The Southern Strategy Nears Its End

The Obama campaign won the 2012 presidential election largely by furiously and successfully courting new voters, especially in swing states, and in the process introduced a potentially new and deadly (to the Republican Party) group of people into the equation of presidential elections: non-voters. The Romney campaign lost by relying on catcalls, coded language on “food stamps” and “welfare”, and the assumption that the same political strategy focused on mobilizing the white vote that got Nixon elected would work for Romney 45 years later. They were wrong, and their utter surprise and shock at how wrong they were shows how much the Republican party (after forty years of the Southern Strategy) just doesn’t understand the 21st century United States of America.

The Romney campaigns sharp focus on so-called independent voters, at the expense of serious new voter registration efforts, meant that even as they built up a lead among independents, the Obama campaign was cancelling those gains out by getting people to the polls who rarely vote or had never voted before. The Obama campaign targeted young people, minorities, and poor folks and others who while not active voters were people they suspected of being sympathetic to Democratic politics and they got to work. In addition to matching the Romney campaign’s advertisement war, they blew the Romney campaign out of the water with their grassroots ground game.

As the old saying goes, all politics is local, and the Obama campaign turned this presidential election into a local election by combining digital information technology and behavioral psychology with the the oldest tools in politics: canvassing and word of mouth. Romney instead relief on messaging, money, and the type of intellectual laziness that is now endemic across the entire conservative movement. New Ideas? What for? 

At this point, its tempting to say the Obama campaign won simply by being smarter than the Romney campaign, and that would make this three straight races where Barack Obama’s team has simply out-thought the opposition (the 2008 Democratic Primary, the 2008 General Election, and the 2012 General Election), but it also comes down to the fundamental gap between the Republican braintrust’s concept of politics on a theoretical level and the place the United States of America is in 2012.

Looking at the stunningly off-base predictions of right wing and Republican election prognosticators (some of whom I think are very sharp despite our disagreements) and considering the assumptions that the Romney campaign made throughout the election suggests that the same wistful nostalgia for a conservatism that never existed is slowly sapping the American conservatism of any relevancy it may have once had.

The same columnists whose gut feelings told them that the polls must be wrong and that Romney would win in a landslide are the great minds behind the modern conservative movement. Political mandarin Charles Krauthammer thinks that the only change the Republican Party needed to make was to court Latinos better since Latinos are evidently “socially conservative”. Never mind that this confuses Cuban grandparents with their 19 year old grandchildren and fails to acknowledge how evolving social values occur in all communities, but it also completely avoids the question how just why the Republican Party’s message of extreme fiscal conservatism, gutted social programs, and warmongering neocon foreign policy just doesn’t connect with a generation of people raised during a time when public schools budgets have been gutted, when their friends, brothers, sisters and parents have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and while mostly everyone they know is struggling to make ends meet.

Self-reliance sounds good when you’ve got a decent savings account, a house or two and and something resembling financial security, but at a time like this, it sounds like the vacuous sound byte it is. The abstract (and wrong) notion that deregulation and flat taxes will be the nation’s economic miracle cure and magically create more money and more jobs might sound good within Republican echo chambers but in the lives of many Americans its not something based in their reality.

As Rich Yeselson of the Washington Monthly points out:

In the US, any possibility of the GOP appealing to the economic interests of most white men, as opposed to massaging their beleaguered sense of identity, must be subsumed to the antithetical economic priorities of the GOP’s plutocratic donor class. In short, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brother are ardent rent seekers from the federal government, union haters and tax avoiders, while promoting the demolition of social insurance for the 99.9%. They do not share most of the same economic goals as the guy wearing the “Put The White Back in the White House” t-shirt at a Romney rally. Yet rage and paranoia paradoxically bind these billionaires and white male small business owners and contractors: see, for example the Adelson owned newspaper in Israel’s headline after Obama’s victory, “Socialism Comes To America.”

Comedian Dennis Miller, on the O’Reilly Factor after the election said, “I liked it the way it was […] from [when he was] 18-58”.  Miller also spoke of all the “unfair attacks” levied against Mitt Romney, “who is a good man”. The subtext here, of course, is that Romney’s opponent is not a good man and was wholly deserving of the slander for the past four years. Moreover, for those Americans who for obvious reasons don’t look too fondly back at the Mad Men era and its predecessors, Miller’s nostalgia is wholly alien and any political messaging that evokes it is likely to come up empty.

