Minority Rule in a Winner-Take-All System

How long can the unsustainable be sustained?

Writing for The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein asserts “America Is Growing Apart, Possibly for Good.”

It may be time to stop talking about “red” and “blue” America. That’s the provocative conclusion of Michael Podhorzer, a longtime political strategist for labor unions and the chair of the Analyst Institute, a collaborative of progressive groups that studies elections. In a private newsletter that he writes for a small group of activists, Podhorzer recently laid out a detailed case for thinking of the two blocs as fundamentally different nations uneasily sharing the same geographic space.

“When we think about the United States, we make the essential error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mix of Red and Blue people,” Podhorzer writes. “But in truth, we have never been one nation. We are more like a federated republic of two nations: Blue Nation and Red Nation. This is not a metaphor; it is a geographic and historical reality.”

To Podhorzer, the growing divisions between red and blue states represent a reversion to the lines of separation through much of the nation’s history. The differences among states in the Donald Trump era, he writes, are “very similar, both geographically and culturally, to the divides between the Union and the Confederacy. And those dividing lines were largely set at the nation’s founding, when slave states and free states forged an uneasy alliance to become ‘one nation.'”

I find this assertion odd. First and foremost, none of this is new. Second, the states aren’t monoliths. Here’s the county-by-county breakdown of the 2020 presidential vote:

And 2016:

Very few states, indeed, are solidly “red” or “blue.” We tend to think of the Pacific Coast as deep blue but there are huge Republican enclaves in all three states. And there are plenty of Democrats even in Alabama and Mississippi.

Further, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the map actually distorts reality because it depicts the geographic distribution of votes without factoring in population density. So, for instance, Georgia went ever so slightly for Biden in 2020 (49.5 to 49.3) but the map gives the impression that it’s a solidly red state with just a few blue outposts. Indeed, a Martian anthropologist would assume the red candidate won overwhelmingly in both elections, even though blue got 3 million more votes in 2016 and 8 million more in 2020.

Regardless, this part seems even more true in light of back-to-back days when a New York’s gun laws and overturned a right to abortion that had existed for half a century.

Podhorzer isn’t predicting another civil war, exactly. But he’s warning that the pressure on the country’s fundamental cohesion is likely to continue ratcheting up in the 2020s. Like other analysts who study democracy, he views the Trump faction that now dominates the Republican Party—what he terms the “MAGA movement”—as the U.S. equivalent to the authoritarian parties in places such as Hungary and Venezuela. It is a multipronged, fundamentally antidemocratic movement that has built a solidifying base of institutional support through conservative media networks, evangelical churches, wealthy Republican donors, GOP elected officials, paramilitary white-nationalist groups, and a mass public following. And it is determined to impose its policy and social vision on the entire country—with or without majority support. “The structural attacks on our institutions that paved the way for Trump’s candidacy will continue to progress,” Podhorzer argues, “with or without him at the helm.”

One can agree or disagree with the outcomes or the reasoning behind those decisions. What’s indisputable is that they were not in accord with the views of the majority of citizens or the majority of voters. More importantly, as the Supreme Court is an inherently undemocratic institution, is the increasing willingness of the minority faction to break every norm—and even resort to violence—to get its way.

All of this is fueling what I’ve called “the great divergence” now under way between red and blue states. This divergence itself creates enormous strain on the country’s cohesion, but more and more even that looks like only a way station. What’s becoming clearer over time is that the Trump-era GOP is hoping to use its electoral dominance of the red states, the small-state bias in the Electoral College and the Senate, and the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to impose its economic and social model on the entire nation—with or without majority public support. As measured on fronts including the January 6 insurrection, the procession of Republican 2020 election deniers running for offices that would provide them with control over the 2024 electoral machinery, and the systematic advance of a Republican agenda by the Supreme Court, the underlying political question of the 2020s remains whether majority rule—and democracy as we’ve known it—can survive this offensive.

The small-state bias of the Senate and Electoral College, both stemming from the Great Compromise necessary to move us from a confederation to a federal republic, has been baked in since our second founding in 1789. The disparities in state populations, though, are significantly larger in a continental nation of 330 million than it was when there were just 4 million Americans living in 13 states concentrated on the Eastern Seaboard.

Moreover, though, our politics are nationalized in a way they weren’t even a century ago. For most of our history, Georgia could be Georgia and New York could be New York with little friction. That’s simply no longer the case. The Supreme Court has effectively imposed Georgia’s gun laws on New York. And, while yesterday’s decision ostensibly simply returned abortion policy back over to the states, the next battleground will surely be over a federal policy further restricting abortion rights across the land.

Podhorzer defines modern red and blue America as the states in which each party has usually held unified control of the governorship and state legislature in recent years. By that yardstick, there are 25 red states, 17 blue states, and eight purple states, where state-government control has typically been divided.

This is a reasonable measure if one is looking at state-level policy. But it’s incomplete.

As mentioned earlier, Georgia went narrowly for Joe Biden in 2020 and then elected two Democratic Senators in early 2021. While they’re likely to revert to form in 2024 if someone other than Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, it’s hardly solid red.

An even better example is my home state of Virginia. It was solid Republican when I moved here in 2002. It voted Republican in every presidential election from 1948 and 2004 except 1964. It’s voted Democratic in the four elections since. It has two Democratic US Senators. Yet our governor and one house of the state legislature went Republican in 2013, for a whole variety of reasons, and is being governed as though it were still a red state. Indeed, the governor has now pledged to push through a fairly restrictive abortion law in light of yesterday’s ruling.

This argument, however, I don’t care for:

Measured that way, the red nation houses slightly more of the country’s eligible voting population (45 percent versus 39 percent), but the blue nation contributes more of the total U.S. gross national product: 46 percent versus 40 percent. On its own, the blue nation would be the world’s second-largest economy, trailing only China. The red nation would rank third. (Podhorzer also offers a slightly different grouping of the states that reflects the more recent trend in which Virginia has voted like a blue state at the presidential level, and Arizona and Georgia have moved from red to purple. With these three states shifted into those categories, the two “nations” are almost equal in eligible voting-age population, and the blue advantage in GDP roughly doubles, with the blue section contributing 48 percent and the red just 35 percent.)

The DC exurbs of Northern Virginia, which are increasingly blue, is far and away the richest part of the Commonwealth. Mostly, that’s a function of our proximity to the nation’s capital. I’m not sure that should entitle us to more say over how the state is governed. The economic distribution argument not only distracts from the key point—people, not geography, should decide how policy is made—but reinforces Red America’s sense of being looked down upon and therefore entitled to use every tactic possible to preserve its power.

The hardening difference between red and blue, Podhorzer maintains, “empowers” the 10 purple states (if you include Arizona and Georgia) to “decide which of the two superpower nations’ values, Blue or Red, will prevail” in presidential and congressional elections. And that leaves the country perpetually teetering on a knife’s edge: The combined vote margin for either party across those purple states has been no greater than two percentage points in any of the past three presidential elections, he calculates.

The increasing divergence—and antagonism—between the red nation and the blue nation is a defining characteristic of 21st-century America. That’s a reversal from the middle decades of the 20th century, when the basic trend was toward greater convergence.

Mostly, though, that’s just a function of the parties having sorted over time. Within my memory, California was reliably Republican and most of the Deep South was solidly Democratic. While there have been shifts in the electorate, the main difference is how nationalized and distinct the two parties are.

Nor do I find this particularly persuasive:

One element of that convergence came through what legal scholars call the “rights revolution.” That was the succession of actions from Congress and the Supreme Court, mostly beginning in the 1960s, that strengthened the floor of nationwide rights and reduced the ability of states to curtail those rights. (Key moments in that revolution included the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and the Supreme Court decisions striking down state bans on contraception, interracial marriage, abortion, and, much later, prohibitions against same-sex intimate relations and marriage.)

Simultaneously, the regional differences were moderated by waves of national investment, including the New Deal spending on rural electrification, the Tennessee Valley Authority, agricultural price supports, and Social Security during the 1930s, and the Great Society programs that provided federal aid for K-12 schools and higher education, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.

The impact of these investments (as well as massive defense spending across both periods) on states that had historically spent little on public services and economic development helped steadily narrow the gap in per capita income between the states of the old Confederacy and the rest of the country from the 1930s until about 1980. That progress, though, stopped after 1980, and the gap remained roughly unchanged for the next three decades. Since about 2008, Podhorzer calculates, the southern states at the heart of the red nation have again fallen further behind the blue nation in per capita income.

Again, though, I don’t think Alabama has changed all that much politically or culturally since 1980. Or, hell, 1880.

It was a reliably Democratic state going back to the 1828 election through the 1960 election, deviating only in the two elections following the Civil War, when whites were effectively disenfranchised, and 1948, when it voted for former Democrat Strom Thurmond. It then voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, native son Democrat/American Independent George Wallace in 1968, Republican Richard Nixon in 1972, Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Republican every election since.

In hindsight, it’s rather remarkable that the state voted for FDR four times, especially during a period when its sizable Black population was effectively disenfranchised. But I suspect that was more out of habit than policy preference.

It’s almost certainly true that the New Deal (and later the Great Society) poured a lot of money into the state, improving the economic well-being of the citizenry. If anything, though, they resented it.

Jake Grumbach, a University of Washington political scientist who studies the differences among states, told me that red states, as a group, are falling behind blue states on a broad range of economic and social outcomes—including economic productivity, family income, life expectancy, and “deaths of despair” from the opioid crisis and alcoholism.

Defenders of the red-state model can point to other measures that show those places in a more favorable light. Housing is often more affordable in red states; partly for that reason, homelessness has become endemic in many big blue cities. Red-state taxes are generally lower than their blue counterparts. Many red states have experienced robust job growth (though that’s been heavily concentrated in their blue-leaning metro areas). And red states across the Sun Belt rank among the nation’s fastest growing in population.

