The Near Extinction of Blue-State Republicans

California and New England have rightly rejected the politics of fascism.

The big chatter over the weekend centered on shifting partisan alignments in regions like New England and California, where the Republican Party now has less power, less influence and less relevance than ever after this year’s congressional elections.

Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, was once the seat of movement conservatism. After the Associated Press called an election there for Gil Cisneros on Sunday, not one Republican will represent Orange County next year in the 116th Congress. Decades ago it was the base of power for Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Today, it’s home to dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrats.

New England will have one Republican member of the next Congress, Maine Senator Susan Collins. She’s up for reelection in two years, and thanks to votes for the president’s tax overhaul and for US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, her future is very much in doubt. Though New England can still boast Republican governors, midterm voters increased their Democratic oppositions in state legislatures. The era of the rock-ribbed Yankee Republican has long been in decline. It’s finally over.

2020 could be worse for New England Republicans. In states like Connecticut, there won’t be any statewide offices up for grabs. The top of the ballot will be the president. Everyone else will be an incumbent Democrat. Given that Donald Trump was the source of 2018’s blue wave here, we can reasonably expect a tsunami in two years.

That means that the Democrats might win majorities large enough to bypass Republican legislators after 2020 when it’s time to redraw legislative districts. That means that the Democrats could end up gerrymandering GOP incumbents out of office. Blue states are getting bluer thanks to a president of fascist politics.

Conservatism used to be about liberty, egalitarian and economic liberty, combined with a (mild) commitment to equal opportunity. That’s what Barry Goldwater believed. That’s what Reagan believed. That’s what conservatives today say they believe.

But today’s conservatism is no longer tempered by the West’s pragmatism and New England’s prudence. Today’s conservatism has been thoroughly southernized. That’s a kind, and euphemistic way, of saying that it ran out of constructive policy ideas relevant to the greater good long ago. Its descent into fascism is complete.

In 2004, Alan Wolfe explained how the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt illuminated GOP behavior under the George W. Bush administration. Wolfe wrote that:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes.

Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency—conservatives always find cases of emergency—the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

In 2011, journalist Colin Woodard published American Nations, a book about the sectarian rivalries among the 11 distinct regions of North America, regions whose politics are informed by their settlement patterns. Of “Deep South,” he wrote:

“Established by English slave lords from Barbados, Deep South was meant as a West Indies–style slave society. This nation offered a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many.”

I agree with those who argue that the GOP tax cuts were a major source of rage among college-educated white suburban voters. The president’s tax overhaul eliminated deductions for state and local taxes on federal income tax returns. That decision laid the groundwork for a revolt among high-tax blue-state Republican voters.

But I also think this weekend’s news is a product of history. The Republicans might have “sacrificed” some of their own to please their donors. Then again, blue-state conservatives-turned-fascists were an endangered species anyway. Perhaps it was a matter of time before California and New England rejected them and their politics.

—John Stoehr

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