Remembering the GOP before the Neo-Confederates

We have largely come to accept that our political parties are ideologically driven and geographically aligned. Yet, only a short time ago these stark divisions did not exist.

The 1994 wave election marked the beginning of a Neo-Confederate renaissance that has redrawn our political maps. Look back only twenty years and the shape of American politics is nearly unrecognizable today.

Twenty years ago Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and New York had Republican Governors. The party’s most prominent figure was Jack Kemp. Half of the nation’s ten largest cities had Republican mayors, including New York City and Los Angeles.

There were only three or four states that either party could always count on winning in a Presidential election. There were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Neither party was entirely aligned on almost any issue.

Now Republicans hold the mayor’s office in only four of the country’s thirty largest cities. The South is Republican from top to bottom, but the country’s major economic and population centers are solidly Democratic. Our politics is now defined almost entirely by geography and demographics – a dangerous division not seen since the 19th century.

Barring some remarkable occurrence in the next few months, we are about to have our first Presidential election in which the outcome is determined by demographics before the candidates are even selected. We have had plenty of blow-out elections, but that isn’t what we’re facing in 2016.

Candidates in the coming election will probably be separated by less than six or seven percentage points, yet the outcome is not in doubt. In only twenty years the GOP has entirely lost the ability to influence national policy.

Republicans’ Neo-Confederate makeover has given us serious clout in the South and in rural areas, but that appeal is too narrow to allow us to compete for the Electoral College. The Blue Wall of reliably Democratic states means that no credible Republican candidate has a chance at the White House. If things shape up as expected, we may in 2016 see a disturbingly large delta between the popular vote and the Electoral College.

It isn’t clear how this situation can be reversed. If Republican politicians can earn a living winning state and local elections in the South and the rural Midwest they may cease to care what happens in Washington. The losers in the culture war seem content to retreat to Alabama. Until they are dislodged by changing demographics, we may remain geographically divided in a manner less red or blue than blue and gray.

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Posted in Election 2016, Neo-Confederate

If you can’t say anything nice…

Late last night Congress passed legislation that keeps the Department of Homeland Security funded – for one week. What does a week accomplish? For Republicans, absolutely nothing. Democrats on the other hand would be content to keep granting one week funding extensions all the way up to the 2016 election. This ridiculous spectacle is a gift to Hillary Clinton.

A very busy cycle in the day job and a very depressing news cycle have conspired to make writing tough. Even I’m getting bored with these ‘WTF are they thinking’ posts, but that’s the material they’re giving me.

Congressional Republicans built this trap from the ground up. They picked the hostage. It’s not the EPA, or the IRS. They picked the agency charged with protecting US internal security. Congressional Republicans picked the issue on which to grandstand. It’s not tax reform or infrastructure or jobs. It’s white fear of Latinos, who the GOP must recruit if they are ever going to win another national election.

So, Republicans are threatening our own base’s second favorite government function (after the military) as part of a campaign to stir up public hostility toward the ethnic group we most desperately need to win. Even worse, there are no actual public policy issues at stake. None.

Congress has no authority to do anything material about the President’s executive orders on immigration. This self-defeating spectacle has zero public policy implications. The entire effort has been engineered as theater for the paranoid old white people who form the rock-hard spine of the party’s base.

In a better world, Republicans in Congress could use their newly minted majority toward a novel purpose. They could pass laws.

Rather than throw a fit over the President’s immigration action, they could build coalitions to pass some form of an alternative. After building legislation on a base of broad public support, they could dare the President to veto it. If he did, then the party’s nominee in ’16 could use that veto for new leverage.

Or they could threaten to shut down our largest security agency out of blind, idiotic rage. Either way works I guess when you have no point of contact with reality.

What is there to write about this? I’ve run out of theories to explain this kind of behavior.

Posted in Uncategorized

Link roundup

No time for a post, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there. A few highlights:

Quartz: Why it’s un-American to get rid of AP US history class

Washington Post: Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say

Texas Monthly: To Love and to Cherish

Washington Post: The wealthy are walling themselves off in cities increasingly segregated by class

And the best of the day:
Aeon: Fact-checking grandma

Posted in Uncategorized

Italians face terrorist threat

The best news item of the week comes from a Twitter hashtag. Islamic State militants have launched a new marketing campaign promising to conquer Rome. Italians have filled the feed with travel advice.

A few samples:

1

2

3

You could lose hours reading through these. Enjoy.

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Posted in Uncategorized

The Washington Post on Cruz’s chances

Journalists are starting to recognize the overall weakness of the GOP field and the potential of a Cruz candidacy. From the Washington Post this morning, Chris Cillizza, quoting a friend:

He said that Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) had about the same odds of becoming the Republican presidential nominee as former Florida governor Jeb Bush….Think of the Republican field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: establishment, tea party, social conservative and libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size: Establishment is the biggest, followed by tea party, social conservative and then libertarian.

Where have you heard this before? I think there are really only two lanes, the establishment primary and the base primary. I’m pretty convinced that Cruz has the best odds in the pack. We’ll see.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized

Chief Justice Roy Moore is a Dixiecrat

Alabama’s Chief Justice, Roy “Standing in the Courthouse Door” Moore, has instructed the state’s probate officials to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The move comes in response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to stay a lower court’s decision striking down the state’s same sex marriage ban.

Moore has been consistently at odds with the Federal government over religious displays in Alabama courts and other issues. No frequent reader of this space should be surprised to learn that Justice Moore started his political career as a Democrat. He switched to the GOP a couple of years after Rick Perry in the early ‘90’s.

Just an observation, offered without further commentary.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate

The myths and realities of the Southern Strategy

Let’s recite the myth together. Richard Nixon, on the campaign trail in 1968, visits a Southern state and is shocked by the enthusiastic reception he receives. His campaign team scrambles to build a strategy that will tap into Southerner’s rage over the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-65. That cynical strategy evolves into a grand, successful scheme to flip the “solid South” and make the GOP competitive there.

Untangling myth from history in the story of the South’s great political switch is challenging. Participants in that history have little incentive to be candid. Many competing factors were in play and we always struggle to avoid conflating institutional and individual actions in our history. Truth is buried deep beneath layers of self-interested distortion and complexity.

Adding difficulty to the effort, Nixon’s political aides did in fact construct and attempt to implement a Southern Strategy. Their efforts are well documented. They even adopted the term itself.

What makes the Southern Strategy a myth is that it confuses correlation with causation. What makes it dangerous is the way it whitewashes the forces behind our current political dysfunction.

The Southern Strategy was not a successful Republican initiative. It was a delayed reaction by Republican operatives to events they neither precipitated nor fully understood. Republicans did not trigger the flight of the Dixiecrats, they were buried by it. That is the unacknowledged reality of the Great Dixiecrat Migration which continues to haunt our politics in the present.

Racist Southern Democrats began their ugly break from the Democratic Party twenty years prior to the Southern Strategy. Their move was sparked by Truman’s desegregation of the military and it was led by Senator Strom Thurmond. The history of the South’s switch from one-party rule under Democrats to one-party rule under Republicans starts in 1948 with Thurmond’s third-party campaign for the White House and ends in 2014 when the Southern states returned to full one-party control.

Republicans’ first tried to exploit this split in 1964. Titled “Operation Dixie, Goldwater experienced some success in his effort to win Electoral votes in the South. That effort had little impact farther down the ballot.

Party switching started with a trickle in the early ‘60’s, led by Thurmond himself, but it remained a top-down phenomenon for another twenty years. Established Democratic Party figures already in office that possessed a standing pipeline of money and infrastructure led the break one by one. Those coming up through the ranks remained largely loyal and solidly Democratic. Party switching was a privilege of those who were already in power.

In 1989, a young Democratic State Legislator named Rick Perry switched to the GOP to run for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. He was riding a fresh wave that would gain momentum over the next few years reaching much deeper into the Dixiecrat ranks. These younger politicians were taking advantage of a new political cover and institutional groundwork created by religious fundamentalists.

While Mainline Protestants North and South had lined up fairly consistently in favor of Civil Rights, Southern evangelicals, especially the powerful Southern Baptist congregations, had been solid defenders of segregation. Within a decade after their decisive failure to protect Jim Crow they had emerged from their defeat under a new brand.

The Moral Majority and other groups mobilized initially to block the desegregation of religious schools but very quickly adapted their rhetoric behind an officially race-neutral “culture war.” Starting in the late ‘70’s they were the first to begin organizing precinct-level activism inside the Republican Party in the South.

Before the fundamentalists began to mobilize inside the GOP, the grassroots structure of the party in the South was practically empty. By the mid-80’s, the party had been able to elect Senators and even a few Governors in Southern states, but the absence of ‘feet on the street’ made it nearly impossible to compete for most state and local positions. The Southern Strategy assembled by Nixon’s strategists did nothing to fill that gap.

Local party officials, where there were any, were mostly business figures, a few Taft Republicans and Birchers, and a collection of migrants with Northern Republican roots. The party was commercially oriented, anti-union, and quietly sympathetic to Civil Rights in a manner similar to Republicans elsewhere. Fundamentalist activism in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s began to change the character of the party and led to clashes with the so-called Republican “establishment.”

By the early ‘90’s those clashes reached a crescendo as the new religious wing took over major grassroots Republican organizations. In Houston the fight was particularly ugly and prolonged, lasting half the decade. Fundamentalist extremists eventually assumed full control of the party there and began to impose religious restrictions and a newly rigorous discipline on party chairs. That pattern continues there today.

Dixiecrats’ migration to the GOP was boosted by the 1994 wave election in a way that defined the party’s future direction. National factors in ’94 created a massive Republican bloc-vote in places where the party had never before been competitive, giving rise to the Stockman Effect. Named for the outlandish Republican Congressman Steve Stockman, the Stockman Effect, far more than the Southern Strategy, explains what happened to the Republican Party over the course of the Dixiecrat Migration.

Most state and local offices on the ballot across the South in the 1994 Republican primary had been uncontested. Almost no one who was serious about public service as a judge or commissioner or sometimes even a Congressman would bother seeking the Republican nomination. Republican ballot positions were often filled by whatever local oddballs and perennial candidates happened to sign up.

In November 1994 those oddballs were swept into office.

Some of them remained in office a long time. Many of them like Congressman Steve Stockman, were so transparently dysfunctional that they were quickly swept back out. Very few of them went away.

Cloaked in the minimal legitimacy gained by their period in office they went on to influential roles in the party structure. Stockman’s wife became a national GOP delegate. Stockman himself would return to Congress a few years later. He would have remained there, making an idiot of himself in the manner of a Louie Gohmert or Steve King but for his bizarre decision to challenge John Cornyn for Texas’ Senate seat.

’94 was a signal year in the South’s pivot from one-party white Democratic rule to one-party white Republican rule. George W. Bush became Texas’ Governor. It was the last election in which Texas Republicans would lose a statewide office. Between 1994 and 2002 the switch in Texas was complete. The last southern state (apart from Virginia) would be in Republican hands by 2014.

In a moment of unusual candor, Nixon and Reagan political operative Lee Atwater explained the Southern Strategy to reporters in 1981. His comments have become the accepted standard of how Republicans allegedly drew Southern Democrats into the party and continued the fight against Civil Rights using new rhetoric:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Atwater’s statements are electric, but as an explanation of what drew the Dixiecrats into the GOP they are entirely misleading. It’s not that Republicans learned to couch their language and conceal their racist motives. What happened was that Southern segregationists found new language and a largely empty Republican political structure through which to express it.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Republican figure anywhere in the country in 1954 who engaged in the kind of race-baiting Atwater described. The evolution he outlines did in fact occur, but it was the Dixiecrats fleeing the Democratic Party, not traditional Republicans, who brought that legacy and underwent that transformation.

There’s hubris in characterizing Republicans as having “courted” Southern voters into a new alliance. In reality, late 20th century Republicans hoping to shape an appeal in the South were foolishly trying to ride an avalanche. What’s left of the Republican Party as it once existed is buried somewhere beneath tons of noxious debris as the active racism of Jim Crow’s defenders has become the quiet racism of the culture wars.

Our myths of the Southern Strategy are dangerous for the way they obscure the Republican Party’s central problem – its new, unintended role as the vehicle of white supremacy in the 21st century. History denied is history repeated. Republicans will not shake this burden without first confronting it.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Race, Religious Right

Dirty hands, vaccines and rape should be no-go zones

Why do major Republican figures keep saying stupid things?

It’s one thing to trip into a gaffe or a misstatement. That happens to people who have to live in front of cameras all day long. What we’ve experienced just over the past two weeks are calculated statements and actions – attempts to express a deliberate position – which are too skull-numbingly idiotic to be defensible on any level. We’re not just talking about Louie Gohmert or Steve King. Even Chris Christie has joined in.

Two weeks ago far-right Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers tried to persuade the party to back away from another pointless losing fight over rape and abortion. Now she’s been tagged as the GOP’s “abortion barbie” and she’s lined up for primary challenge.

Bobby Jindal, who one chastised Republicans for becoming the “stupid party” went all the way to England to repeat a laughably idiotic falsehood about Muslim “no-go zones.” He’s still doing it.

House Speaker John Boehner for some reason thought it would be cute to invite a foreign leader to address a Joint Session of Congress for the express purpose of undermining America’s stated foreign policy. Needless to say, that move isn’t working out the way he’d planned.

As measles outbreaks spread across the country, physician Rand Paul could have encouraged people to do the responsible thing and ensure that they vaccinate their children. Instead he recognized a vital opportunity to lecture people about “liberty.” Again. Along the way he accidentally encouraged people to do something that is not going to help him or the GOP at all. Journalists have been looking back over his deep history of interactions with conspiracy groups and other nutjobs.

Chris Christie took a forceful stand against the spread of diseases that could threaten his constituents when he personally intervened last year to illegally imprison a nurse who had been doing charity work with Ebola patients. Now that we are facing a real outbreak of a disease that we will genuinely have difficulty controlling, he waffled this week on the importance of mandatory vaccinations.

For some inexplicable reason, new Republican Senator Thom Tillis felt the need to speak out for liberty by deriding rules that force restaurant workers to wash their hands. This is not an issue on anyone’s agenda. It is not controversial. No Congress or legislature is about to vote on it. He just felt the need, as a public service, to make sure people are aware of how batshit-delusional many Republicans are by mouthing off on an irrelevant matter.

And as a preview of stupidity to come, the Republican-controlled Senate once again failed this week to re-authorize the budget for the Homeland Security Department. McConnell is trying and failing to stop the Senate’s Cruz wing from blocking funding to protest the President’s immigration plans. This is an absolute loser on every possible level.

There is no less politically advantageous hostage they could have taken. Republican stonewalling over Homeland Security funding is exactly the kind of childish, self-defeating tantrum that McConnell promised would not happen and I said we should expect. Here we are. The funding deadline (set by Republicans in negotiations last year) is February 27.

I’m out of explanations. Really, I do not understand why these grown men and women are so consistently taking actions that seem not only at odds with the national interest but with their own. This is bizarre. There has to be someone in the GOP who can make this stop, but it’s not clear who that may be.

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Posted in Republican Party

Evangelicals and White Supremacy

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s largest Protestant denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern states have never supported multi-party politics. From their founding, their white majorities have channeled virtually all “legitimate” political expression through a single, racially-aligned party. Over the past fifty years as the overt defense of white supremacy has become politically problematic, maintaining that monolithic political control has been a greater challenge. Religion has played a critical role in allowing white communities in the South to continue to wage a “culture war” that was lost under a different banner.

In 1956 there may have been no more influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention than W.A. Criswell, the pastor of the enormous First Baptist Church in Dallas. The Supreme Court had recently struck down racial segregation in schools in the Brown v. Board of Education case. A conflict was building between the Eisenhower Administration and the Governor of Arkansas over a plan to desegregate Little Rock’s public schools. Dr. Martin Luther King was organizing bus boycotts in Montgomery. It was not certain where Baptist congregations would line up on the emerging movement for racial justice. Criswell took the opportunity to clarify the matter.

At a convention in South Carolina Criswell turned his popular fire and brimstone style on the “blasphemous and unbiblical” agitators who threatened the Southern way of life. Southern Baptists were not alone in defending segregation, at least not in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. What made the Baptists unique in their long, stubborn defense of white supremacy was the relative independence from any centralized authority and the absence of any accountability to congregations and officials outside the South.

Baptists felt no such pressure and the independence of their congregations left them functioning very much like the entrepreneurial “evangelical” churches that dotted the southern landscape. These unaffiliated institutions, relics of the days when settlement, civilization, and accountability were very limited in the South, were the main competitors to the Baptists for attendance and money.

Instead of feeling pressure from Northern coreligionists concerned about the violence of Jim Crow, Baptist ministers and congregations mostly felt squeezed by competition from ever more radical institutions that popped up like hot dog stands whenever someone felt the “spirit” move them. Southern Baptists had nothing to gain and everything to lose from taking a courageous stand for justice. With very few exceptions, they didn’t. Those few congregations that did, like University Baptist Church in Austin, faced enormous difficulty and wielded no influence in the wider denomination, barely clinging to their place in the communion.

Criswell’s 1956 speech in South Carolina contained all the usual racist invective, but there is an element of his argument that was eerily prescient. He described an approach to preserving white supremacy which would outlast Jim Crow. In language that managed to avoid explicit racism, he built the primary political weapon of the culture wars.