But the big story remains that blue states are benefiting more as the nation transitions into a high-productivity, 21st-century information economy, and red states (apart from their major metropolitan centers participating in that economy) are suffering as the powerhouse industries of the 20th century—agriculture, manufacturing, and fossil-fuel extraction—decline.

Again, I think this analysis is backward. The economic divide is driven by the same forces that drive the political divide. Culture, not economics, is the key variable.

Not long after I moved to the DC suburbs of Virginia, a group of fellow graduates of Jacksonville State University in the area formed an alumni chapter. Many were also fellow alumni of the ROTC program, who had been assigned here while in the Army and stayed when they retired because of the opportunities to leverage their skills and experience. Others were in the burgeoning tech sector or either in government service or in jobs made possible by the presence of the federal government. Regardless, the sort of people who leave Alabama for jobs in DC or other major metropolitan areas are just different than those who stay.

A couple of years before moving up here, when I was teaching at what was then Troy State, I was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. A woman was telling another about how her son had been offered a significant pay raise to take a job about 40 minutes away but he had turned it down because he didn’t want to be that far away from his momma. She was proud of this. I, on the other hand, found it unfathomable.

But Troy, Alabama, even though the university is the largest employer, is incredibly provincial. It’s the kind of place that, if your grandparents weren’t born there, you ain’t from. Contrast that with the DC area, in which natives are the minority and assimilation and acceptance are easy, at least for educated professionals.

Provincialism naturally stunts economic development. But, again, the voting patterns haven’t changed. They were voting for George Wallace when times were comparatively good economically.

Per capita spending on elementary and secondary education is almost 50 percent higher in the blue states compared with red. All of the blue states have expanded access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, while about 60 percent of the total red-nation population lives in states that have refused to do so. All of the blue states have set a minimum wage higher than the federal level of $7.25, while only about one-third of the red-state residents live in places that have done so. Right-to-work laws are common in the red states and nonexistent in the blue, with the result that the latter have a much higher share of unionized workers than the former. No state in the blue section has a law on the books banning abortion before fetal viability, while almost all of the red states are poised to restrict abortion rights if the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority, as expected, overturns Roe v. Wade. Almost all of the red states have also passed “stand your ground” laws backed by the National Rifle Association, which provide a legal defense for those who use weapons against a perceived threat, while none of the blue states have done so.

The flurry of socially conservative laws that red states have passed since 2021, on issues such as abortion; classroom discussions of race, gender, and sexual orientation; and LGBTQ rights, is widening this split. No Democratic-controlled state has passed any of those measures.

So . . . yeah. We’re incredibly sorted. The agenda, particularly in Republican states, has nationalized over the last four decades. And, even in states that are blue or purple in terms of presidential voting, Republicans can often set the agenda in state and local politics if the elections are held (as they are here in Virginia) at different times.

Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist, told me that the experience of Jim Crow segregation offers an important reference point for understanding how far red states might take this movement to roll back civil rights and liberties—not that they literally would seek to restore segregation, but that they are comfortable with “a time when states” had laws so “entirely different” that they created a form of domestic apartheid. As the distance widens between the two sections, she said, “there are all kinds of potential for really deep disruptions, social disruptions, that aren’t just about our feelings and our opinions.”

Which takes me back to an earlier point: while we naturally fall into “red state” and “blue state” language—I myself do it routinely and, indeed, have fallen into it even in this post—few states are truly that. Most have blue urban centers, purple suburbs, and red rural areas.

Still, the red state/blue state language is apt in one key sense: regardless of the margin, the outcome is often winner-take-all. Small majorities—or even minorities that are more motivated to vote—can set the agenda for the whole state.

Alabama is a deeply red state, having voted Republican in 11 straight presidential elections. Trump got 62% in both 2016 and 2020. Still, that leaves more than a third of Alabamians who voted Democratic. They’re all about to have essentially no local access to abortion. Ditto Texas, which has also voted Republican in 11 straight presidential elections but by considerably smaller margins. The 46.5% who voted for Biden are just out of luck.

To Podhorzer, the growing separation means that after the period of fading distinctions, bedrock differences dating back to the country’s founding are resurfacing. And one crucial element of that, he argues, is the return of what he calls “one-party rule in the red nation.”

With some complex but telling statistical calculations, he documents a return to historical patterns from the Jim Crow era in which the dominant party (segregationist Democrats then, conservative Republicans now) has skewed the playing field to achieve a level of political dominance in the red nation far beyond its level of popular support. Undergirding that advantage, he argues, are laws that make registering or voting in many of the red states more difficult, and severe gerrymanders that have allowed Republicans to virtually lock in indefinite control of many state legislatures. Grumbach reached a similar conclusion in a recent paper analyzing trends in small-d democracy across the states. “It’s a really stacked deck in these states because of this democratic backsliding,” Grumbach said.

