Political Animal


March 19, 2013 12:44 PM The States Are Not An Alternative America

By Ed Kilgore

There are two perpetually silly memes going around the commentariat these days in connection with the very limited but loudly expressed self-examination of the Republican Party, both involving the GOP’s relatively strong standing at the state level.

The first, which I’ve attacked before (here, here and here), and will keep attacking as long as it rears its ugly head, is that there is this essentially moderate (or at least “pragmatic”) brand of Republican pol operating at the state level who “gets it” and is free of the ideological manias of Washington-style GOPers. Give them the leadership of the party, it is often said, and “reform” will take care of itself.

When you start looking for these “pragmatists,” however, they seem to be in short supply. You can apply the label to Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, I suppose, but these gents are not about to be handed the leadership of the national party, having just been excluded from the national party’s most important 2013 event, CPAC. Looking deeper in the gubernatorial ranks, though: Does Paul LePage “get it?” Is Rick Scott a “reformer?” Are Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley or Phil Bryant or Mary Fallon or Scott Walker or Jan Brewer “non-ideologues?” Is John Kasich really “reaching out” to non-GOP constituencies? Is Rick Snyder exhibiting freedom from conservative litmus tests? No, no, no, no and no.

A closely associated meme, which CNN’s Roland Martin articulates in a well-meaning but misguided column, is that Republicans by focusing on state politics are actually running the country as the two parties wrangle in Washington. So:

[M]any Republicans have told me they couldn’t care less about Washington, because legislation with real impact is being proposed and passed in the states. That’s why you’ve seen groups quietly backing initiatives on the state level and bypassing the hot lights and screaming media in Washington….
Think about it: Obama won Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Nevada, all states with GOP governors. So clearly voters in those states chose the Republican alternative in statewide elections, but when it came to the presidency, said “No thanks.”
I’m not buying for a second this silly notion that the GOP will have a Damascus Road experience and drastically change. It’s not going to happen. There will be some movement on the national level, but Republican grass-roots organizers are very well aware that the message the GOP is selling statewide is a winning formula.

Sorry, Roland. Republicans are touting their success at the state level not because they don’t care what happens in Washington, but because they didn’t win the presidency or the Senate in 2012 so what else are they going to tout? Their control of 30 of 50 governorships does not indicate a solid majority of “the people” in the alternative America represented by the states, but just a majority of state governments according to measurements whereby Alaska and North Dakota count the same as New York and California. And most important of all, their victories in 2010 and defeats in 2012 did not represent some self-conscious “split decision” whereby voters preferred Republican leadership at one level and Democratic leadership at another, but different election cycles that featured different electorates. So even if Democrats decide, as Martin wants them to do, to “focus” on state elections as Republicans allegedly have, 2014 will be tough for them because of the landscape and the shape of the midterm electorate, just as Republicans, no matter where they are “focused,” will face a stiff wind in 2016.

Sorry to keep harping on these issues, but Lord-a-mighty, these are fairly simple empirical matters that an awful lot of well-compensated and highly visible writers and talkers just can’t seem to get straight, or don’t want to because it interferes with a desired grinding of axes.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • danimal on March 19, 2013 12:59 PM:

    So, when Republican governors lose in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan (all are doing poorly in the polls), will the GOP suddenly start caring about DC politics again?

  • Gandalf on March 19, 2013 1:22 PM:

    The whole states rights thing seems to be a smoke screen for allowing powerfull interests to control segments of the country. It's much easier to influence legislators in state govt than in the national govt. There's a lot of competing interests between states for money and legisltion even among members of the same poltical party. But in astae govt a powerfull player(koch bros,big coal, oil and gas) CCan influence the govt much easier.

  • bdop4 on March 19, 2013 1:24 PM:

    Democrats in California are focusing on state government and in addition to the governorship, now hold supermajorities in both the senate and state assembly.

    Our economy is rebounding and, with some luck, we will start moving towards a single payer healthcare system in due course. The one big negative right now is the explosion of fracking in our central valley region. I am pushing my rep.s to make sure any fracking practices adhere to our environmental standards.

    My hope is that we can provide an example of how this country can get back on the path to true prosperity for everyone.

  • Fake Irishman on March 19, 2013 1:27 PM:

    ... and don't forget that those 2012 state election "victories" that they had in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio were in part due to redistricting that heavily favored GOP incumbents. Non-partisan redistricting would have greatly reduced (Ohio, Wisconsin) or reversed (Michigan) Republican majorities in those state legislatures.

  • c u n d gulag on March 19, 2013 1:28 PM:

    Let me see if I've got this straight?

    You have Red State after Red State, making a woman's ablility to make a choice about carrying out her pregnancy, and to to limit people access to affordable health care, as difficult, or IMPOSSIBLE, as they can, and those are the Moderate Republicans?

    No, what's growing in, as Charles Pierce so memorably mocks as "the laboratories of democracy," aren't Moderates, but MONSTERS!!!

  • Sisyphus on March 19, 2013 1:30 PM:

    I hate Kasich's policies, but, for what it's worth, he's more moderate that you might think (the issues with the state and local worker's unions aside). For example, he wants to raise taxes on the petro companies that are desperate to frak the crap out of the state. Now, I'd rather we used that money to properly fund schools, and he wants to use it to cut individual state income taxes, but the GOP controlled legislature is furious about this plan, and want to let those poor, bedeviled petro companies keep their hard earned profits. By most modern standards, he's a pretty moderate republican.

    Of course, that says something about the modern Republican party.

  • JoanneinDenver on March 20, 2013 11:30 AM:

    @Fake Irishman, Ed, etc.

    HELLO. The redistricting that allowed the Republicans to consolidate their power in the House and in the several states was a direct result of their wins in the 2010 election, knowing the state legislatures would be responsible for that redistricting. That is why the Republicans worked so hard to win after 2010 and created the tea party to do so. That is what STRATEGY means. That is what the Republicans are doing, systematically.

    I totally disagree with the "What? Me Worry?" stance that is reflected here.
    The Republicans are on the march in the states. Their ultimate success may, however, depend on the two SCOTUS decisions on voting rights.

  • JoanneinDenver on March 20, 2013 11:31 AM:

    That is why the Republicans worked so hard to win IN 2010.