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June 16, 2014 11:35 AM “Come-Heres” and “Been-Heres”

By Ed Kilgore

At the New York Times Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin had an interesting piece over the weekend about the “nationalizing” effect of suburban transplants in the Sunbelt, who played a key role in both the defeat of Eric Cantor in VA-07 and Thad Cochran’s underwhelming performance in the MS GOP SEN primary. The idea is that these new voters are ignorant of or indifferent to the contributions to their communities of seniority-wielding Republican Establishment figures, and more likely to be attuned to a geographically-neutral Washington-hating conservative message of the sort deployed by Chris McDaniel and Dan Brat. The “strategist” quoted to make the length between these two places and sets of pols is none other than Karl Rove:

“They don’t know who the heck Thad is,” said the Republican strategist Karl Rove, of Mississippi’s newly arrived voters. “There is no 40-year history with him, knowing that this is the guy who built up the state’s modern Republican Party. The same with Eric, people who have just gotten to Richmond don’t even know what the House of Delegates is, let alone that he served there.”

So much for the deep abiding respect of Republicans for their own “base” voters.

Still, there’s much to be said for what Parker and Martin—and yes, even Rove—are talking about, in more than one respect. Highly mobile suburbanites tend to be blissfully unaware of the contributions of government at every level to the economic conditions that built the sunbelt communities to which they flock, and many view themselves as essentially self-made. It’s no accident that the conservative movement first burned bright in places like southern California, where defense industry jobs attracted millions of transplants from the Midwest who exhibited a sort of geographically anodyne hostility to government.

But it’s also true that conservatism in the Sunbelt has always represented an alliance between these “come-heres,” as Parker and Martin accurately label central Virginia transplants, and “been-heres,” those who are conservative for more traditional reasons, often having to do with race. That was most obvious in the original Movement Conservative campaign, that of Barry Goldwater in 1964, and it’s still evident today. Chris McDaniel didn’t just do well in transplant-heavy DeSoto County; his real base was in Bilbo Country, the pineywoods areas of eastern Mississippi.

Parker and Martin also argue that voter migration is nationalizing sunbelt elections in the sense of making southern states more marginal in general elections, even as the two parties tend to polarize along national lines. That’s obviously true in Virginia (where the in-migration includes many minority folk, “knowledge class” elites and government employees), and to some extent in North Carolina and Georgia. But in states where Republicans maintain comfortable majorities, the come-here/been-here alliance is producing a particularly intense kind of conservatism untempered, so far, by general election competition. That’s one reason I wouldn’t put any money on Thad Cochran in the June 24 runoff.

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.

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