These talking points and policies are made all the more obscene by the knowledge that the Republican coalition of geriatrics and white men has benefited more than any other population from systematic and widespread sinecure and the inherited wealth and privilege of a system was for years picked the winners and losers based on the color of their skin and the country of their parents birth. That Republicans reject that narrative of American history doesn’t make it any less true.

In the past year I’ve been told time and time again that its unconstitutional for my taxes to pay for my own health care by people whose healthcare is being paid for by my taxes. The fundamental hypocrisy necessitated by the Right Wing’s ideological and electoral imperatives reek of the self-serving rent seeking antithetical to groups of people who are in the ascendancy: women, immigrants, young people and the working poor whose consumer dollars truly drive the economy (just ask Walmart).  To win elections the Republican Party must protect demographics of incumbency (their electoral coalition) by preserving their entitlements (carried interest, capital gains, low taxes on inherited wealth) while those very same voters want to cut the red haired stepchildren out of the inheritance (social programs) because, essentially, they don’t like them very much.

The Republican Party has convinced itself that its current brand of “conservative” is not only correct but is what the country needs in ever stronger doses. Any deviation from that orthodoxy of God and Markets means you are either a heathen, a socialist, or both, and you are most certainly bound for hell. Even as neoliberalism has become the economic gospel of the left and the right, Republicans scream socialism, while Democrats move further from their social-democratic and populist impulses, while capitalist excess is even more unrestrained and regulated. ! As the Democratic party’s leftist impulses die out, the Right Wing screams communism and tyranny. There is something perverse about the level of disinformation and willful ignorance.

If Barry Goldwater laid the first brick in the intellectual foundation of the modern Conservative movement and Ronald Reagan installed the roof and the air conditioning, the movement has been constructed in a way that necessitates the coalition of big business and disillusioned white Americans that has  been the Republican Party’s base since the 1960s. Nixon’s Southern Strategy has been the unspoken, unacknowledged rule of the Republican Party for decades but its cynical effectiveness is fundamentally incompatible with the the new United States of America. It was always going to have an expiration date but Republicans began to believe that a strategically viable strategy was also ideologically and politically sound, and not in fact a political and social cancer rotting out the state of modern conservatism. It’s amazing that the Southern strategy has lasted for this long until you consider how effective it has been, but we’ve reached the moment where the Republican Party will have to reinvent itself or perish. To reinvent itself it was must disavow the very beliefs that they hold dearest and will have now to recruit people who at this point are almost allergic to their particular concoction of reactionary bullshit.

Standing athwart history yelling,  “Stop!” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Republican voters will continue to die off and the female, poor, foreign or otherwise different people who have permanently altered the face of the American politics aren’t going anywhere. Not now, not ever.


2012 Presidential Election Post-Mortem

Erick Erickson of RedState still thinks Republicans lose elections because they are insufficiently conservative:

Compromise? Like hell. We’re going to keep fighting. And we will find someone who actually doesn’t speak conservatism like he learned it from Rosetta Stone last week. For those of you on the left licking your chops thinking this spells doom — the nation just spent $6 billion for the status quo. I’ll take my chances.

The nation did not drift left. It was just unpersuaded Mitt Romney would actually take us right and sure as hell did not know what it would get even if it went with Romney. The next two years will set the vision of a more populist oriented conservatism of which I am excited to play a part. And I think, when the Democrats finally realize the new Democratic coalition is only a Barack Obama coalition, conservatives and the GOP will be ready. (bold mine)

The President after getting four more years.

As one of the most important bellwethers for what activist Republicans are thinking, Erickson is basically saying that his side are going to double down on strictly ideological conservatism. The only problem is that there aren’t that many smart, electable super conservatives out there. Also, the country isn’t nearly as conservative as they seem to think it is. Of course this is the same bozo who had been predicting a Republican landslide for weeks, so, you know, don’t pay too much attention to him.

