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A national party no more

After winning Arkansas' state legislature, the GOP's dominance of the South is complete
After winning Arkansas' state legislature, the GOP's dominance of the South is complete

Nine years ago, former Sen. Zell Miller, a very conservative Democrat from Georgia, wrote a book condemning his own party. The Democratic Party, Miller concluded, is a "national party no more."

In 2012, it looks like Miller got the label right, but the party wrong. In fact, after last week's results, it seems increasingly clear that the Republican Party enjoyed "unchecked domination" in the South -- but only in the South.

Despite the local victories, Republicans in the South are aware that many of the post-election analyses have found the party's image problems to be in the approach and the appeals that have led to its near total victory here. Southern Republican politicians continue to cruise smoothly to victory on the votes of white, socially conservative evangelicals. While some leaders have succeeded with a more centrist platform, like Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a large part of the Southern electorate still rewards politicians who promise to crack down hard on criminals and illegal immigrants, assume a defiant tone when speaking about the federal government and dismiss the idea of gay rights out of hand.Nationally, this approach has been putting up diminishing returns.

The GOP's "Solid South" is unlikely to change in the short term, but even in this region, growing racial and ethnic diversity poses a long-term electoral threat that the party is reluctant to acknowledge or prepare for.

Indeed, for many Southern Republican leaders, there's simply no need to change. Andy Taggart, the a former executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party, told the Times, "I don't think for a second Republicans ought to change what we believe and what we stand for. I do think we could do a more effective job of communicating that."

This gets back to the Charles Krauthammer thesis we discussed last week -- the GOP just isn't "communicating" its right-wing message effectively enough. It's working in the Deep South, and once Republican candidates learn how to articulate this vision to a national audience, the party, the argument goes, will be just fine.

I suspect many Democrats hope their rivals seriously believe this, and respond to their defeats with nothing more than cosmetic, rhetorical changes.