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made – a land of the free and the home of the brave.

Long after the battle over whites’ only bathrooms had been lost, Houston’s evangelical community can continue the war over the “bathroom bill” using a rhetorical structure Criswell and others built. That same machinery is operating in other areas with explicit religious support.

That legacy continues to haunt the South. Criswell’s rhetorical framework, repeated over and over again by religious and political figures as the fight over segregation played out, retains a powerful pull. Separated now from its explicit racist origins it continues to provide leverage in the lingering fight to preserve what remains of white supremacy.

In August of 1980, Republican Presidential nominee Ronald Reagan visited Criswell’s church for a campaign rally. Reagan could not have anticipated what his opening to the newly rebranded Southern segregationists would mean for the country and the Republican Party. There were many Republican figures of different persuasions beginning to emerge in Texas. Reagan chose to honor Criswell. His short-sighted choice, like others made by national Republican figures, would influence the balance of power in a South struggling to determine what would come after segregation.

Texas’ new Republican Lt. Governor is a Southern Baptist talk radio host named Dan Patrick. He is also the state’s most enthusiastic proponent of privatized public schools. Patrick describes this idea as a move toward innovation, a means of liberating the education system to embrace new methods and technologies. Patrick’s innovation is actually very old, first introduced by a fellow Southern Baptist in 1953.

Patrick’s tuition voucher ideas were passed into law in 1954 under pressure from Georgia’s segregationist Governor Herman Talmadge. The purpose of the plan was to ensure that segregation could survive even if the Federal Government intervened. Georgia passed a constitutional amendment that gave the legislature the right to privatize the public school system entirely, replacing it with private, per-student vouchers to attend any institution they chose. The law remained on the books in Georgia until the new Constitution was ratified in 1982.

You can be confident that Patrick will never utter the word “segregation” in the fight to implement Talmadge’s Jim Crow Era plans in modern Texas. Thanks to Rev. Criswell and countless others who learned to cloak their arguments in constitutional and religious terms, he doesn’t have to. As the White Citizens Councils and other institutions of segregation-era political power in the South lost their official legitimacy, religious institutions were ready to pick up the slack.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Criswell’s rhetoric, adopted so broadly and consistently by Baptists and other evangelicals, helped build a new refuge for Dixiecrats. Deprived of the language used for more than a century to keep whites aligned under single party rule, religious institutions gave those frustrated Dixiecrats a bridge to somewhere, a place to go to be reunited under a new, old banner. Baptists and evangelicals gave white southerners their key to a new fortress in a new party. Evangelical religion has become the key to maintaining single party rule in the South after segregation.

Their rising power forced a rebranding of some issues and shifted the political emphasis on some others. On the whole, however, the Dixiecrat agenda has survived with its core intact. Today it is less explicitly racist and more explicitly theocratic, but the fundamental approach to government that evolved under slavery and Jim Crow continues under a banner of “religious freedom.” When Southern Baptist Reverend and Republican Presidential contender Mike Huckabee criticizes Beyonce’s assault on “holiness” it isn’t hard to hear what he’s really talking about.

In 1965, after Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Act was passed, the Southern Baptists formally abandoned the fight against segregation with a passive statement urging members to obey the law. In 1968 they endorsed desegregation. That same year the Southern Baptists elected Criswell as their leader.

Southern Baptists, in a remarkable break with the past, renounced and apologized for their role in defending slavery…in 1995. The denomination issued an explicit endorsement of the Civil Rights Acts…in 2014. Southern religious fundamentalists, not just the Baptists, have held tightly to every element of white supremacy so long as it retained the slightest patina of credibility, only letting go when those positions became so utterly poisonous as to no longer serve their purposes.

As long as Southern white majorities can be frightened or cajoled into racial solidarity, those states will continue to be dominated by the same monolithic single-party politics that have prevailed from their founding. Decades ago it was blacks and Communists. Recently it was homosexuals. For a while to come it may be Muslims or atheists. Some fearsome alien has always been called on to separate Southern voters from accountable representation. There is no end in sight.

History is a powerful tide, especially when it runs unseen and unacknowledged. Many difficult years lie ahead before the Southern states join the union in a more authentic manner. In the meantime, the influence of the Dixiecrats will continue to drag the Republican Party and interfere with national efforts to embrace the 21st century.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Election 2016, Neo-Confederate, Religious Right, Republican Party, Tea Party, Texas

The North tolerates more ideological diversity

Last year’s mid-term elections marked the end of a decades-long transition as white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party en masse. For a decade or so as this process gained momentum, it looked as though the South might, for the first time ever, be moving toward an open, multi-party political system.