Jon Cohn at the New Republic argues that Obama does in a fact have a mandate, and one that will only grow over time:

The election also sent a big, powerful message about what it means to be an American. The election of an African-American to the nation’s highest office is old news by now, but it remains remarkable, particularly given the feverish, relentless efforts by conservatives to paint Obama as un-American. And the same goes for Obama’s political coalition. Lazy pundits have fallen into the habit of dismissing Obama’s constituency because it cedes white voters, particularly white men, to Republicans. But Obama’s disproportionately female, disproportionately minority coalition happens to be majority. And it’s getting better. They are no longer the “other.” They are the authentic face of America. (Bold Mine)


It’s worth noting that last night the only issue that conservative pundits would concede is that the Republican Party needs to address its problem getting Latino and Hispanic votes, which is certainly correct, but any party that welcomes Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his ilk into the fold will have trouble expanding that tent. To keep the racist old white folks, you can’t bring in the young brown folks.

It’s also hard to see how the Republican Party picks up more Hispanic voters (outside of reliably conservative Cubans) if they plan on running against the Affordable Healthcare Act, since most Hispanics like Obamacare! 


Salon’s Steve Kornacki, one of the most astute political prognosticators and analysts writing today, has a great rundown of Romney’s political career, how he had to disavow his crowning achievement as Governor of Massachusetts for a chance to be elected president and how his success at passing a comprehensive healthcare law in Massachusetts might be his most enduring legacy:

“RomneyCare didn’t end up propelling him to the nomination in ’08, but it also wasn’t the reason Romney fell short. The speedy and convenient nature of his conversion on cultural issues was the main culprit, engendering profound suspicion on the Christian right. It wasn’t until well after the ’08 race that Romney’s Massachusetts law became toxic within the Republican Party. The reason for this was simple: because Obama embraced it as the model for his own program. From the minute he was elected, resistance to and resentment of Obama became the main motivating force among conservatives. His governing instincts were (and are) pragmatic and incrementalist, but to the right virtually everything he proposed was an assault on freedom and a step toward socialism. And nothing brought out the venom quite like the ACA.” (Bold Mine)


  1. If you wanna hear what the formerly confident conservative soothsayers are saying the morning after, check out Salon’s rundown.
  2. Fire Dog Lake is interested in how a handful of new progressives in the Senate will affect the ideological breakdown of the Congressional Democratic caucus.|
  3. Transit nerds like myself will enjoy this piece on the Northeast Corridor, though I think the author is overstating the decline of the Northeast since it remains the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the country.
  4. Here in Jersey City, Mayor Jerramiah Healy took another hit as his preferred candidate Michelle Massey lost in her bid to hold onto the council seat she was appointed to 10 months ago.

Post-Great Recession Black America: Up the Creek and Can’t Afford a Paddle

From an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper called, “The State of Working America’s Wealth” (h/t Matt Yglesias via Twitter):
The destruction of wealth that resulted from the Great Recession was widespread but not uniform. From 2007 to
2009, average annualized household declines in wealth were 16% for the richest fifth of Americans and 25% for the
remaining four-fifths.
•  The divvying up of the total wealth pie, even as the pie shrank, was made more uneven due to larger drops in wealth
for those at the bottom. The share of wealth held by the richest fifth of American households increased by 2.2
percentage points to 87.2%, while the remaining four-fifths gave up those 2.2 percentage points and held onto just
12.8% of all wealth.
•  The wealthiest 1% of U.S. households had net worth that was 225 times greater than the median or typical household’s net worth in 2009. This is the highest ratio on record.  
•  In 2009, approximately one in four U.S. households had zero or negative net worth, up from 18.6% in 2007. For
black households the figure was about 40%.
•  The median net worth of black households was $2,200 in 2009, the lowest ever recorded; the median among white 
households was $97,900.
•  Even at the 2007 economic peak, half of all U.S. households owned no stocks at all—either directly or indirectly
through mutual or retirement funds.
•  Homeownership rates fell from a peak of 69.0% in 2004 to 67.2% in 2009, and house prices fell 32% from 2006
through the first quarter of 2009. Prices have since rebounded slightly but were at mid-2003 levels in the third
quarter of 2010.
•  Because of the housing bust, home equity as a percent of home value fell from 59.5% in the first quarter of 2006 to
36.2% in the fourth quarter of 2009. For the first time on record, the percent of home value that homeowners own
outright dropped below 50%—meaning that banks now own more of the nation’s housing stock than people do.
So essentially the average black American household lives paycheck to paycheck. In total 1 in 4 American households has zero or negative net worth. This is in the wealthiest country in history. One that has had the largest GDP in the world for almost 135 consecutive years.

