July 24, 2013


Call him Ronald Obama. Or maybe Barack Reagan. Or even William Jennings Obama. The point is that the current president has finished what the former president began and what William Jennings Bryan, in the late 1800s, begat: a political realignment.

Culturally, ideologically, geographically and racially, Barack Obama has been a polarizing president, as was Ronald Reagan, but whereas Reagan, during his terms from 1981 to 1989 began the transformation, Obama has completed it.

America indisputably has become an "Obama Nation," with a voter base consisting of minorities, white liberals and gays, disproportionately concentrated in urban areas and sufficiently numerous to give the Democrats a lock on the presidency for the foreseeable future, and certainly in 2016. But the Obama presidency also has wrought a "Boehner Nation," after U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, which gives Republicans an equally impenetrable lock on the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future.

As always, numbers matter. In "Obama Nation," the number is 535, which is the number of electoral votes. Obama got 332 in 2012, down from 365 in 2008. In "Boehner Nation," the number is 3,787, which is the number of state legislative seats won by Republicans in 2012, compared to 3,523 won by Democrats. The Republicans hold the majority in 56 of America's 99 legislative bodies. (Nebraska's is nonpartisan and unicameral.)

When Obama took office in 2009, the Republicans had a majority in 37 of those legislatures. In 4 years under Obama's reign, the Republicans took over 19 chambers. In the South, the Obama-fed realignment has been spectacular. In the 11 states of the Confederacy -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas -- plus Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, every state except Florida and Virginia went for Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2008 a total of 73 of 145 Southern congressmen were Democrats; after 2012 the "Obama Curse" reduced the Democrats to a measly 42.

The Democrats controlled 15 of the 28 Southern state legislatures after the 2008 election. After 2012 they control three, both chambers in West Virginia and the Kentucky House. The numbers are astounding. In the 2010 and 2012 elections, the Democrats lost 33 legislative seats in Alabama, 37 seats in Arkansas, 21 seats in Mississippi, 36 seats in North Carolina, 26 seats in Tennessee, 19 seats in Texas, 20 seats in Oklahoma, 18 seats in Georgia, 10 seats in Virginia, 14 seats in Louisiana and seven seats in South Carolina. Even in states where the Democrats cling to a majority, they still lost 12 seats in Kentucky and 18 in West Virginia. By any measure, that is a massacre. The Republicans' legislative majority in those states is now 1,314-908, up from 1,065-1,123 in 2008 and way above their 598-1,608 numbers in 1988.

There is a bright spot: The Democrats' Florida House minority of 43-76 in 2008 zoomed up to 44-76 in 2012, while their Senate minority  of 14-26 stayed the same.

During the Obama Administration, the Democratic Party in the South has been utterly emasculated. The party's "brand," tied to Obama, is not salable. The Obama Democrats' pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights, anti-gun stances are poison in the rural areas and in most suburbs, where liberal trendiness is notably absent. In 2008 there were 53 "Blue Dog" Democrats -- meaning fiscally conservative congressmen -- in the U.S. House. After the 2010 elections their number dwindled to 13. They will soon be extinct. Obama has so polarized the Southern political sphere that anti-Obama voters want a Republican to represent them, not a Democrat.

The key is this: State legislatures control the fate of the U.S. House. They control the decennial redistricting. The House now has a 234-201 Republican majority. That's the invisible "Boehner Nation."

In 1988, as the Reagan Administration departed and as the "Reagan Revolution" fizzled, there were 135 Southern congressmen, of whom just 44 (32.6 percent) were Republicans. Reagan was monumentally popular in the South, and he spurred party building, but ingrained Democratic voting died hard. By 2008 there were 145 Southern congressmen, of whom 72 (49.7 percent) were Republicans.

By 2012, thanks to Obama, there were 152 Southern congressmen, of which 110 (72.4 percent) were Republicans, and 110 of the House's 234 Republicans, or 47.0 percent, were Southerners. The only Southern House Democrats are blacks or whites from urbanized, liberal areas; the onetime Dixiecrats morphed into Republicans. Virtually every rural area is now solidly -- and culturally -- Republican.

The House Republicans -- the "Boehner Nation" -- are dominated by Southerners.

Think about that: Under Obama, the Republicans gained 38 Southern U.S. House seats and 249 state legislative seats, and they are not going to lose those seats any time soon. As long as the Republicans control the South's legislatures, they will control three-fourths of the South's congressional districts, even if the Democrats are gaining strength in presidential elections in states such as Florida, Virginia, Texas and Georgia.

In the South, there is no white Democratic "bench." There are no longer any rural Democratic state legislators, and virtually every statewide office in every Southern state is held by a Republican.

However, the Democrats have a cultural counter balance: New England, New York and the "Left Coast" -- California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Hawaii.

In Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, for example, the Republicans held eight of 25 congressional seats in 1988; today they hold none of 22. The region is truly the "Obama Nation." In the state legislatures, Republicans hold only 11 of 112 seats in Rhode Island, 33 of 198 seats in Massachusetts, 51 of 171 seats in Vermont and 66 of 187 seats in Connecticut. Even Maryland, which has a large rural population, especially on the Eastern Shore, has seven of eight Democratic congressmen and 132 of 187 Democratic state legislators. Overall, the Democrats' legislative majority is 1,338-753, and the Republicans control only the New Hampshire Senate (13-11).

New York is another Republican wasteland. In 1988, when George Bush beat Mike Dukakis, the state's congressional delegation was 21-13 Democratic, the Republicans controlled the state Senate 34-27, and the Democrats controlled the House 92-58. In 2008 the congressional delegation was 27-2 Democratic and the legislature was 32-30 and 105-39, respectively, in the Democrats' favor. That is a significant realignment. Urban, suburban and rural voters abandoned the Republicans for the likes of Obama, Hillary Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Republicans have creeped back to semi-relevancy, now holding an anemic six of 27 House seats, but the have lost the state Senate, where the Democrats have a 32-31 edge. Unlike Illinois, where every state Senate district contains two House seats, each New York chamber crafts its own districts.

So, too, is California. In 1988 the congressional delegation was 27-18 Democratic. Now, because of Democratic remapping, it's 38-15 Democratic. The state legislature, a prized possession, since it takes a two-thirds majority to pass any tax increase, was 24-15 in the Senate and 47-33 in the House in 1988, thereby enabling the Republicans to have veto power. Now its 26-11 and 55-25, so the Democrats can pass any bill they want.

There are rays of hope for the Republicans: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. Each, with a total of 58 electoral votes, went for Obama in 2012, Pennsylvania by 285,000 votes, Michigan by 395,000 votes and Ohio by 100,000 votes. Yet each has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature and a Republican majority in its congressional delegation. The 2012 "Obama Wave" did not diminish Republican congressional or legislative dominance. Of the states' 48 congressmen, 34 are Republicans, largely because Republican-dominated state legislatures drew favorable districts  That won't change until 2022.

Illinois, however, is the Democrats' showpiece. After the 2010 election, Republicans had a 11-8 majority. After the 2011 Democratic remap, it was transformed into 12-6 a Democratic majority. Likewise in the General Assembly, where it was 35/24 in the Senate and 64/54 in the House in 2008 and, as part of "Obama Nation," 40/19 and 71/47, respectively, in 2012.

The bottom line: It's entirely possible that the U.S. Senate, now 54-46 Democratic, could flip in 2014, but it's not possible that the Republican-dominated U.S. House could go Democratic. State legislatures control state congressional delegations, and the Republicans have it sealed. Regardless of who is elected president in 2016, "Boehner Nation" will persist until at least 2022.