As noted in previous discussions of this topic, Democrats are just as apt to gerrymander as Republicans when given the opportunity. But the party is also more dominated by policy wonks and so blue states are more apt to remove that option by establishing redistricting commissions or similar mechanisms. More importantly, though, there are simply far more red states.

The democratic backsliding issue, however, is more telling. There’s no bothsidesing that one. Republican-controlled states have a long history of making it hard for poor and minority citizens to vote and have upped the ante in recent years.

All of the above is a very long setup for Brownstein’s own analysis:

The core question that Podhorzer’s analysis raises is how the United States will function with two sections that are moving so far apart. History, in my view, offers two models.

During the seven decades of legal Jim Crow segregation from the 1890s through the 1960s, the principal goal of the southern states at the core of red America was defensive: They worked tirelessly to prevent federal interference with state-sponsored segregation but did not seek to impose it on states outside the region.

By contrast, in the last years before the Civil War, the South’s political orientation was offensive: Through the courts (the 1857 Dred Scott decision) and in Congress (the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854), its principal aim was to authorize the expansion of slavery into more territories and states. Rather than just protecting slavery within their borders, the Southern states sought to control federal policy to impose their vision across more of the nation, including, potentially, to the point of overriding the prohibitions against slavery in the free states.

I actually see this differently, in that the contrast is a false one. In both cases, the South was acting defensively. It wasn’t trying to impose slavery on the rest of the country. It just understood that, if free states outnumbered slave states, the former would band together to end slavery everywhere.

It seems unlikely that the Trump-era Republicans installing the policy priorities of their preponderantly white and Christian coalition across the red states will be satisfied just setting the rules in the places now under their control. Podhorzer, like Mason and Grumbach, believes that the MAGA movement’s long-term goal is to tilt the electoral rules in enough states to make winning Congress or the White House almost impossible for Democrats.

This assertion requires more explanation. While I’m sure Republicans would like this outcome, I don’t know how they’d achieve it. Gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and the like are only possible in states controlled by the party. That’s very helpful at the margins, potentially keeping a state like Georgia from flipping to the Democrats again. I haven’t the foggiest on how MAGA would get California back into the Republican column. (Again, I’m old enough to remember when it was reliably red, voting GOP in every election between 1952 and 1988 save, again, for 1964, contributing to what was dubbed a “Republican lock” on the Electoral College.)

Then, with support from the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans could impose red-state values and programs nationwide, even if most Americans oppose them. The “MAGA movement is not stopping at the borders of the states it already controls,” Podhorzer writes. “It seeks to conquer as much territory as possible by any means possible.”

I mean, sure. If Republicans win the White House, both Houses of Congress, and have a majority on the Supreme Court, they’ll be able to govern and impose their values. The same was true when Democrats controlled those levers. The difference, again, is that the deck is stacked in favor of Republicans.

The Trump model, in other words, is more the South in 1850 than the South in 1950, more John Calhoun than Richard Russell. (Some red-state Republicans are even distantly echoing Calhoun in promising to nullify—that is, defy—federal laws with which they disagree.) That doesn’t mean that Americans are condemned to fight one another again as they did after the 1850s. But it does mean that the 2020s may bring the greatest threats to the country’s basic stability since those dark and tumultuous years.

Most of the nullification talk is bluster. But, here, bothsidesing is possible. States defy the federal government when they disagree with policies—particularly those imposed by executive order or regulatory action rather than legislation—all the time. The difference is that Republicans have had the judiciary on their side for several years now and that looks to continue for many years to come.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    Here in PA the GOP has used gerrymandering more effectively. When they receive fewer total votes they still end up with a large majority of the congressional seats. In Dem controlled states gerrymandering seems to result in states where the Dems have the most votes ending up with more than they should . Looks to me like a qualitative difference. That said, the 2 big issues I see, largely pointed out in the article, is that the GOP has turned into a party of radicals, thoroughly embracing conspiracy theory at all levels. It was prominent with covid and the belief that Trump won the election cemented it. The other big thing is the GOP controlling SCOTUS for the foreseeable future. The radical laws that will be passed in red states will meet approval. Blue state laws will be found unconstitutional.

    I expect to see states more blatantly ignoring federal laws as a result. No idea where that goes.

    Steve

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  2. If Republicans win the White House, both Houses of Congress, and have a majority on the Supreme Court, they’ll be able to govern and impose their values. The same was true when Democrats controlled those levers.

    Except that hasn’t proved to be the case of late due to the filibuster (which I am quite sure the GOP will get rid of the first time it interferes with their goals). Further, the bias in the Senate’s representational power in general tilts heavily to the Reps in general.

    I also think it is important to note that largely the GOP agenda has been to govern less, which is easier to accomplish than the Dem goals of more policies. And the GOP has clearly relied heavily on the courts, which have been shaped by the EC and the Senate.

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  3. While I’m sure Republicans would like this outcome, I don’t know how they’d achieve it. Gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and the like are only possible in states controlled by the party.

    It helps if the conservative-laden court guts the VRA.

    See, also: Wisconsin in particular.

