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.