Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Fantasy World of the Southern Republicans

Here in Virginia the state's demographics are changing rapidly with urban populations growing as the number of rural voters shrinks, and the numbers of non-white voters is soaring, especially in vote rich Northern Virginia.  No Republican has won statewide office since 2009 and the Virginia GOP currently maintains control of the Virginia General Assembly thanks to shockingly gerrymandered districts.  Yet despite these changes, the Virginia GOP hasn't changed its play book and, if anything has double down on its racism and self-prostitution to "Christian" religious extremists.  Virginia is ahead of the curve compared to other Southern states, but the same trend is happening elsewhere even as the GOP remains in a fantasy world believing that yesterday, today and tomorrow will all remain the same.  A piece in the New York Times looks at how sooner or later - and it is hopefully sooner - the GOP fantasy world will slam into objective reality.  Here are highlights:

Such public-relations acumen is a relatively new thing in Alabama, whose residents complain constantly about being looked down on. But the more intriguing story is that Mr. Bentley is among the Southern Republican officeholders who, despite the smart occasional concession, do not fully understand that their dominance will not be a feature of the region’s two-party future. They still act as if tomorrow will be exactly like today, their tenure assured by unbendable evangelical Christians and testy white suburbanites.

But, as in the time of Henry W. Grady, the post-Reconstruction journalist who popularized the term “the New South,” inexorable forces will in a few decades reshape Southern society, this time in a more progressive direction. Witness the flood of gay weddings in Mobile and the mounting alarm of evangelicals across the region, the latter being the driving force behind the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s retro presidential campaign. Like their peers in other regions, secular Southern whites under 40 care less than their elders do about cultural issues like flags, racial and ethnic purity, or private sexual conduct.

This won’t come about because current Republican voters and their elected officials now in office will somehow be converted, but because they will be overwhelmed by new voters in the burgeoning Hispanic and Asian communities, who will join the black minority.

It seems an overstatement to say that Southern Republicans are in outright denial about the fact that whites will be a minority in America around 2043. It does seem fair to say that the national Republican Party is underreacting, and Southern Republicans seem to be especially resistant to appealing to their minority neighbors.

Like their counterparts in the national G.O.P. and the current crop of about 15 me-too Republican presidential candidates, Southern legislators seem unwilling to make any change on social welfare, retirement, health care or women’s and gay rights that would attract Southerners not voting Republican at present.

A survey of demographic and polling data in what the Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey calls a New Sunbelt, stretching across the Southern Rim from Miami to Los Angeles, makes an ironclad case for this huge recalibration in political and cultural attitudes. 

“Demography is destiny” is the theme of Mr. Frey’s new book, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America,” and another recent book, “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown,” by Paul Taylor and his colleagues at the Pew Research Center.

“Demographic transformations are dramas in slow motion,” Mr. Taylor writes, an implicit warning to Republicans who believe that all they need to do is reinforce the beliefs and prejudices of the suburban South.

For now, Republican officeholders live in a dream world where they think rhetoric and repetition will somehow cause minority voters and center-left whites to turn into Republican voters. Alarmed Republican political professionals warn that unless their candidates stop obstructing on health care and make progress on gender issues, the party will lose the White House in 2016 and in quadrennial spurts see its Southern hegemony dismantled by new voters in the New Sunbelt.

Now we’re seeing a new coalition politics, in which Hispanic, black and Asian voters are joined by Democratic-leaning younger whites who, unlike older white voters, do not care about dog-whistle issues.   It is a quintessential Southern pattern. The region’s most affluent citizens always resist the obvious at first.  

It will take awhile for Southern and national Republicans to understand that, as Mr. Frey put it, “Demographics is destiny.” The longer they take to get it, the greater the odds that multiethnic Democrats will finally break the Republican lock on the solidly red South.

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