There are some things a child is grateful to get from their parents: the dimples, the heirlooms, the wedding ring, the convertible, the china. But one thing they don’t want is a beaten and broken political party that wore out the rubber of those Reagan tires and just kept driving on the rims through 2006 and 2008.
Three of South Carolina’s most prominent conservatives have pulled out their shiny wrench sets, ready to get under the hood of this Chevy Nova of an embarrassment. They’ll either turn it into a high-tech rocket ship of the future or that pitiful DeLorean down the street that doesn’t even wow four-year-olds anymore.
Last week, Gov. Mark Sanford took the reins of the Republican Governors Association. State party chair Katon Dawson is on everyone’s shortlist for the Republican National Committee chairmanship. And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has extended his stay as the chairman of the ultra-conservative Senate Steering Committee.
The three-pronged assault may give the state a powerful role in reviving the party on the national stage. But there’s good reason to fret over whether South Carolina’s uniquely shaped political wrench will leave the national GOP engine screwed.
What Does that Part Even Go to?
Forget John McCain, Another gubernatorial maverick was fighting for the spotlight last week. Sanford has positioned himself in the right place at the right time — leading governors at a time when the Republican Party has few success stories that don’t have a “Gov.” in front of their names.
In an essay last week on CNN.com, Sanford suggested it was the GOP that should bear the scars of the lost election, not the conservative movement.
“Republicans have campaigned on the conservative themes of lower taxes, less government, and more freedom — they just haven’t governed that way,” Sanford wrote.
On the night of the election, as many Republicans were licking their wounds, DeMint laid out his clear intention to lead the party further to the right.
“Americans have again rejected the Democrat-lite strategy of higher spending and bigger government, and it’s time for Republicans to chart a new, more principled course,” he said. Those principles include securing the borders, strengthening the military, and defending “our values for life and the family.”
By Election Day, Dawson had already telegraphed the doom and gloom. He’d sent out invitations to the party faithful in October for a strategy conference in Myrtle Beach held last weekend, titled “Renew. Reform. Restore.”
In Dawson’s call to arms, the invitation includes mock campaign buttons of Reagan, Lincoln, Goldwater, and Eisenhower. Other than the fact that all of these guys are older than hotpants, it’s notable that none of them came from South Carolina.
You Put the Thingamajig in the Whatchamacallit
Obviously Dawson’s intent was to remind the rank and file of the days when Republicans were popular, and to say, symbolically, that they can get there again. But the question is whether they can get there by following South Carolina’s example. DeMint says that South Carolina can be a leader as a “state that’s traditional and conservative and we don’t want everything from the federal government.”
But College of Charleston political science professor Bill Moore has his doubts.
“If the southern conservatives win the battle, they may end up losing the war,” he says. “South Carolina’s brand of conservatism plays well in small communities in the South, but I don’t think it would play well nationally.”
What comes to mind first when imagining a President Sanford or a Vice President DeMint are the uncomfortable lessons that South Carolina can impart on the rest of the nation. First, Republicans without strong opposition turn on themselves. Sanford has railed against legislative spending, and the General Assembly has criticized Sanford’s tendency to shirk cooperation or compromise. And the one issue they can all agree on — lower taxes — has put state spending on the ropes as the sales taxes that state coffers rely on have dried up.
“One of the biggest reasons we’re in the situation we’re in is because we’ve cut taxes so much,” Moore says.
One thing that South Carolina does right is securing the so-called base. Every few years there’s a gay marriage amendment, ultrasound abortion bill, or immigration measure that shows the far right what they’re paying for.
Just as John McCain proved this year, the problem is that these issues won’t pull middle America into the fold. Pairing social values with fiscal conservatism has led to a shrinking of the party, Moore notes.
Rural parts of the south inbreed Republicanism, but progressives seem to have made advances in nearly every other nook in the nation.
Places like Virginia and North Carolina are tilting Democratic. And the next battles won’t be fought in blue states, but in red ones like Georgia, where the progressive urban center of Atlanta threatens to outgrow and outvote the rural parts of the state.
There’s got to be some measure of reform that will draw in young and minority voters in the middle. Hispanic and Asian American voters have tended to side with Republicans in the past, but bolted to the Democrats this year. That was likely due to the anti-immigration, ultra-isolationist rhetoric that goes down easy in South Carolina.
If the future of the party can’t be driven by South Carolina leaders, it may take people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He told his fellow Republican governors last week that the GOP needs to look at issues like health care and alternative energy to attract minority and middle class voters.
“We have a large deficit with women, Hispanics, African Americans — people with modest financial circumstances. That is not a formula for a majority,” he said.
