Republicans a Regional Party?
The Economist features a piece by “Lexington” contending that, Zell Miller’s book nothwithstanding, the Democrats are a national party while the Republican Party no longer has much appeal outside the South.
The extent of the southernisation of the Republican Party is astonishing. The party was all but wiped out in its historic base, the north-east. There is now only one Republican in the 22-strong New England House delegation. New Hampshire kicked out its two Republican congressmen (and gave Democrats a majority in both state houses for the first time since 1874). Massachusetts ended 16 years of Republican occupation of the governor’s mansion. Rhode Island decapitated Lincoln Chafee despite his moderate record. New York installed Democrats in every statewide office for the first time since 1938.
The Republicans also suffered big losses in a region that voted solidly for Bush in 2004—the Mountain West. Three Republicans lost house seats. Conrad Burns lost his Senate seat in Montana (59% for Bush in 2004). Democrats now control five of the eight governorships in the region, compared with none in 2000.
Kevin Drum is on board with this thesis, although he believes it is the Texification of the GOP and its “messianic insistence that you’re not a real American unless you worship at their churches, watch their sports, and raise your family the way they tell you” that is at issue.
Michael van der Galien agrees that 2006 should be a wake-up call and believes “2007 and 2008 will be two highly interesting ‘political’ years: will the Republican party change and will its ‘new’ leaders embrace moderation and unity instead of polarization?”
But if history is any indicator, the fact that a number of these previously Republican-leaning states are not only electing Democrats to state-level offices (both for governorships and legislatures) but also sending Democrats to Washington (both Congressmen and Senators) augurs well for the Democratic Party as it attempts to extend the list of states in which it can compete in Presidential elections. And the more the Democrats put the GOP on the defensive in states like Colorado or Arkansas, both of which elected new Democratic governors by wide margins, the more the Republicans will be forced into challenging Democratic strongholds like Oregon or Michigan — neither of which are particularly welcoming of candidates running on a hard-right platform.
Matthew Yglesias, though, calls for A Little Perspective.
It seems to me that the real lesson of this delicious irony is that we should be guarded against pundits’ habit of over-interpreting election results. After all, back in 1998 the conventional wisdom was that the GOP was in danger of shrinking to become a merely regional party. Then, in late 2004 and early 2005, the Democrats were in danger of shrinking to become a merely regional party. Now in late 2006, the GOP is once again in danger of shrinking to become a merely regional party. Realistically, I think this is all more-or-less hysteria and nobody is going to become merely regional — things will just sort of swing back and forth, with the Democrats maintaining a semi-permanent reservoir of strength in the Urban Archipelago and the GOP having a similar bastion in the South.
While this may indeed, as his first commenter kids, derail Yglesias’ chances for entry into the Ã¼berpundit class, he’s entirely correct.
Could the Republican Party fall by the wayside by clinging too much to a social conservative base? Perhaps. But if history is any indicator, that’s not going to happen.
For one thing, the 2006 election was not a national referendum on Republican ideology but rather on Republicans’ performance. The reason they did better in the South than they did elsewhere was for the same reason Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale won only DC and their home states: When things go badly for a party, swing states swing against them; the more badly, the more swing. Perhaps that’s why they’re called swing states?
The number of times that the Democrats have been pronounced dead in just the last twenty years is staggering. Remember the Electoral College Lock that the Republicans had that ensured no Democrat would ever win the White House again? Or when Bill Clinton was running third behind Bush 41 and Ross Perot and there was speculation as to whether the Democrats would qualify for matching funds in 1996? Both evaporated with the 1992 election.
Matt’s right: The pundit class invariably reads way, way too much into the results of a single election. The temptation to extrapolate one data point into an infinite trend is just too great to resist, apparently. It is nonetheless incredibly silly.