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?”

Steve Benen is cautious about drawing too much from one election cycle but is encouraged. Jonathan Singer makes similar disclaimers before gushing,

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 überpundit 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.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    I think declaring the GOP a regional party is essentially counting chickens before they hatch.

    And in general, voting is going to have more of a swing than anything fixed with a few exceptions.

    I do think the GOP will have it tough in New England, but then it has always been tough for the GOP here.

    Over confidence among democrats that the GOP is now relegated to the South will in the end harm their party. I think it was all the talk of “permanent majority” that started some people balking as it was, I don’t think anyone likes the idea of a permanent majority except for the absolute strongest party faithful and the people of Massachussette’s who will mostly seem to elect the GOP governor for affect.

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    Why is everyone so wrong on this?

    The country is split 50/50 Democrat/Republican. It is that way because each party adjusts and moves to the center, where ever that center is at the time. I doubt any party will ever gain a huge majority in congress again.

    The recent gains by the Democrats tended to be with moderate or conservative candidates. Many of the Republican candidates hold positions counter to what conservatives expect. Some Democrats act like Republicans and some Republicans act like Democrats. Who can tell what they are anymore?

    Let’s see how the Democrats perform controlling congress, then we might see a shift back the other direction.

    This sounds like pundits talking just to hear themselves speak.

  3. I think this “regional party” business has more to do with partisan gerrymandering (for example, Massachusetts is 40% Republican and its congressional delegation is 11-0 Democratic) and aggregation bias (the “Red State/Blue State” false dichotomy) than it has to do with reality on the ground. Same thing applies, incidentally, to Democrats in the south.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    The question should be is what will the US be like with only one political party. My guess is that it will not be a very pleasant place to live. The democrats will have to eventually figure out a method of keep conservatives and moderates from voting in the Democratic Primary.

  5. And how does Mr. Drum react to those who don’t genuflect to the altar of political correctness, worship the cult of Gaia, play for his side in the bloodsport otherwise known as Beltway politics, and raise your family according to the way the way the government tells you?

    Hey, drawing strawman caricatures of my philosophical opponents and burning them to the ground comes almost naturally. Maybe I could write a political column for the Washington Monthly too!

  6. lily says:

    I don’t know about the regionalization of the R party–but the last election was not about performance. If the R party had actually succeeded in promoting its Christinist goals the defeat would have been much, much bigger. The only reason the R’s won anywhere outside the Bible Belt was name brand loyalty and the fact that their failure to convert their ideas into well-known policies has left some people still ignorant of the current state of the party ideology. Watch Kansas. The normal people in the Republican party are leaving.

  7. Wickedpinto says:

    I forget the exact title “A National Party no more?” is that it?

    The democrats came in, and won the congress, but that doesn’t mean that they are still a national party, or rather are still a national party but in a state of decay. The Dem’s were able (thanks to outrageously ridiculous coverage of foreign policy by the media, I’m sorry, the coverage is unbelievably abusive of America) to make the War, to make donations to indonesia, to make Katrina (one of the largest re-building grants in the history of the world, I think that only the marshall plan, and nero’s rebuilding of the burning of the christian portions of rome match or exceed in inflation related dollars) and every little pissant scandal into a national issue.

    The Dem’s are scraping every dark area (some fairly, some unfairly) from “macaca,” a word I have never heard or read in my life, to foley, who was no longer a congressman, to ARGH! I forget his name, the corrupt ace pilot from vietnam who lost his job and is probably going to jail, to tancredo’s (currently crazy) anti-ILLEGAL-stance, (though dobbs should be polishing tancredo’s nob) and “haliburton” whatever thats supposed to me, to israel’s self defense action against hezbollah (not pre-emptive) to every foreign policy issue,and every domestic (if it’s republican) scandal on the planet.

    The dems succeeded by nationalizing the ‘pubs, and by moving to the center in their own party, while ignoring the democratic scandals, with blatantly complicit action on the part of the media. Even Fox didn’t bother cuz noone wanted to hear about verifiable voter fraud in michigan, or missouri.

    The dem’s only bought themselves time. The ‘pubs are a national party, but the true center, is so whishy, that they forgot that they are more washy, this time around.

    I’m just say’n

  8. Bandit says:

    Matt’s right: The pundit class invariably reads way, way too much into the results of a single election.

    Well when it fits their agenda anyway. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything.