Monday, January 9, 2012

How the Republicans Could Win by Losing

(Full disclosure statement: this is the essay that my wife did not want me to write. She said, “Don’t tell anybody! Keep this one under your hat!”)

First of all, does anyone think that the Republicans are serious about winning the presidential race this year? The only serious candidate I see is Jon Huntsman, a man who seems to understand government and diplomacy, and he also seems to respect what science and education have to offer. He also cannot seem to get himself heard above the din and cacophony within the Republican Party.  All other players have nothing that appeals to voters for more than a week or two of sound bites on the campaign trail.

This is why I don’t think the Republicans want the White House this time around. Why should they? They have gotten just about everything they wanted under the Obama administration while being able to blame all the ills of the country on the Democrats.  If they play things right, however, they could stand to win big later by losing this year.

If the Republicans continue with their current field of candidates and the disarray within the Party, they will likely lose the 2012 presidential election. They may even lose some seats in congress. However, a loss could play to their advantage for the next election cycle. If Obama is reelected, then the Democrats will not be able to run an incumbent. They will have to find a new presidential candidate, of course. This will create a more level playing field for Republicans and Democrats. But there is an even better possible turns of events. The Tea Partiers may fall out of favor with the Republican Party leaders.

The Tea Party Line

As a Southerner, I can plot out a line from the provincial southern attitude to the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party has Dixiecrat written all over it (I know, it also has the Koch brothers' money all over it, but stay with me on this one). It all began in 1948 when the Southern Democrats decided to launch an alternative presidential ticket. There was only one viable party in the South back then – the Democratic Party. They formed a third party, the Dixiecrats, set on preserving the Southern racially segregated way of life. The official name was The States Rights Democratic Party and they wanted less federal government regulation (sound familiar?). Strom Thurmond from South Carolina was the presidential nominee, with Mississippi governor Fielding Wright as his running mate. Like all third party endeavors before and since, the Dixiecrats failed to win the election, and subsequently went into remission for a season, scattering back into the woodwork of the Democratic Party.

In 1964, the Dixiecrats' ire was raised again with the Civil Rights Act. President Lyndon B, Johnson, a Texan, stated upon signing the civil rights legislation, “We have lost the South for a generation.” He knew the legislation was the right thing to do, but he also understood the political fallout – he probably even underestimated the inherent racism in the South. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party began to lose ground. Richard Nixon quickly used this to his advantage with his “Southern Strategy” which would play upon the dissatisfaction of the segregationist South without overtly stating race as an issue. The South was still firmly Democratic in Party orientation, but held on to the hope of being different from those liberal Democrats in the north and on the east coast. 

Ronald Reagan was the next Republican to welcome disgruntled Democrats. With his election, many in the South and elsewhere proudly proclaimed, “I'm a Reagan Democrat.” And thus the sands beneath the Democratic Party in the South began to shift. Now it was not just okay, it was politically viable to be a Republican in the South. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond (that Dixiecrat candidate) was one of the first to move from the Democratic to the Republican Party. The dominoes continued to fall. Some would get elected as a Democrat, then change party affiliation while in office, as did Alabama Senator Richard Shelby.

Today, the Republican Party is strong in the south, almost a one party system again, just like in the old days.  That one party continues with the flavor and essence of the Dixiecrats. The difference is that the Dixiecrats are all Republicans now. With the election of Barak Obama, that old Dixiecrat dissatisfaction came to the forefront again and was seen in the Tea Party movement. Just as the Republicans embraced the southern Democrats into their party to increase their power base, they have kow towed to the shouts and demands of the Tea Party extremists.  Even Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor seemed sensible, recently said on the campaign trail “I am the logical Tea Party candidate.”

Back in 1948, the country was wise enough not to go with the Dixiecrats (and admittedly, many Dixiecrats wanted to make a statement rather than win an election).  Today, we have an even more diverse and pluralistic population in the country. I don’t think the country as a whole will be comfortable with the Tea Party in control. With virtually every Republican presidential candidate claiming Tea Party affinity the whole of the Republican Party seems captivated by the Dixiecrat/Tea Party reaction to a just, modern and informed society (with the exception of Jon Huntsman who accepts scientific findings and refrains from knee-jerk reactions to the theory of evolution and global warming).

The End of the Line?

By fielding a gaggle of none-too-viable candidates, and by staking such hopes in Tea Party voters, a stunning loss might wake up the Republican Party. It could bring the whole Tea Party reaction to a head, ready to be cast out with yesterday’s newspaper. It is not that the Tea Party's voice should not be heard, but it should not be the controlling dominant voice to the exclusion of all others (and to the exclusion of all reason).

The Republicans could actually become Republicans again.  Even though I will vote Democratic for the foreseeable future, I would love to see a true Republican stand for office.  Where are the likes of Everett Dirksen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Jacob Javits, Gerald Ford, and Nelson Rockefeller? These were sensible people, they were pro-business to be sure, but they knew they had to make accommodations to other views. Even Richard Nixon knew that with Republicans in charge, the water still had to be clean, pollution still had to be reduced, worker’s rights still had to be recognized, and taxes still had to be paid.  They were who they were. They did not claim to be speaking for the people while destroying unions and shipping jobs overseas. They had not heard of the absurd notion that corporations are people. They wanted a strong country and were willing to have some give-and-take for the good of the country.

So all of this is to say to the Republicans, if you lose, don’t be faint of heart, you may well see a great win ahead that could even benefit the country (if you quit your low down ways). And it is to say to the Democrats, if you win, don’t spend too much time gloating or resting on your laurels, you may yet see some real Republicans come to the forefront. 

                                                                                                                               ~ Charles Kinnaird



  1. Interesting commentary, Charles. Thank you.

    It's "Strom Thurmond."

  2. Thanks, Jay. I made the correction. I appreciate your editorial skills which Tim Lennox has made reference to as well.

  3. Hey Charlie,
    Interesting, for sure. You and I have lived through a lot of history, and you lined it up well. Thanks for the thought. Still, I'm a conservative Republican with some tea flowing through my veins. I'm not a Dixiecrat, and don't have a racist bone in my body. I'm glad lasting friendships aren't formed on political viewpoints. And you, Charlie Kinnaird, are my friend.
    Love ya,

    1. Mark - thanks for the affirmation of friendship. I feel the same way, my friend. Throughout life as I have gone down new avenues, I never felt that I had to leave the others behind – I’ve benefited from them all – and certainly not to forget the humanity of those with opposing views. The way I look at it, I just widened my circle to include more.

  4. There's some truth here. However, I thinlk the Republicans have the interest of their party always above the intrest of the country, not that Democrts don't do this also, but less often it seems. Two things would really help. If we could get term limits passed, and if campaigns could be limted to the six months before the election, things would get much better and soon.

  5. Thanks for your analysis! I am glad you did not follow your wife 's advice. I had not thought of the Dixiecrat connection, but you got exactly right. The current of racism runs deep and strong.


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