As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

They Shall Not Rise Again

David Broder takes a look around today's Republican Party and notices, hey, maybe they don't want to play nice with others.

All the signs are that the stimulus spending will be opposed by congressional Republicans, whose shrunken ranks are increasingly dominated by right-wing Southerners who care not what their stance does to harm the party's national image.

The spectacle of LaHood facing off in congressional testimony against those naysayers will dramatize a split that is crippling the GOP.

The danger became apparent as far back as 2007. With Bush weakened by the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the midterm election losses of 2006, a Southern-led revolt killed his immigration reform bill. Junior senators such as Jim DeMint of South Carolina directed the rebellion, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, unable to stem the insurgency, joined it.

The price was paid in the 2008 presidential campaign. Despite his personal credentials as a sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform, John McCain was caught in the backlash of anti-GOP voting by Hispanics. It contributed to his loss of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and other states.

The same thing happened this year when Bush supported a bailout for the Big Three auto companies. Led by Republican senators from Southern states where there are many foreign-owned auto plants, the Senate refused to cut off a filibuster against the bill to provide bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler. This time, the opposition was led by Bob Corker of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama. When the Senate failed by eight votes to cut off debate, Southern and border-state Republicans voted 16 to 2 against the measure. On a similar vote on the 2007 immigration bill, the Southerners split 17 to 3 against.

The rump conservative faction of the Republican Party is not just the majority, it's all there is left. The GOP-dominated districts in America are white, Southern, rural or exurban, and more of the exurban districts are turning away from them. Southern tribalism is a far bit different from the tribalism of the rest of the country. The roots of secession and the "Lost Cause" still runs fairly deep, as far as I see it. The issue didn't have to necessarily be slavery then, it could have been tariffs on cotton and Southern agriculture. Southerners were ready to walk and ready to demand that the nation be avowedly with them. They are certainly ready to dive the country into depression by voting against a large stimulus package. This is especially true because blue states like Ohio and California and Michigan, bearing the greatest brunt of the economy, will certainly be asking for state and local government relief as part of the overall package. Despite the fact that Southern states have historically received more in federal money back from the government, despite the fact that multiple Sun Belt states, like South Carolina, are in just as dire straits economically, there is no question that conservative Senators can sell back to their communities that "these freeloaders" are asking for a handout, and that should not be allowed. There is no reason to think that any Southern Republican will consider the good of the country when the bill comes up for a vote in January. And ultimately, this will eliminate Republicans as a meaningful party because there simply aren't enough electoral votes in the South.

Because Republicans from swing and Democratic-leaning states now constitute such a distinct minority in the party caucus, they lack the numbers to prevent it from adopting positions unpopular with their voters. The caucus majority can impose a direction that solidifies the party where it is already strong but further endangers the minority.

This isn't the first time a party has fallen into this debilitating cycle. The classic example came after 1854 when Congress approved the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise that had limited slavery's spread in the territories. Until then, congressional Democrats were divided closely between Northern and Southern members. But the backlash against the Kansas-Nebraska Act destabilized that balance by provoking severe losses for Northern Democrats; as Southerners gained the advantage in the Democratic caucus, they repeatedly identified the party with pro-slavery policies that further undercut Northern Democrats already struggling against the emerging Republican Party. As the late David M. Potter recounted in his magisterial history of the 1850s, The Impending Crisis, the House's Northern Democrats didn't entirely recover until the New Deal.

The GOP is screwed in the near term. The question is whether they will have just enough votes to screw the rest of the country even more in the process.

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