Just when national Republicans are trying to re-brand their party by bringing it into the 21st century, along come their North Carolina brethren in all their fire-and-brimstone glory. They’ve been introducing some fairly draconian legislation but nothing that fed so many comedians as the bill to allow for the establishment of a state religion. Then, Republican House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, who signed onto the religion bill, referred to Africans-Americans as “the blacks,” as in, “I was frankly just surprised that the blacks took it as an attempt to suppress their vote.”
How did Republicans get so nutty? They are paying the price for a deal made with the devil almost fifty years ago. As the Democratic Party embraced civil rights during the 1960s, the GOP welcomed the racists fleeing the party as North Carolina, and the South, developed a two party system. For years, the Republican establishment kept them at the back of the bus, paying lip service to their social conservatism but never really embracing it.
While the rest of the South went solid red, the extremist wing of the GOP hindered their growth in more moderate North Carolina by pushing many candidates too far to the right to get elected on a statewide ballot. But in 2010, they struck gold, winning both houses of the legislature in a redistricting year. With districts drawn to protect Republican majorities, primaries often decided the winner, allowing those social conservatives to move from the back of the bus to the driver’s seat.
In the New Republic yesterday, Noam Scheiber argued that gerrymandering may be protecting Republican House members but that it’s killing the GOP nationally. The safe districts elect Republicans who are in line with the right-wing of the party, but out of touch with the country as a whole. The same is true here in North Carolina. Republicans may be able to hold on to the legislature through gerrymandering, but their extreme, embarrassing and subtly racist rhetoric and actions will alienate them from the broader electorate.