    But moreover, it is important to note that due to geographic sorting, the Rs have a built-in advantage.

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  4. MarkedMan says:

    It was a reliably Democratic state going back to the 1828 election through the 1960 election

    I’m not sure how that adds anything to the discussion. The Democrats of 1828, 1960, and 2022 share a name but little else. For that matter, the same is true of the Republican Party that existed when California was reliably Republican and that of today when it is solidly Democratic.

    Today’s Republican Party is essentially the party of the Jim Crow South. Almost every major official comes from a former slave state, with a sprinkling coming from those that were Territories in the antebellum or those from neutral states. Because of this, the fixations and disposition of the modern Republicans are entirely those of the revanchist Jim Crow South.

    The Jim Crow Republican Party has convinced the whole nation, including most Democrats and seemingly the vast majority of correspondents to this blog, that the Midwest and Mountain states, i.e. the ones with disproportionate Senatorial representation, share their values and are therefore inevitably aligned with the Republicans. But Jim Grow governance is one of gossiping busybodies, endlessly meddling in everyone’s private business, as well as constantly looking for slights. It means constant vigilance against those that dare to “take on airs” with their betters, which plays out as an unbroken chain from the most powerful to the lowest, each maniacally punching down on those they judge lowlier than themselves. I don’t see this as representing the values of the Midwest I grew up in and I don’t think it represents the values of the mountain states either.

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  5. drj says:

    This assertion requires more explanation. While I’m sure Republicans would like this outcome, I don’t know how they’d achieve it. Gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and the like are only possible in states controlled by the party. That’s very helpful at the margins

    Dude, Republicans don’t need California or New York to permanently disenfranchise Democrats.

    In 2020, Biden came very close to losing to Trump despite getting 7 million more votes. If Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia had gone the other way, it would have been game over.

    Biden won these states by a combined margin of something like 40k votes.

    How can you not know this?

    If Republicans succeed in disenfranchising enough voters in potential swing states then it’s all over. More or less permanently.

    And they are already doing this at the state level. For instance, the 2018 Wisconsin State Assembly elections (a particularly egegrious example):

    R’s: 44.75% of the vote, 63 seats
    D’s: 52.99% of the vote, 36 seats

    This the future that Republicans want and actively work towards.

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  6. drj says:

    This argument, however, I don’t care for

    As to the point that blue states contribute more to the gross national product than red states (it’s a lot worse if you look at red and blue counties!), I seem to recall a precedent along the lines of “no taxation without representation.”

    How long do you think that this is going to hold?

    One group:

    * has more people
    * has a larger relative tax contribution (not only do they pay more collectively, but also individually)
    * but is permanently excluded from political power

    This is not sustainable.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The Jim Crow Republican Party has convinced the whole nation, including most Democrats and seemingly the vast majority of correspondents to this blog, that the Midwest and Mountain states, i.e. the ones with disproportionate Senatorial representation, share their values and are therefore inevitably aligned with the Republicans.

    The eight Mountain West states now have more Democrats in the US Senate than Republicans. Narrowly — 9 to 7 — but the direction over the last several election cycles has been clear.

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  8. drj says:

    Maybe a bit academic, but this, too, is utterly wrong:

    I actually see this differently, in that the contrast is a false one. In both cases, the South was acting defensively. It wasn’t trying to impose slavery on the rest of the country.

    The slave states did everything in their power to make the free states complicit in upholding slavery. That’s what the controversies about fugitive slave laws were all about.

    Moreover, Southern politicians were actively trying to create a situation which they could bring their “property” into the free states without any further consequence, regardless of local laws.

    If that is not trying to impose slavery on the rest of the country, what is?

    And, even if ultimately unsuccessful, there were numerous attempts to create an empire for slavery further south to ensure that the slave states could at least maintain if not expand their relative power in the country.

    This partly explains the Mexican War, as well as subsequent attempts to acquire Cuba and territories in Central America.

    And when, finally, the slave states finally lost their hold on power, they decided to burn everything down.

    “Acting defensively” my ass.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, the built-in advantage is the key.

    @drj: I absolutely get that Republicans are working to disenfranchise groups likely to vote the other way. Indeed, I note it in the article. But they can only do that in states in which they control the state legislature and governor’s mansion—which the article uses as its definition of “red state.”

    @MarkedMan: While I think the “Jim Crow” language is more inflammatory than helpful, I absolutely agree that the modern Republican Party is the successor to the Dixiecrats and other Old South Democratic Party types. Indeed, that’s what I was getting at in the paragraph you point to: the culture hasn’t changed but the party labels did. The Democrats didn’t lose the South because of increasing economic disparity but because it became the party of the Blacks and liberals while the Republicans became the “traditional values” party. There’s more to it than that, of course, but it’s about culture and attitudes more than economics.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    @drj:

    Dude, Republicans don’t need California or New York to permanently disenfranchise Democrats.

