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Is the Party Over?
Round Two: Response


I'm grateful for Stanley Greenberg's kind remarks on my article, and I agree with most of his global points. To his European list of recent successes for the center-left could be added Romano Prodi in Italy and, amazingly, France's interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who's moved in the past decade from hardline syndicalist to traditionalist crime czar. And, yes, the Republican courting of Puerto Ricans, whose voting patterns approach black levels of 90-percent-plus Democratic support, was a fool's errand. A more natural fit for the GOP (and a much larger bloc of potential voters) would have been the family-oriented, pro-military, entrepreneurial Mexican-Americans of the Southwest. Yet they're the single group the penny-wise-and-pound-foolish GOP has worked hardest to alienate.

Two points, though. First, I called the GOP obsolescent rather than obsolete. Second, "intolerant" is the wrong word to use for Republican positions on religion and abortion. Being pro-life can't be reduced to intolerance of women any more than being pro-choice can be reduced simply to intolerance of fetuses. Closer to the mark would be to say that Republicans have entrusted absolute control over their moral agenda to the most abrasive regional element in their coalition. With the exception of partial-birth abortion, it's an agenda that people in the rest of the country will fight tooth-and-nail to block.

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.

Rather than try to scare me off my point by tarring The Washington Post as liberal, Terence Jeffrey should produce a poll of his own. And any article that focuses, as mine did, on the collapse of the national Republican Party since they retook Congress has only one set of "actual election results" to work with: those of 1996, in which the Republicans got clocked, in both presidential and congressional races.

Terence P. Jeffrey responds:
"In 1996, the Republicans did not 'get clocked' in both presidential and congressional races.... They won the congressional race. For the first time in many decades, the Republicans retained a majority in Congress. That is not just a victory -- it is a remarkable triumph, considering that Republican efforts were weighed down all across the country by Dole's leaden national campaign. "

See the rest of Jeffrey's response.

How can Mr. Jeffrey dismiss the Finkelstein Box as bogus? It's exactly what it says it is: a device to illustrate geographic voting patterns in the most recent Senate elections. The "cultural biases of a New York-based political consultant" do not affect these election results, which, I can reassure Mr. Jeffrey, are actual.

That Clinton kept virtually all of the states outside the box (North Dakota being the only exception) strengthens its credibility as an analytical tool. But his picking up a number of states in what could have been Dole territory hardly makes the analysis "collapse." Picking up seats where you didn't expect to is what winning presidential candidates do -- which is why it's meaningless to invoke a potential "middle-American" bloc that combines the South with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. You can call these states middle-American or whatever you want, but what unites them is that they all decided in 1996 that they did not want a Republican President. Mr. Jeffrey is left with a tautology: if only Republicans could poach enough electoral votes to win, then they would win!

Mr. Jeffrey's analysis of the current Republican dynamic -- that there'll be a split between the establishment, social, and economic wings in the next primary -- is sound. But Steve Forbes will be out before the end of the primaries, since there is no longer any real bloc of economic Republicans, as there was in the heyday of the supply-side experiment. And Ashcroft would get clobbered in a general election.

Grover Norquist responds:
"Prior to the November, 1996, election an average of 4.45 Democrats switched to the GOP each month, and after November, 1996, fully 8.66 Democrats switched and became Republicans. The trend to the GOP is accelerating."

See the rest of Norquist's response.

Grover Norquist raises the important point, beyond the scope of my article, that the 1990s has been a decade of substantial Republican gains in local and state offices. Nationally, however, 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.

One final point: The Democrats' presidential coalition has been 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.

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

Christopher Caldwell, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, also writes a weekly Washington column for the New York Press. His articles have appeared in The American Spectator, Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, George, and many other publications.

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