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Is the Party Over?
Round One: Opening Remarks


Christopher Caldwell has penned a provocative polemic. He makes an interesting argument, but it is wrong in its underlying assumptions and its projections into the future.

Stanley Greenberg responds:
"I remember when Democrats minimized the significance of the Reagan realignment at the national level because Democrats never lost control of the House -- in fact they increased their numbers in both the House and Senate -- and maintained large Democratic majorities in state legislative chambers throughout the 1980s."

See the rest of Greenberg's response.

Let's first look at where we are.

Since Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in November, 1992, the Republicans have gained eleven Senate seats, sixty House seats, 195 state senate seats, 376 state house seats, and eleven governorships. Back in 1992, the Republicans controlled two states with both the governorship and the state legislature: New Hampshire and Arizona. The Democrats completely controlled both branches of state government in seventeen states. Today, the Republicans control the governorship and both houses in thirteen states. This is not just the square states out west. They include Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The Democrats control such powerhouses and trendsetters (or to use Caldwell's term, "sophisticated" states) as Vermont, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky.

From The Body Politic:

"For years we have put up with a media that asked the wrong questions. Candidates have been asked: What are your chances? How popular is your point of view? What about the polling results? Is there any traction to the stands you have taken? What is the best southern strategy? The framing of this Roundtable debate and the responses thus far appear to be of the same nature.... The participants [are] discussing rearrangement of the deck on the Titanic."
--Joe Klimberg, 6/18/98

What Do You Think?
Join the debate in The Body Politic. We'll highlight selected readers' comments here in the margins as the Roundtable progresses.

Looking ahead to the 1998 elections: even Democratic apologists expect Republicans to win new governorships in Florida, Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, and possibly Georgia, Maryland, and Hawaii. Republicans will also most likely add to their majority in the Senate. Optimistic Democrats hope to reduce the eleven-seat Republican majority in the House.

This is supposed to depress the good guys?

Christopher Caldwell responds:
"Nationally, all sixty of the GOP House seats gained this decade came from the 1994 elections and from party switches immediately afterwards. How many Democrats have become Republicans since then? Since the government shutdown? Since the 1996 elections? None at the national level, and not many overall."

See the rest of Caldwell's response.

Predicting trends is always dangerous work. One way to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing is to watch the behavior of real, live people who are investing in their own lives and careers. What do elected officials believe is happening on the ground? Are Republican elected officials sensing Caldwell's pending break-up of the Republican Party and becoming Democrats? I have called and written to the Democratic National Committee and they have been unable to give me any examples. I am aware of two: New York's Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey and Maryland's Ruth Anne Aron. A call to the Republican Party nets a list of more than 370 elected Democrats who have now become Republicans. This list includes such "non-southerners" as Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. When the guy with the pony tail is switching to become a Republican the Dems are in some trouble.

Is the Republican Party disappearing in the Northeast? Well, the Republicans have the governorships of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. When one looks at New England alone one finds that in the six states the GOP holds only four House seats out of twenty-three: both in New Hampshire and two in Connecticut. Still, Republicans hold both Senate seats in Maine and one in Vermont. New England, my home area, is dwindling in relative population and economic clout, but the Republican Party will be healthier there in ten years than the Democratic Party will be in Texas and Florida, each of which will have more House seats than all of New England.

Christopher Caldwell responds:
"The Democrats' presidential coalition was a national one from Roosevelt onward. The South was the party base only from the Civil War to the dawn of the New Deal. There must be a reason that those seven decades saw only two Democratic Presidents."

See the rest of Caldwell's response.

Is the Republican Party too southern? Hmmm. The solid Democratic South was the base for the Democratic Party from before the Civil War through the New Deal and the Great Society. Explaining the South's move toward the Republicans as a problem for the Republican Party takes the spin-control skills of a master. (And we have only begun this transformation -- there is another decade of party switchers and election gains at the state legislative and county level.)

Will the Reagan coalition hold? Yes. It is strengthening, not weakening. The best way to understand the two competing coalitions in American politics is to look at the center-right (Republican) coalition as a collection of individuals and groups that -- on the issue that brings them to vote -- wishes to be left alone. This is small businessmen, property owners, the self-employed, shareholders, and independent contractors who don't want to be taxed and regulated; gun owners who don't wish to have their guns taken; home-schoolers who have sacrificed a great deal to raise their own children and simply wish to be left alone. The pro-family movement can best be understood as a parents'-rights movement: they don't want anyone tossing condoms at their kids or spending tax dollars to insult their faith. The hope by the left -- and fear by some on the right -- that this coalition will not hold misses several facts. First, there have been efforts predating the 1980 election to divide economic and social conservatives, and they have failed. And second, despite some odd rhetoric from James Dobson, there is a great deal of overlap. People who go to church also own homes, have businesses, went to college, and "get" free trade. There is a great deal of overlap between the mailing lists of the Christian Coalition and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Caldwell raises a very important point. A successful Republican Party should be the pro-immigration party that welcomes Hispanic voters. Texas and Florida Republicans are doing this right. California has had more trouble. Asian-Americans are an increasingly important group for Republicans, and the Democrats' continued support for racial preferences is an attack on Asian-American parents' desire to get their children into college. It was

Stanley Greenberg responds:
"Group alliances are absolutely critical to the success of the party, but they cannot be a substitute for a larger national mission. Thus, we witness Grover Norquist rattling off the policies that excite the current conservative coalition.... But what does it add up to?"

See the rest of Greenberg's response.

Asian-Americans, remember, who Dick Gephardt attacked in his 1988 bid for the presidency -- running TV spots with Asian flags in Iowa.

There's not room here, but as the exchange continues I do want to get to Caldwell's discussion of gun control and the NRA, and to the issues I see as winners for the Republican Party: school choice; fully funding Social Security personal retirement accounts; moving to a flat tax; abolishing the death tax; the capital-gains tax; tort reform; concealed-carry laws; the Strategic Defense Initiative; and generally moving to reduce the government to half its present size and cost during the next twenty-five years.

Chris Caldwell's piece is a fun read. It raises some interesting questions. But everyone on the center-right should cheer up. We are winning.

What do you think?

See what other readers have to say about the future of the Republican Party in the Body Politic forum -- and share your views. We'll highlight selected readers' comments as the Roundtable progresses.

Roundtable Overview

Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One: Opening Remarks -- posted on June 18, 1998

Round Two: Responses -- posted on June 25, 1998

Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- posted on July 2, 1998

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a close advisor to the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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