The concession by George Allen, confirming that James Webb has won in Virginia, a victory that gives the Democrats a majority in the Senate, completes the party's sweep of both houses of the Congress and ratifies the repudiation of President Bush and his policies, especially in the Iraq war.
Bush's radical presidency was the number one issue in the mid-term elections. Republican candidates lived in fear that they would receive calls from the White House suggesting that the president wanted to campaign for them. His last minute blitz in Montana on behalf of Senator Conrad Burns seemed momentarily to lift the beleaguered incumbent, but virtually the moment Air Force One departed the Republican sank once again, this time for good. In Florida, the Republican candidate for governor, Charles Crist, fled upon the president's arrival at a rally on his behalf in the state capital of Tallahassee. Crist's disloyalty and rudeness, leaving Bush in the lurch, was the better part of wisdom. Crist, like other Republicans caught in the storm, managed to survive only by avoiding him. The once eagerly sought presidential photo-op had become the kiss of death.
Before the spotlight turns to the repositioning of the president, the appointment of a new secretary of defense and the machinations of the new 110th Democratic Congress, it is worthwhile to sift through the extraordinary election returns, which contain the makings of a further realignment of American politics in the presidential election of 2008 and beyond.
Bush's radical presidency consolidated the grip of Southern conservatism over the Republican Party. He completed the "Southern Strategy" launched by Richard Nixon in 1968 in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, a strategy that assimilated the Dixiecrat George Wallace third party into the Republican ranks. Over time, the strategy that was supposed to be an add-on to the traditional GOP engulfed it. Bush finished the project that Nixon began. Karl Rove, his chief political aide, hypothesized a permanent national majority rooted in a Southern Strategy in which the rest of the country was an add-on. But in his quest for realignment Rove has left a rump regional party mired in the swamps of Dixie. What purpose does Rove with his scenarios of polarization now serve Bush?
After the mid-term elections, the GOP has become a regional party of the South. And, in the future, Republicans can only hold their base by asserting their conservatism, which alienates the rest of the country. More than ever, the Republicans are dependent upon white evangelical voters in the South and sparsely populated Rocky Mountain states. The Republican coalition, its much-touted "big tent," has nearly collapsed.
Republicans under Bush are beginning a downward spiral that parallels the decline of the Democrats. From 1968 through 1988, the story of the Democratic Party had been its internal disintegration and reduction to its base. Clinton's presidency served as an interregnum, which might have broken the Republicans had his vice president Al Gore been permitted to assume the office he won by a popular majority but was thwarted by the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court.
The 2006 elections have started to hollow out the Republican Party outside the South. Of the Democratic gains reported thus far (there are still races too close to call), 11 of 36 House seats held by Republicans in the Northeast were captured; that is, nearly one-third of the Republicans there were wiped out. In the Midwest, nine of 60 flipped, that is, 15 percent. These Republicans are not the more conservative members, but the most liberal and prominent moderates in their party. According to an unpublished post-election study by Thomas Schaller, a University of Maryland political scientist, 14 of 48 of the most "liberal" Republicans were defeated.
The Democrats who defeated them can be expected to hold these seats indefinitely. Historically Republican districts going back to the founding of the GOP in the Civil War are turning into Democratic bastions. After the failure of Reconstruction, the South became wholly Democratic, the Solid South, and the basis of a Democratic Party that was mostly out of power, unless the Republicans split, until the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal during the Great Depression. The pre-FDR Republicans, after Reconstruction, gave up on ever building a two-party system in the South. Instead, in reaction to the Solid South, the Republicans consolidated national power in the Solid North.
This post-Civil War/pre-New Deal pattern is now turned on its head. Voting patterns today almost exactly resemble voting patterns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but with the parties in reverse positions.
The Democratic Party that has advanced from the 2006 elections reasserts the Solid North, with inroads in the metropolitan states of the West, and, like the GOP of the past, challenges in the states of the peripheral South such as Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia. This Democratic Party has never existed before. It is a center-left party with wings that can flap together. The party's opposition to the Republicans on economic equity and social tolerance are its defining characteristics.
The pace of this realignment is uncertain, but the underlying dynamics are not. That the Senate fell to the Democrats in Virginia is telling about the weakness of the Republicans and suggestive about the future. Senator George Allen represented the fulfillment of the Republican Southern Strategy. He intended to use his win in this contest as a platform for his presidential campaign in 2008. He had already assembled around him throngs of experienced and expensive Republican political consultants. James Webb, who had originally been a Democrat, but became a Republican long ago and rose to be Reagan's secretary of the navy, returned to his roots in response to Bush. His victory represents the emergence of a Democratic Party that even has a new appeal in the upper South.