Advice for the GOP

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

For Republicans seeking a silver lining from the last election, try this one:

The GOP held the Old South. After 40 years, the Republicans’ Southern Strategy still works. Race beats all.

Sure, the Democratic presidential ticket took North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Virginia and Florida no longer count as Old South. Florida is New York south and snooty Virginia had rather be known as a Middle Atlantic state.

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I don’t know what happened to North Carolina.

Maybe the Tar Heels wearied of losing furniture-manufacturing jobs to China and India, or they tired of Republicans warning of Mexican immigrants at every turn. Whatever it was, North Carolina went Democratic by a whisker.

The rest of the South held fast. Barack Obama won only 44 counties of the 410 mostly white Appalachian counties that stretch from New York to Georgia and Mississippi.

Less than one-third of whites in the South voted for Obama, compared with 43 percent of whites nationally.

Somewhere, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater must be chuckling. They invented the Southern political strategy way back in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite a few cracks, the bloc, based primarily on a calculated appeal to white sentiment, still functions just fine.

While Republican John McCain lost the nation by a near landslide, he romped to easy victory in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Those states (plus a few empty Western ones) now comprise the heart and soul of the new/old Republican Party. A few delusional Democrats believe their Georgia senatorial candidate Jim “More Than Just a Pretty Face” Martin will prevail in a December runoff against GOP incumbent Saxby Chambliss. They must be dreaming. To the rest of the nation, Chambliss may be the poster boy for dirty campaigning and sticking his thumb in his constituency’s eyes. Back home among majority Republicans, Saxby is our kind of guy. He has promised to protect “our values and our way of life.” We all know what that means.

Sorry, Martin. Nice try, but you just don’t look the part of a Deep South senator. Try dyeing your hair white and saying something really nasty about the food at Taco Bell. That might help.

Back to the main event and the wonderment over whether the heavyweight Republican Party has got enough punch left to wage another championship fight.

Historic irony abounds in the last election. The party of Lincoln is now depending on the late Confederacy for survival. Before the 1960s, the Republican Party was despised and derided across most of the South. After all, wasn’t it a Republican named Sherman who invented scorched earth warfare and field tested it across Georgia? And wasn’t it the Democrats who thought up the white primary and Jim Crow?

In his book, “Whistling Past Dixie,” University of Maryland political scientist Tom Schaller presents a cogent order of battle for Democrats on how to win a national election without paying much attention to the South. The strategy worked.

All it took was a panic over the economy, two wars we can’t afford, massive unemployment, the collapse of key industries and a runaway deficit. That is when most Americans decided another Republican administration was a luxury we just couldn’t afford. It didn’t matter whether the Democratic challenger was a black guy from Chicago named Hussein. He could have been named Al Capone and still have won most of America.

Our part of the South just didn’t see it that way. Even if Republican John McCain was too old and showed signs of tilting to the left, he was still white, and that’s what mattered.

So what does the Grand Old Party do now? It owns the South, at least the white part of it. However, the South has demonstrated it is so far out of the American mainstream that it is practically a colony or territory, like Samoa or the Marianas.

The Republican leadership could abandon its Southern base and try to go national again. If that tactic failed, however, the GOP would become known as the Gone Old Party. As I see it, the Republicans have but one choice: Hang onto the South and hope Obama falls on his face. Of course, if that should happen, America might fall on its face too, and Republicans might be replaced by the Kuomintang.