold Meyerson has a column out[1] that harps on an idea that seems to have been gaining some traction on the left — that the GOP is now just a Southern Party:

“In case you haven’t noticed, a fundamental axiom of modern American politics has been altered in recent weeks. For four decades, it’s been the Democrats who’ve had a Southern problem. Couldn’t get any votes for their presidential candidates there; couldn’t elect any senators, then any House members, then any dogcatchers. They still can’t, but the Southern problem, it turns out, is really the Republicans’. They’ve become too Southern — too suffused with the knee-jerk militaristic, anti-scientific, dogmatically religious, and culturally, sexually and racially phobic attitudes of Dixie — to win friends and influence elections outside the South. Worse yet, they became more Southern still on Election Day last month, when the Democrats decimated the GOP in the North and West. Twenty-seven of the Democrats’ 30 House pickups came outside the South.

The Democrats won control of five state legislatures, all outside the South, and took more than 300 state legislative seats away from Republicans, 93 percent of them outside the South. As for the new Senate Republican caucus that chose Mississippi’s Lott over Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander to be deputy to Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, 17 of its 49 members come from the Confederacy proper, with another three from the old border states of Kentucky and Missouri, and two more from Oklahoma, which is Southern but with more dust. In all, 45 percent of Republican senators come from the Greater South.

More problematic, so does most of the Republican message. Following the gospel according to Rove (fear not swing voters but pander to and mobilize thy base), George W. Bush and the Republican Congress, together or separately, had already blocked stem cell research, disparaged nonmilitary statecraft, exalted executive wartime power over constitutional niceties, campaigned repeatedly against gay rights, thrown public money at conservative churches and investigated the tax status of liberal ones. In the process, they alienated not just moderates but Western-state libertarians.

The one strategist who fundamentally predicted the new geography of partisan American politics is Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland political scientist whose book “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South” appeared several months before November’s elections. Schaller argued that the Democrats’ growth would occur in the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, the Mountain West and the Southwest — areas where professionals, appalled by Republican Bible Beltery, were trending Democratic and where working-class whites voted their pocketbooks in a way that their Southern counterparts did not. Al Gore carried white voters outside the South, Schaller reminded us; even hapless John Kerry came close.”

When you combine the Democrats’ frustration that they can’t seem to make headway in the South any more, the strong dislike that so many Northern liberals seem to have for Southerners, and the Dems’ giddiness over having won an election, you get this sort of drivel.

Here’s the reality: politics is cyclical and it’s not unusual in off-year elections, particularly in the 2nd off year election, for the President’s party to lose seats. In fact[2],

“Since WWII, the party of the incumbent President has typically lost more than 30 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate during the second midterm. In addition, in the five wartime congressional elections since 1860, the President’s party has lost an average of 32 House seats and five Senate seats.”

And keep in mind that even after this “crushing” Democratic victory, they only managed to pull off a 51-49 lead in the Senate and they will undoubtedly lose a significant number of the House seats that they gained this year in Republican districts next time around in 2008.

Moreover, the Democratic victory in 2006 had a lot to do with people being sick and tired of Bush and the way that Republicans in Congress were behaving and very little to do with any great love for the Democrats who, as per usual, ran as “unRepublicans,” not on the ideological agenda that’s near and dear to their hearts.

That’s because the Dems are in basically the same situation that Republicans were in when Dwight Eisenhower took over after the FDR and Truman years: the success of the opposing Party was so great that the GOP had to, at least to a certain extent, act like Democrats to win. Fast forward to the modern era. Over the last 30 years the only two Democrats to win the presidency have been Southerners who were perceived as moderates. Moreover, the Democrats have been forced to promise tax cuts and a balanced budget in order to appeal to the American people. Heck, the liberals in the Democratic Party don’t even dare to call themselves liberals or talk openly about pursuing a liberal agenda, because so many of the policies associated with liberalism have been discredited.

Last but not least, if you look at a map that shows the counties that went for Bush in 2004, which I’d argue is a lot more representative of the LONG-TERM political sentiment in this country than the 2006 elections, you’ll notice a whole lot of red outside of the South:

The Democrats may have won this time around, but it was just a blip on the Dems’ downward slide that started back in 1972. Over the long haul, despite all the problems it has, the GOP still has better prospects than the Democrats.

  1. column out:
  2. In fact:

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