The GOP’s Southern Strategy

The GOP’s Southern Strategy

As the Republican Party becomes whiter and more Southern, obstructionist tactics are inevitable.


May 30, 2013, Texas state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In 1956, segregationist Southern Democrats outlined a policy of massive resistance to Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of public schools. Today, the Republican Party, particularly in the South, is following a similar path of massive resistance to Obamacare.

According to The New York Times, twenty-six states—all but three controlled by the GOP—have declined the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, denying health insurance coverage to 8 million people. While many factors have driven the shutdown, a leading cause is that the GOP is whiter, more Southern and more conservative than ever—combined with its huge structural advantage when it comes to the makeup of Congress. “As Congress has become more polarized along party lines,” writes Charlie Cook, “it’s become more racially polarized, too. In 2000, House Republicans represented 59 percent of all white U.S. residents and 40 percent of all nonwhite residents. But today, they represent 63 percent of all whites and just 38 percent of all nonwhites.”

This phenomenon is most acute in the South, where the GOP packed as many Democratic voters, particularly African-Americans, into as few districts as possible to ensure huge Republican majorities across the region [see Berman, “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South,” February 20, 2012].

After the 1994 elections, white Southern Republicans accounted for sixty-nine members of the 230-member House GOP majority. Today, white Southern Republicans account for ninety-eight members out of the 233-member House GOP majority. This remarkable shift is not likely to change soon. “In all but one election since 1976, the proportion of Southerners in the House Republican caucus has gone up,” says Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. Of the eighty members of the so-called “suicide caucus” who urged Boehner to defund Obamacare, “half of these districts are concentrated in the South,” writes Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. As long as ultraconservative Southerners from lily-white districts hold the balance of power in Congress, we shouldn’t be surprised that obstruction and dysfunction are the result.

Ari Berman discussed the the fight over redistricting in Texas in June.

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