When the liberal former New York mayor shows up in Montgomery, Ala., to take the Rebel side in the debate over the Confederate flag, you begin to understand a couple of things about next year’s presidential election:
Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani will do or say just about anything to win Southern support in next year’s presidential race. If he thought eating boiled possum would garner a few more Dixie ballots, Rudy would dive in.
You haven’t seen the last of Southern pandering from Republican candidates. The region is a must-win for the Republican ticket. Democrats have already developed a game plan for winning the White House without the Old Confederacy. No such strategy is available to Republicans. If the GOP ticket doesn’t win the South, it doesn’t win the White House.
Whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards is the Democratic choice does not matter. Barring a sudden and dramatic reversal in the political winds, none of the three has a chance of winning our region. In the 2000 primary, Vice President Al Gore, a Southern Democrat, could not even win his home state of Tennessee.
Republicans have come a long way since 1976 when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter carried 10 of 11 Southern states for the Democrats and won the presidency.
As political science authors Earl Black and Merle Black point out in their new book “Divided America,” Carter’s victory marked “the high point of the new ‘Democratic South’ in presidential elections.”
Even in victory, however, “Carter lost the Southern white vote to a Michigan Republican, Gerald Ford, by 47 percent to 53 percent, but won the region because he carried 82 percent of the African-American vote and a sufficiently large share of the white vote,” the brothers Black note.
After Carter’s initial success, the national Democratic Party hit the skids in the Deep South.
Which brings us up to the impending 2008 presidential election — and the dilemma facing Republican candidates such as Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Newt Gingrich and others.
To win the GOP nomination, contestants must please caucus and primary voters in such anti-Southern bastions as New Hampshire, Iowa, New York and California without burning their Old South bridges.
How do they do that?
Coming down South to embrace the Confederate flag didn’t quite work as a total plus for Rudy. His hometown paper, The New York Times, picked up the story.
“Mr. Giuliani cannot truly believe the issues surrounding the Confederate flag are just a matter of local taste. The Civil War, the civil rights movement and the Supreme Court answered that question. Even the Southern states have largely moved on,” The Times said in an editorial.
Rudy and the flag offer just one example of the daunting hazards facing the Republican presidential crop.
How will former Massachusetts Gov. Romney explain to Southern conservatives his 1994 declaration that he was a stronger advocate of gay rights than Sen. Edward Kennedy? Will the South simply ignore his old socially liberal agenda as it embraces a “new” conservative candidate?
How about Sen. McCain? The quick-tempered McCain, personally smeared in 2000 by the hard right, vigorously attacked the religious right and conservative Christian leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson specifically. Despite McCain’s efforts to make up in the current campaign, many observers believe bad blood lingers between McCain and the conservative preachers.
Gingrich, a political product of Georgia, faces a mountain of ethical and moral conflicts, any of which ought to prove anathema to many faith-based voters.
So what is the answer to the GOP problem — finding a Republican candidate who “feels” right even if his rhetoric has been liberal and his behavior libertine? And locating a candidate who can succeed in appeasing the crucial Midwest even as he pleases the GOP’s Southern base?
The answer may be simpler than it seems: Recruit an actor to play the presidential part. It worked with Ronald Reagan in 1980. And it can work again with Fred Thompson in 2008. Thompson, from “Law and Order,” may not be a more gifted actor than Reagan, but he certainly looks and sounds like a president.
In these days of YouTube and other around-the-clock media platforms, those qualities may turn out to be more important than all the rest. Besides, Thompson is a former senator from Tennessee who should have no trouble winning his home state in a presidential election.
Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org