Much has been said about the Southernization of the Republican Party, but little about the way Mitt Romney, if he secured the Grand Old Party's nomination, has a chance to wrest control from the party's fringe and restore it to political moderation. Sure, the GOP is justly viewed as the party of big business, and one of the richest men ever to run for the White House won't change that. But of all the candidates, none is more likely to put the brakes on the trend of Southernization.
“Southernization” is used to connote geography, but it's more than that. It's an ideology. You can see this when you compare the way the Party of No has obstructed everything the first African-American president of the United States has proposed with the way Southern slave states dominated national politics from Jefferson's presidency to Lincoln's.
If the slave states didn't get federal laws that protected slavery, they'd obstruct anything that didn’t suit their needs or, worse, threaten to blow up the union, which eventually they did with the first shots of Civil War in South Carolina. It was kamikaze politics then and it's kamikaze politics now.
For a contemporary example consider Texas Congressman Ron Paul. That he's running at all suggests an incredible realignment of the stars so that voters to the right of the Strom Thurmond and Ayn Rand have a fantastical shot at taking hold of the heart of the Republican Party. Paul's positions don't fit into contemporary notions of right and left, and that's why liberals find him intriguing — he's an anti-war, pro-pot Republican!
What liberals don't see is that Paul's platforms are rooted in pre-modernity. Isolationism (that is, pretending like the rest of the world does not exist) is the best foreign policy to Paul, and federal power is always tyrannical power. Federal drug enforcement is bad, but so is enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. States are more or less endowed by their Creator to govern themselves in whatever way they please. Such was the ideology of the Confederacy. And of course, it’s likely that Newt Gingrich, the former Congressman from Georgia, will win the Solid South, as he did in South Carolina.
Southernization as an ideology is weakening the party's chances with a growing Hispanic population. Some have noted that Hispanics are naturally conservative — hard-working, family-oriented and driven by faith in God. But no such alliance can occur as long as the GOP tolerates guys such as Paul to whom xenophobia and bigotry are the twin pillars of the most reactionary immigration policy proposal since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In addition to walling off the US-Mexican border, Paul would end citizenship for children born in the US to illegal immigrants. Such a move would call into question the citizenship of pretty much everyone in the U.S., but we know whom he's targeting – those vile “anchor babies.”
According to ABC News, the attacks on Romney as a “Massechusetts moderate,” in the words of former House Speaker Gingrich, are about right. As governor of the Bay State, he pushed through health care reform (which was an objective on the national Republican agenda). He cut taxes but raised state fees to balance the state’s budget in 2004. He’s also the only Republican candidate to say that he believes climate change is real.
On some social issues, Romney is more or less a moderate (he has said that he is “essentially pro-choice”). As a former Wall Street executive, he's naturally uneasy with Tea Party fanaticism, especially on immigration. As Mormon, he's naturally unsympathetic with the evangelical Christian right, which takes a dim view, to say the least, of Mormonism. As a native Midwesterner and Yankee governor of perhaps the bluest state in the union, his political orientation has never been Southernized. That may go a long way in returning the party its moderate Northeastern roots.
If Romney pulls off a victory, though that are far from certain at this point, the Party of Lincoln may be on its way out of 40 years in the Southern wilderness.
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