Litmus-test Conservatives Drive Republican Party Farther South

GOP's closed-minded, regional politics no longer play on the national scene.

By + More

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson was congratulated by a staffer after he signed the historic Voting Rights Act into law. LBJ responded grimly that he had just delivered the South to the Republican Party.

Johnson was right in a large sense because the Grand Old Party has settled into being a regional party with few exceptions. Republicans deny it, but look at the record.

George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 by winning every Southern and Southwestern state—13 of them with 158 electoral votes. He didn't need many more states to hit the 270 mark.

President Obama broke that barrier last year by winning Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, but the McCain-Palin ticket won the other 10 for the bulk of its losing total.

The once Solid South of the New Deal days of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt has switched to the GOP with a vengeance.

In the Senate, both members are Republicans in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma. There are no African-American Republicans in the House since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired. (Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia is a nonvoting delegate.)

In Congress, Southern Republicans are generally quiet on civil rights. There is no champion like the late Jack Kemp or retired Gen. Colin Powell with the courage to challenge fellow Republicans.

When Obama names his choice to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter, the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be Jeff Sessions of Alabama. It will likely make no difference to Sessions on Obama's choice because Sessions will wade in to label him or her an activist or even a radical.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the other day that the Republican Party would continue to be a minority if it refused membership to those agreeing with it just 70 percent of the time. Graham should speak directly to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, or even former Vice President Dick Cheney, who have a much different view.

In fact, Cheney is giving interviews these days to venues like a radio station in North Dakota to warn against the party going moderate in any way. Where is an influential Republican willing to tell Cheney to get lost? John McCain's daughter seems to be a voice in the wilderness on urging Cheney to shut up.

Cheney went national with his rigid views on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. He said he'd take Rush Limbaugh's take on the party rather than Colin Powell's. That says it all on Cheney's look into the future.

Even the new GOP national chairman, African-American Michael Steele, is having trouble finding his voice to challenge the litmus-test conservatives in the party.

A trio of Republicans, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Rep. Erick Cantor of Virginia hosted a recent meeting to outline new ideas for a party that has lost the last two national elections.

The immediate question is whether the party is willing to accept more minorities—African-Americans as well as the growing Hispanic vote in the Sun Belt.

If the answer is no, the GOP can drone on endlessly about a comeback and still lose. A failure to move beyond that Southern base, and hoping Obama will fail, is a questionable formula.

Check out our political cartoons .