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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sept. 19 (Bloomberg View) — If Democratic incumbent senators in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina lose their races this November (and my non-data-geek guess is that they will), and Democratic challengers in Georgia and Kentucky fall short (ditto), every Senate seat in the South outside Florida will be in Republican hands.

The South’s hold on the Republican Party, already powerful, will intensify. It’s hard to see how that could be a good outcome.

As Nate Cohn wrote in the New York Times, “The Republican Party’s increasingly Southern character makes broadening its appeal more challenging. A record 41 percent of Republican voters in the 2012 election hailed from the South. Those voters elected more than half of all House Republicans in 2012 — the first time that Southerners have represented a majority of the House Republican Caucus.” Describing the new House majority whip, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, former Representative Bob Livingston told the Washington Post, “He’s a fighter and a Southerner,” and thus “represents the biggest constituency in the caucus.”

State legislatures in the South have been aggressively segmenting along racial lines. While Republicans nationally have an enormous incentive to diversify as the nation’s demography changes, Southern Republicans have been using their majority redistricting powers to heighten racial distinctions between the parties. They have made survival difficult for white Democratic candidates by placing them in districts with large black majorities. Increasingly, the Democratic Party in those states is black and the Republican Party is white. As NBC News reported, in every state of the former Confederacy for which exit polls were available, President Barack Obama’s share of the white vote in 2012 was lower than his national average.

If history is any guide — and Southwise, when is it not? — this will probably have toxic consequences both for Republicans and for U.S. politics.

The loss of three moderate Democrats in the Senate this year would also mean the loss of three moderate Southerners. In other words, Southern representation in the Senate would become even less moderate than it is already — and it’s pretty immoderate. More white Southern conservatives in the ranks is precisely what the Republican Party doesn’t need as it stumbles into the 21st century in a panic over changing demography. The party is already perilously white and socially conservative in a nation that is increasingly multiracial and socially tolerant. (The religion gap in U.S. politics — with the heavily evangelical South occupying one of the far ends — makes the gender gap look like a hairline fracture.) Many of the Republican Party’s most radical impulses, and some of its most embarrassing members, are based in the South.

All of this seems likely to produce a Senate even more polarized than it is today, with a more solidly liberal Democratic caucus and a Republican caucus even more dependent on conservative Southern whites. So two of the scourges of contemporary U.S. politics — intense partisan polarization and the slide of the Republican Party into reaction — may both get a modest boost. Oh joy.

Photo: Andrew Aliferis via Flickr

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