Republicans – A State-Level Powerhouse on a National Scale

The Republicans are now America’s majority party at all levels of government, proving at least as adept as the Democrats in adapting to local conditions.

The facts are indisputable.  Republicans control nearly 2/3 of the governorships, will end up with 54 Senate seats, and a postwar high in House seats, possibly as many as 250.

The takeover of state legislative chambers has been breathtaking.  From the plugin below, you can see that it has been going on for some time, but really finished off the Dems in the South in 2010.

From its founding until 1994, the Republicans had really been a sectional party, able to compete effectively in the north and west, but locked out of the south.  In his four presidential elections, FDR won well over 90% of the vote in the Solid South.  (In none of those did the Republican nominee break 5%.  In 1944, Roosevelt fell below the 90% line, but the Republican Thomas Dewey finished third, behind the Southern Democratic Party, which didn’t actually nominate anyone.)

As the party moved south, it increasingly ceded the northeast to the Democrats, but the party was never entirely moribund there, either.

The price of this national success was something that the Democratic Party has been struggling with since its inception – the regions of the country are, in many ways, not very much like each other.  It makes governing as a party hard, because it creates a tension between the objectives of the national party and the desires of one’s constituents back home.  But it’s part of the design of our system that deserves to be celebrated, rather than denigrated.

The Democrats traditionally dealt with this problem by uniting around the one thing that every political party can agree on – staying in power.  So much so that they have come to stand for little else. They’ve been so good at uniting around power that, had it not been for Reconstruction, it’s almost certain that the country would have found itself with a Democrat president long before Grover Cleveland won the 1884 election.

Sometimes, a party is able to overcome that tension long enough to get things done.  The Democrats used a large House majority and 60 votes in the Senate to pass Obamacare, and promptly proved the limits of that strategy.  But on the flip side, I’m fond of pointing out that Jesse Helms couldn’t have won in Minnesota, and Rudy Boschwitz couldn’t have won in North Carolina, but they both helped pass the Reagan tax cuts.

The question is, now that they are a national party, can the Republicans find a reason for governing that unites these various regions? It’s a question they’re going to have to answer if they want to win the White House and actually govern.

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