The 2020 Landscape

I occasionally feel bad for writing a post about the “2016 landscape” because I know it will infuriate readers who are annoyed by the tendency of political writers to wallow in election speculation 24/7, even if nothing’s really happening.

But at TAP, Bob Moser, the veteran Texas-bred writer and acute observer of southern politics, spends some useful time thinking about the 2020 landscape, and you should, too. Moser discusses the familiar dynamics of southern politics in which a dominant GOP, which has very much become the White Man’s Party like the Dixiecrat-era Democracy it so often channels, is battling a demographic transformation that has already tipped several states into purple territory and will eventually change others (notably Georgia and Texas). Much of the southern Republican strategy these days, in fact, involves delaying the day of reckoning via ever-higher percentages of the white vote, voter suppression efforts aimed at minority voters, and the gerrymandering schemes that give Republican voters more clout than their rivals.

Even if this rearguard action temporarily succeeds, says Moser, it will be hard to project it beyond 2020:

In the South’s new battlegrounds, 2020 shapes up as a pivotal year. If Democrats have gathered enough strength by then to send majorities to Richmond, Raleigh, Atlanta, Tallahassee, and/or Austin, they can tear up the Republican maps from 2011 and make it dauntingly difficult for the GOP to regain its majorities. That’s likeliest to happen in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina; Democratic majorities could take longer in Texas and Georgia, where Republicans are more deeply entrenched.

But the politics of the big Southern states are all betwixt and between, as natives like to say. If Republicans can find a way to hold on to their majorities through 2020, they will stay competitive, on the state level at least, for another decade. Ultimately, they won’t be able to keep winning unless they can convince Latinos and African Americans to vote Republican. If they do, Southern Republicans could become a model for the national GOP—the states that figured out how to persuade Latinos to vote Republican.

But it will be no quick or easy matter for the Southern Republican Party—built on a Chamber of Commerce foundation and lifted to victory by evangelical Christians—to find a message that can appeal to the South’s new electorate. How do you build bridges to voters whose views would sound, to your average Southern Republican, socialistic and downright un-American?

It’s a good question, and southern Republicans don’t have a great deal of time to find an answer.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.