America’s “Progressive” Tax Rates Aren’t Very Progressive At All

Timothy Noah  of the New Republic asks how progressive our tax rate really is. The answer? Not very:

If you ask me, 17 percent to 29 percent isn’t a very progressive spread. Worse, the top one percent’s effective tax rate (29 percent) is a mere four percentage points higher than the effective tax rate (25 percent) for the middle fifth, whose average income is $42,000, as against–let me say it again–the one percent’s $1.4 million.

A growing enthusiasm gap on the right?

Erick Erickson of Redstate and CNN, whom anyone interested in contemporary American politics should read since he is probably the best bellwether we have of what the activist wing of the Republican Party is thinking on any given issue, had this to say about voting in his local primary in Georgia:

I did not want to vote for Romney. But I did not want to vote for Santorum or Gingrich or Paul. Choosing between them has been like choosing the tallest midget. I have been left uninspired for various reasons by each.

So I went with Rick Perry. Consider it a protest vote. But at least, unlike many, I went with who I liked as opposed to voting for someone to be against someone else or some other strategic pattern of voting.

What a mess this primary season is. At least soon we’ll be able to focus on Barack Obama instead of the hand we’ve dealt ourselves this primary season.

On the heels of George Will’s acknowledgement over the weekend that neither Mitt Romney or Santorum are likely to beat Barack Obama in the general election, I wonder what this means about the enthusiasm of conservative voters leading into the 2012 election. After a surreal midterm election that saw an unprecedented number of Tea Party-affiliated conservative member’s of congress sweep into Washington, how is it that the Republican party has somehow failed to harness that same energy to mobilize their party behind any one candidate. Perhaps it was because their ideal candidates like Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels or Marco Rubio declined to run, or because the Tea Party element still has not convinced the rank and file and/or party elite that their goals ought to be the Republican Party’s goals, but it is nonetheless surprising that after four unspectacular years of Barack Obama, they can’t seem to agree on a platform or candidate moving forward.

It used to be that the Democratic Party was hopelessly divided between various constituencies and was wiped out in election after election by a mobilized, organized Republican machine. Now it seems that the two parties have reversed roles.

Leftist Media on High Alert with Founding of “Washington Free Beacon” (via Matt Yglesias)

Matthew Continetti (who?), Editor in Chief of nascent conservative journalistic fistacuffery rag The Washington Free Beacon has an entertaining jeramiad/raison d’etre that Matt Yglesias linked to. My favorite part is the final paragraph where he really gets into this idea of “combat journalism”:

What would happen, though, if a website covered the left in the same way that the left covers the right? What picture of the world would one have in mind if the morning paper read like the New York Times—but with the subjects of the stories and the assumptions built into the text changed to reflect a conservative, not liberal, worldview? What would happen if the media wolf pack suddenly had to worry about an aerial hunting operation?

You are about to find out. The Washington Free Beacon is here to enter the arena of combat journalism. Our talented staff will add to the chorus of enterprising conservative reporters, publishing original stories, seeking out scoops, and focusing on the myriad connections between money and power in the progressive movement and Obama’s Washington. Our research and war room divisions will supplement that reporting with context, additional materials, and breaking video. At the Beacon, you will find the other half of the story, the half that the elite media have taken such pains to ignore: the inside deals, cronyism cloaked in the public interest, and far-out nostrums of contemporary progressivism and the Democratic Party. At the Beacon, all friends of freedom will find an alternative to the hackneyed spin, routine misstatements, paranoid hyperbole, and insipid folderol of Democratic officials and the liberal gasbags on MSNBC and talk radio. At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them.

Continetti’s whole notion of some grand leftist media conspiracy is, of course, both trite and patently absurd. The focus on the connections between “money and power” has never bene a concern of Right-leaning journalists, activists or PAC-funders, and to assert as much now is utterly ridiculous. In fact, the only time the Right cares about money in politics is when the money has come from unions. Frankly, I would be surprised if James O’Keefe wasn’t already on the payroll, combat journalist extraordinaire that he is.  En garde, I say!