That has not occurred. This transformation has proved to be less of an opening to competitive politics than a long flag-changing ceremony. Southern politics remains as racially-driven and monolithic as ever.

A few samples of precinct-level data from northern cities can provide a helpful contrast. Even in states behind the “Blue Wall,” solidly beyond Republicans’ reach in Presidential elections, multi-party politics remains relatively vibrant. There is no similar example of “ticket-splitting” in the South.

Chicago’s Ward 43 covers the city’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood along the North Shore. The ward is overwhelmingly white and Democratic. Republican Bruce Rauner’s 2014 victory in the race for Governor of Illinois demonstrates the willingness of voters in northern states to disregard party affiliation in pursuit of quality leadership. The numbers of Chicago’s 43rd Ward are just one example of this flexibility.

Solidly Democratic Ward 43 gave half their votes to the Republican candidate in the 2014 Governor’s race. Rauner took no position on culture war issues, declared himself pro-choice, and ran a campaign rigorously focused on the fiscal and ethical issues facing state government. He outpolled Republicans farther down the ballot by a stunning margin.

Illinois Republicans nominated social conservative Jim Oberweis for the 2014 Senate race. He drew only 32% in Chicago’s 43rd Ward. Rauner won his race while every other statewide Republican, including Oberweis, lost. Republicans failed to gain a single seat in the State Assembly.

The same pattern of ticket-splitting could be seen in the heavily Republican districts in Chicago’s collar counties. In my DuPage County precinct, Oberwies trailed fellow-Republican Rauner by 13 points, a gap that was pretty consistent across the suburbs.

This kind of ticket-splitting is a tradition in Northern states, where a more open political culture leads to more competitive party politics. Minnesota has given its Electoral votes to a Republican Presidential candidate only one time since the 1920’s. Across the same period more than half of its Governors have been Republicans. Similar patterns are evident in New York and Massachusetts. Since Reagan, California has had three Republican and three Democratic Governors.

Massachusetts in 2014 sent a Democrat to the US Senate in a rout while a Republican won the Governor’s race. Republicans have held the Massachusetts Governors’ office as often as not over the past few decades.

At the state and local level, personalities can be more of a factor and the narrower range of relevant issues gives a minority-party candidate less baggage. Vermont has a US Senator who left the Democratic Party to openly embrace Socialism. A Republican there came within one point of winning the 2014 Governor’s race. Needless to say, that Republican is not close to Ted Cruz on the issues. It also goes without saying that he wouldn’t have been competitive as a Republican in a Senate or Congressional race.

It is tough to find a comparison to the voting patterns in Chicago’s Lincoln Park anywhere in the South, in part because it is difficult to find any genuinely competitive races there. Looking at precincts in Houston or Charlotte or Atlanta you find partisan voting preferences that are inextricably tied to demographics all the way up and down the ballot.

In Houston’s Harris County, Romney won 50% of the vote in 2012. Ted Cruz also won 50%. McCain carried 62% of the vote there in 2008 while Republican Senate candidate John Cornyn carried 62% of the vote. Atlanta’s Fulton County gave 34% of the vote to the GOP’s 2014 Senate candidate and 34% to the GOP candidate for Governor. This pattern of rigid partisan ideological consistency is evident across the South.

Northern states that haven’t voted for a Republican Presidential nominee in a very long time and aren’t likely to do so anytime soon, still consistently elect Republicans to state and local offices. There is no comparison in the South. Very few Northern states are under one party control. All of the Southern states apart from Virginia are controlled by the GOP from top to bottom.

As the solid South has increasingly come to dictate the GOP’s national priorities the White House has slipped out of Republicans’ reach. Scott Walker can squeak out a win in a Governor’s race in Wisconsin, but he would lose the state by a wide margin as a Presidential nominee. Likewise, Chris Christie could not expect to compete in New Jersey. The same ticket-splitting that put these guys in office behind the Blue Wall would doom their Presidential ambitions.

The increasingly solid Blue Wall voting pattern of urban and Northern states in Presidential elections does not reflect a similar Democratic monopoly over state and local politics. Those states support a far more open, complex, and diverse political climate than Mississippi or Georgia. Why Southern party politics tolerates so little ideological diversity is a tough question to answer. It deserves its own post.

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Posted in Election 2016, Illinois, Neo-Confederate, Political Theory
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