    Factoring in the seditious conspiracy in broad daylight on display at the Jan 6th hearings, so far with no criminal consequence for the highest placed conspirators, I don’t think Republicans will need to vandalize voting to disenfranchise Democrats for much longer. They just won’t cede power. We’re devolving to Hungarian politics as we speak.

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  11. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    But they can only do that in states in which they control the state legislature and governor’s mansion—which the article uses as its definition of “red state.”

    You do realize that if one maintains the principle “once red, always red,” but not “once blue, always blue” that one side is always going to win regardless of what voters want?

    “Republican vote suppresssion is no biggie because they can only do it in those states they have won at one point or another” perhaps isn’t as reassuring as you appear to think.

    Your apparent desire to look away from what is happening right in front of you is really quite impressive.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    @Scott F.:
    And here comes Josh Hawley to reinforce the point:

    Hawley said he welcomes the debate among states as some, like California, immediately moved to embrace abortion rights and others, like Missouri, immediately moved to restrict it. He predicted that people will base where they live on whether abortion is allowed and that the decision will end up redrawing demographic lines across the country. “I would predict that the effect is going to be that more and more red states are going to become more red, purple states are going to become red and the blue states are going to get a lot bluer,” Hawley said. “And I would look for Republicans as a result of this to extend their strength in the Electoral College. And that’s very good news.”

    Hawley is saying that exacerbated political sorting will ensure GOP control at the national level due to the Electoral College. Hawley’s not the least bit shy about his aspiration that the GOP disenfranchise the blue states.

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  13. Slugger says:

    Please stop with these geographical maps. The population of Montana and Idaho combined is under three million. Connecticut is over 3.5 million by itself. The GDP of CT is more than double of those states. The GDP per capita is $82,000 in CT, $50,000 in ID, and $53,000in MT. The abbreviation for Montana is very appropriate if you pronounce it. Now I think that all rights of people in underperforming states should be preserved and protected but not given outsized deference.

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  14. Moosebreath says:

    @drj:

    “You do realize that if one maintains the principle “once red, always red,” but not “once blue, always blue” that one side is always going to win regardless of what voters want?”

    True, and it made the Republican landslide in 2010 so important. Republicans used the advantages they got that year to lock in their majority through gerrymandering, so that when the 2020 census results came in, the state legislatures which would assign seats for the next decade were heavily skewed towards Republicans. Democrats can win more votes for the state legislatures in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, without changing which party control the legislature.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Moosebreath:

    True, and it made the Republican landslide in 2010 so important. Republicans used the advantages they got that year to lock in their majority through gerrymandering

    My problem with things like this Brownstein/Podhorzer piece is that they’re so passive voice. The GOPs didn’t luck out in 2010, they put a lot of money and effort into gaining control of targeted state legislatures ahead of redistricting.

    GOPs continue to work hard for any advantage they can get. Given enough money and effort, they can manipulate a segment of the electorate into supporting them, but they know they can’t get a majority, so they continue to focus on where they can get the most bang for their bucks, states with gerrymandered districts, two senators, at least three electoral votes, and small, inexpensive, media markets. It helps that they tend to be rural and poor, making it easy to trigger culture war resentment against city slickers.

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    In both cases, the South was acting defensively. It wasn’t trying to impose slavery on the rest of the country.

    This is a lie. And if you actually believe this is true, you’re not competent to be an educator.

    6
  17. James Joyner says:

    @drj: @Stormy Dragon: By “impose slavery” I mean “require Northern states to become slave states.” They were trying to preserve the institution of slavery by 1) ensuring that the number of free states didn’t outnumber slave states and 2) ensuring that their property rights in slaves were retained if they escaped to free states. I see both of these moves as defensive, in that they were trying to preserve the existing power structure.

    @drj: I’m by no means arguing that voter suppression is no big deal. I’ve been arguing the opposite for years now. I’m simply saying that I don’t know how Republicans can exercise that tactic in states they don’t control.

    @Slugger: I point out in the post that “the map actually distorts reality because it depicts the geographic distribution of votes without factoring in population density.” Maps are, by their very nature, geographical. But I use them here to make the narrow point that red and blue states aren’t truly red or blue.

    1
  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    This argument, however, I don’t care for

    Doesn’t matter how distasteful one finds an argument. What matters is how refutable it is. I didn’t see your argument against as going beyond “I don’t care for.”

    1
  19. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I devote a whole paragraph answering that question:

    The DC exurbs of Northern Virginia, which are increasingly blue, is far and away the richest part of the Commonwealth. Mostly, that’s a function of our proximity to the nation’s capital. I’m not sure that should entitle us to more say over how the state is governed. The economic distribution argument not only distracts from the key point—people, not geography, should decide how policy is made—but reinforces Red America’s sense of being looked down upon and therefore entitled to use every tactic possible to preserve its power.

    Expanding on that point, if we argue that rich states should somehow have more representation than poor ones, why wouldn’t we apply the same argument to individuals? Bill Gates pays more in taxes than we do. Should he get proportionally more votes?

    1
  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: I keep coming back to Dr. Joyner being 1) a Republican at heart and 2) a child of The South as factors that are too bone deep for him to ever completely remove his blind spots. I have the same kind of problem–I will never again support conservative philosophy, but liberalism has too many break points that I can’t get past for me to support Democrats in my state. I just identify as disenfranchised and let it go at that. Dr. Joyner, by comparison is far more malleable, but not completely so. It’s a better solution.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: I didn’t read his statements as making the argument that you saw. I didn’t see the statement as making an argument at all. I read it purely as economic/demographic data. And the conclusion I drew was not people who pay more should rule more. It was breaking apart the union will be more problematical that secessionists realize even if deciding which states were red and which were blue would be easy. A point I suspect we agree on.

  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    The Dred Scott decision had already ruled that all blacks, slave or free, were ineligible to be US citizens, dispossessing thousands of people in the free states of political participation or their access to the courts. It likewise ruled that it violated the fifth ammendment for congress to ban slavery. This being the case, under what basis would it not also violate the fifth ammendment for states to ban slavery?

    We know from their own writings that their were significant factions in the south that wanted to force free states to legalize slavery and dred scott showed the method they were going to use to do it. To pretend otherwise is just continuing to push the tired lost-cause BS that’s been a millstone around this country’s neck since the civil war ended.

    4
  23. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    While I think the “Jim Crow” language is more inflammatory than helpful

    I’ve struggled for a while to come up with a different term but haven’t been able to. And differentiating modern Republican politics from that of the latter half of the twentieth century is vital to understanding how we can get past this era. The media simply portrays Rep/Dem rivalry as a meaningless teams competition and even the more serious and insightful analysts also get it wrong, accepting that the most important dynamic is that of conservatism vs liberalism. This is simply not correct. The battle being fought is about whether the purpose of government is meeting the needs of the populace and improving standards of living for everyone, or whether it is about enforcing the social status quo and setting groups against each other as the primary means of accomplishing that. We have the post Dixiecrat Dems and the post World War II/pre-Gingrich Republicans on one side, and the post-Gingrich Republicans on the other. This isn’t a battle between factions arrayed on a spectrum, but rather between groups who are diametrically opposed on the fundamental purpose of government.

    The reason I call the Republican enterprise Jim Crow governance is because it is the method of governance in the slave and Jim Crow states for more than two centuries. It is a toxic form of governance but also a pernicious one, able to endure generation after generation. It seemed to be finally meeting its end in the fifties and early sixties but then the Goldwater Republicans latched into the struggling remnants and gave them a new lease on life. Like a particular vile form of parasitic wasp, they laid their eggs in the Republican body politic and eventually consumed it.

    In using “Jim Crow governance” I’m trying to capture this dynamic, but I also recognize it causes a visceral reaction. So I would be happy to use a different term, if one existed.

    4
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Calm the F* down. That’s just a straight out personal attack.

    4
  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:(Not a judgement, just an observation) I came to OTB years ago because I was looking for people that disagreed with me on the Iraq War and the Bush administration but still accepted reality and were willing to engage honestly with different points of view. As far as I’m concerned that’s held true since then. Does James have blind spots and a priori biases? Sure. But I doubt he has any more than I do or anyone else. And his commentary and engagement has, on occasion, made me recognize my own blind spots and unearned moral dudgeon.

    4
  26. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: But Dred Scott was decided in 1857, just three years before the war. And the Bill of Rights obviously didn’t apply to the states then, as the 14th Amendment was years in the future and selective incorporation hadn’t begun.

    Regardless, I’m simply arguing that the South and its ruling class were in a defensive posture. Its whole economy was predicated on slavery and they understood that the institution was under grave threat. They were doing everything in their power to forestall that eventuality. That’s pretty much the opposite of Lost Cause mythology.

    1
  27. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    But Dred Scott was decided in 1857, just three years before the war.

    Indeed, it’s almost like that’s why the passage you were responding to wrote “By contrast, in the last years before the Civil War”.

    So now we’re in a Dr. Joyner special where he makes some off the cuff remark and when it’s pointed out how wrong it is, he’s too proud or stubborn to change his mind and spends the comments digging the hole bigger trying to argue that in fact, 2+2 really is 5.

    You’re repeating the lie that the North forced the Civil War on the poor defenseless South, rather than the truth that the South deliberately caused the war out of a mistaken belief that it could force a state of affairs on the North through violence that it was unable to achieve politically.

    5
  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    And the Bill of Rights obviously didn’t apply to the states then, as the 14th Amendment was years in the future and selective incorporation hadn’t begun.

    Go read Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech. The whole thing, not just the one line everyone remembers. He lays out at length what was actually going on politically at the time in terms of the South’s efforts to impose slavery on non-slave states.

    3
  29. Kari Q says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Indeed. I found that speech chilling, more than a century after the future Lincoln warned about was avoided. It could so easily have gone the other way.

    1
  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan:

    And his commentary and engagement has, on occasion, made me recognize my own blind spots and unearned moral dudgeon.