Which philosophical direction the national party takes — either by emulating or rejecting the South — could determine the fate of the party in 2010 and 2012. Considering the shrinking successes of the Republican Party, a path that focuses on the South could lead to a national GOP convention being held in your nearest phone booth. It’s only with a hint of irony that we note there aren’t many phone booths left either.
Famous Trends that Came and Went
Bedpans, smallpox, dumbwaiters, Rainbow Brite, monocles, Dr. Shoals Gellin’ commercials, VHS porn, the Studebaker, the eight-track in the Studebaker, the quill, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, horses, buggies, the self-respect of Heidi Montag, any acceptable pop culture reference to The Monkees (including this one).
The Next Joe the Plumber
Sen. John McCain once told a Florida crowd, “You’re all Joe the Plumber.” But they weren’t — because “Joseph” is the tenth most popular name in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. That does not an everyman make. Next time, the Republican candidate looking for a transformative everyman should try someone whose name resonates with a few more people:
• Jim the Out of Work Telemarketer
• John the Penniless Realtor
• Bob the Builder
• Mary the Stripper Making Change
• Mike the GOP Elephant Mascot
• Will the “Savvy” Investor
• Dave the Out-of-Gas Truck Driver
• Chuck the Raided Trust Fund Baby
Where to Find the Next GOP Star
The minute Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stepped out onto the stage, there was a collective, “Who?” It was quickly followed by thousands of frantic searches by newsmen who finally remembered what Wikipedia was for. But it wasn’t Palin’s maverickness that stole America’s hearts. It was all that weird, folksy stuff about Alaska that Northern Exposure milked for six whole seasons: the mooseburgers, the snowmobile trophies, the hockey moms.
Using the same sense of shock and awe-ain’t-that-neato, the City Paper has used www.RoadsideAmerica.com to find some of the eccentric communities in the nation’s swing states that might produce the next great leader for the party. Moosemom trophies? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Note: We do not know the true party affiliation or presidential intentions of those listed below.
Independence, Mo.: Home of the Hair Museum
Mayor: Don Reimal
The museum has over 2,000 pieces of jewelry made from human hair. The town is already home to one president, Harry S. Truman, but Reimal should focus on his city’s follicle shrine in trying to establish his folksy credentials. It has even been featured in People magazine, and having a recovering drug-addict for a spouse is about the only other way for a Republican to sneak into those pages.
Croatan, N.C.: Home of the Self-Kicking Machine
County Commissioner: Jack Shea
We get the feeling that there are some independent voters out there who are just waiting for the GOP to start eating some crow. Shea should announce his presidential campaign on the steps of the Self-Kicking Machine, offering up his own backside as a symbolic first kick in starting a new movement of repentant Republicans.
Fairfax, Va.: Home of The NRA National
Mayor: Robert Lederer
There are those voters who abandoned the Republican Party over the last few years (Colin Powell, Bert and Ernie, the entire state of Ohio), but not the National Rifle Association. They know the only real mavericks have holsters and indiscriminate saloon women on their hips. Plus, an endorsement from NRA Board Member Tom Selleck could give Chuck Norris a run for his money.
Intercourse, Pa.: Intercourse, Pa.
County Commissioner: Dennis Stuckey
Here’s the problem for Republicans: Democrats aren’t having GOP babies. Meanwhile, every time President-elect Barack Obama says, “Change,” some hippie son of a conservative standard bearer gets his first food stamp. So it will be up to Stuckey to call for a targeted Republican procreation plan where party members can only pair off and “do the deed” if they first met on eHarmony.
Bithlo, Fla.: Home of the Figure 8 School Bus Races
County Mayor: Richard Crotty
Crotty has a hill to climb — he was first appointed by Jeb Bush and the only endorsement worse than that would come from Lehman Brothers. But Crotty has in his grasp an innovative way of talking about the nation’s education system without ever having to address the root problems. We can see it now: the campaign bus vs. the press bus. Take that, “Straight Talk Express.”
Kent, Ohio: Home of the Homemade
Star Wars X-Wing Fighter
Mayor: John Fender
There’s no polling to suggest how geeks voted in November’s election. We figure they stayed home to find some ultra-rare cuff links for their WarCraft ogre. But Fender can use the power of the force to draw out these supporters, along with a bevy of movie-inspired analogies, like saying that the hills of Pakistan are like the Death Star and its vulnerable porthole.
Huntington, Ind.: Dan Quayle Center
and Vice Presidential Museum
Mayor: Steve Updike
We’re convinced that, much like Ronald Reagan, the further we get from Dan Quayle’s era the better he looks. Hell, Sarah Palin thought he ran the Senate for four years, so that’s good enough for us. Updike needs to start a new tradition of referencing Quayle in prayers and talking about his innovative approach to agriculture
by creating the potatoe.