The next time you take your family to visit the American Museum of Natural History, be sure to make time to see their collection of fossil remains of extinct creatures. These include the dodo bird, the Tasmanian tiger, the Caspian tiger … and the Northeast American Republican.
Laymen tend to think the mass extinctions surrounding the last ice age happened fairly rapidly, but some animals such as the short faced bear lingered on in small numbers for thousands of years. By comparison, the once robust herds of United States Republicans roaming the territories north of Virginia and east of Ohio have plummeted below the viable gene pool margin in less than a decade. Yes, I’m afraid that the African white rhino is now laughing at the pitiful numbers of the Grand Old Party RINOs in this region.
The recent departure of Arlen Specter for the greener fields of the Democratic supermajority drew a great deal of media attention, but it was only the latest trophy in the Northeast RINO hunt. The process actually began, albeit quietly, back in 2002, but the trickle turned into a flash flood during the 2006 and 2008 cycles. As for Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the north, the New York Republican delegation is now down to three members of Congress, less than any time in the modern era. The pattern repeats across the region, but Republicans haven’t always carried a poisonous aura with these voters.
New York had a Republican governor from 1995 until Eliot Spitzer’s brief but colorful term began in 2007. In fact, the GOP provided 45% of the Empire State’s governors since World War 2. In tiny but disproportionately influential New Hampshire, their Class III Senate seat has been held by Republicans since 1855, with the single term exceptions of Fred Brown and John Durkin. But even now, Judd Gregg is retiring from that post and astute observers see the Democrats stealing that position. His Class II counterpart’s office was already nabbed from three decades of GOP ownership by Jeanne Shaheen during the last election.
Similarly, ten of the last 15 governors in Pennsylvania came from Republican ranks, as did several senators from the Keystone State in recent decades. So where did all of those Republicans go?
As with everything else in American politics, the particulars vary from one locale to another, but the current trend is difficult to ignore. Next door in New Jersey, Garden State residents chose Republicans for governor five out of six times from 1982 until 2002, at which point the Democrats took control. As a friend recently noted, Jersey is currently in the middle of a vicious partisan struggle between the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the really, really, really liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
This movement represents a puzzle which the GOP will need to solve sooner rather than later. The Republicans will no more be able to win national power while confined to the deep South and a few mountain states than the Democrats could by holding only the Northeast and the left coast. The answer most likely lies not in the seats which have been lost, but the ones still under control.
Pete King is holding steady in New York’s third district, though Democrats may seek to gerrymander him out of a job with the next census mix. The Maine sisters don’t seem to be dropping in popularity, even as those around them lose their heads along with their congressional seats. The answer, of course, goes back to one of the first lessons we all learned in Punditry 101 but seem to have forgotten: all politics is local — or at least regional.
In recent years the Democrats have embraced new tactics and begun running so-called Blue Dog candidates in traditional GOP strongholds. Some of them are pro-life and many are vocal supporters of Second Amendment rights. While it makes the hard Left supporters at Daily Kos howl with indignation, the national party has welcomed these Blue Dogs with open arms and happily added them to their swelling ranks. They may cast the odd vote which enrages the base on issues like card check or an assault weapons ban, but they still represent another race in the win column and another vote that may come through on a tight roll call along party lines.
In the end, you have to ask yourself whether you would rather have a senator in one of these contested seats who votes against the party line some of the time, or one who votes against you almost all of the time. Do you really want to run Pat Toomey for Arlen Specter’s seat next year? Pennsylvania already had a Pat Toomey in the Senate, in case you’d forgotten. His name was Rick Santorum. Remind us again: where is he today?
Through the miracle of YouTube, you can see a brief video clip of the last known Tasmanian tiger, recorded in a zoo in 1933. It paces its small cage, kicking up dust, hopefully unaware that it was the last of its kind. Shortly thereafter, it died there alone. The GOP may want to take a fresh look at their regional candidate selection process, particularly in the Northeast, if they don’t want to see Susan Collins pacing around a cage of her own some day.