    Which is why the last part of my statement reads:

    I just identify as disenfranchised and let it go at that. Dr. Joyner, by comparison is far more malleable, but not completely so. It’s a better solution.

    And my comment was made in response to

    Your apparent desire to look away from what is happening right in front of you is really quite impressive.

    One of the changes that I am making (slowly) is trying to understand what I am looking at so that I can see it clearly. I don’t think Dr. Joyner “desires to look away from” anything, but I do think that there are some things that he simply can’t see because of the sum of who he is (in much the same way that I can’t bring myself to vote for Democrats, so I don’t vote, because it’s a reflection of who I’ve been). We’re all evolving. (Except for MR of course, who is already fully self-actualized and congruent. 😉 )

  31. drj says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    but liberalism has too many break points that I can’t get past for me to support Democrats in my state.

    I’m not looking to start a discussion, but I am kind of curious, on a personal level, what those break points are (if you care to share, that is).

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: (Except for MR of course, who is already fully self-actualized and congruent. )

    Hey now, I’m fully self actualized too. Maybe not so congruent but Hey…

    @drj: but liberalism has too many break points that I can’t get past for me to support Democrats in my state.

    I’m not looking to start a discussion, but I am kind of curious, on a personal level, what those break points are (if you care to share, that is).

    Same here.

  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: My apologies. I’ll remember you the next time, too. (And you strike me a pretty congruent.)

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: The shorter answer–no. The longer answer–Part of being a cracker is that I very much have a “make perfect the enemy of good” mindset. I, as most of the people here probably do, find parts of the various shades of politics in America that have appeal. I like some features of conservatism (despite what I say about the current miasma that the movement is), I like some elements of liberalism, I think we need to pay more attention to what progressives are saying and want. But, I’ve repeatedly found that the parts of each ideology that I’d like to see are the things the people running the show will not spend political capital on. My ex wife would tell you that I’m not good at compromise and that I have little experience at being wrong. She’d be saying it sarcastically, but I believe it’s true (and I also don’t “probably think this song is about” me, I know it is). The discussion, while it would be interesting for me, would end up being enraging to the community (and I’m enraging enough as it is–it’s my superpower) and frustrating to you. Some things are better left unsaid.

  35. drj says:
  36. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Dr. Joyner special where he makes some off the cuff remark and when it’s pointed out how wrong it is, he’s too proud or stubborn to change his mind and spends the comments digging the hole bigger trying to argue that in fact, 2+2 really is 5.

    And this is the classic Stormy move of glomming onto a word in the OP, claiming I meant something other than what I meant, having me explain repeatedly what I meant, and having you repeatedly disagree that I meant that.

    In this case, you’re wrapped around the axle about me arguing that the South’s motivations before and after the war were “defensive.” Which you take to main “justified” or “forced upon them by the North.”

    So I clarified my meaning

    @here:

    They were trying to preserve the institution of slavery by 1) ensuring that the number of free states didn’t outnumber slave states and 2) ensuring that their property rights in slaves were retained if they escaped to free states. I see both of these moves as defensive, in that they were trying to preserve the existing power structure.

    @here:

    I’m simply arguing that the South and its ruling class were in a defensive posture. Its whole economy was predicated on slavery and they understood that the institution was under grave threat. They were doing everything in their power to forestall that eventuality. That’s pretty much the opposite of Lost Cause mythology.

    I think that the South has been in a defensive posture in that sense for a very long time. Before the Civil War. During the Jim Crow period. And again now. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t go on the offense from time to time. Clearly, for example, the heavy-handed tactics used to take over the Supreme Court—not to mention backing the Big Lie—are aggressive acts. But I see them as “defensive” in the sense that they see their culture and mores under attack and know that they’re losing. If we go to straight-up democracy, they can’t win. So the deck has to be stacked.

    2
  37. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    The South’s stance on slavery was in no way “defensive.”

    I already mentioned the attempts to acquire Cuba and filibustering in Central America to create an empire for slavery.

    But apart from that, there was also the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise (1820) that banned the introduction of slavery into territories north of 36°30′.

    Trying to expand slavery both north and south of the existing slave states is certainly not “defensive.”

    How can you claim such a thing?

    3
  38. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is like saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is defensive because its purpose is to preserve Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet space.

    This is not how words (usually) work.

    3
  39. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think that the South has been in a defensive posture in that sense for a very long time. Before the Civil War.

    And you’re flat out wrong. The South was not “defensive” before the civil war. They thought they were about to win, so they blew up the Missouri compromise and began a 20 year campaign to impose slavery nationally they were sure was going to be successful. And when that failed they started a war they were sure they were going to win.

    The fact they ended up being shown to be delusional on both cases doesn’t change this was from the South’s perspective an offensive strategy.

    The idea of the South being defensive is historical revisionism created well after the civil war and is part of the region’s martyr complex.

    So yes, you clarified your position and only further demonstrated how wrong it is.

    1