The Magazine

The Rise of the Metro Republicans

How McCain, Romney, and Giuliani may redraw the red-blue map.

Feb 19, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 22 • By NOEMIE EMERY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Here are the three leading candidates for president in the Republican party, a party based in the South and in the interior, rural in nature, and backed in large part by social conservatives: the senior senator from Arizona, a congenital maverick with friends in the press and a habit of dissing the base of his party; the former governor of deep-blue Massachusetts, son of a Michigan governor, a Mormon who looks, sounds, and comes across as a city boy; and the former mayor of New York, the Big Apple itself, ethnic and Catholic, pro-choice and pro-gun control, married three times, and a man who--Neil Simon, where are you?--moved in with a gay friend and his partner when he was thrown out of Gracie Mansion by his estranged and enraged second wife.

None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few. Each has a way of presenting conservative views that centrists don't find threatening, and projecting fairly traditional values in a language that secular voters don't fear. In a country that has been ferociously split into two near-equal camps of voters for at least the past decade, this is no small accomplishment, as it suggests the potential to cross cultural barriers, and therefore extend one's own reach. If one of these men wins, it may mark a return to broader, national parties. And the iconic map of the recent elections, with the blue states draped like a shawl over the broad, red shoulders of Middle America, may give way to more subtle designs.

For those too young to remember it clearly, things were not always like this. In 1976, eight years after Richard M. Nixon invented his "southern strategy," Democrat Jimmy Carter carried all of the South below Virginia, running as the social conservative against Gerald Ford, who backed both the ERA and abortion and carried California, Connecticut, Maine, and New Jersey, now all a deep shade of blue. On this side of the two Reagan landslides, when the Gipper pocketed everything not nailed to the floorboards, George Bush the elder took Ford's bi-coastal four, adding to them the currently deeply blue precincts of Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Four years later, all nine states had flipped back to the Democrats, in what seemed more a generational than a cultural or partisan passage: Bill Clinton, a boy from the Ozarks who had gone to Yale, Oxford, and Georgetown, and Bush, a Connecticut blue blood transplanted to Texas, were cross-cultural figures who could span diverse worlds.

It was between 1993 and 1995, however, that things fell apart. The Man from Hope went blue state and bi-coastal, making new friends among rock stars and film stars, drifting far left on abortion and quotas, and, in a moment that would come to seem all too symbolic, halting air traffic on the LAX runway while his tresses were coiffed by hairdresser-to-the-stars Christophe. Retribution came in the 1994 midterms, which liberals saw as "the lynching," or as "the Anschluss," or as The End of the World as It Was. Liberals on the Upper West Side compared it to Kristallnacht, and said that they feared for their lives and their country. Far worse lay ahead for them. When the Toxic Texan George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, James Atlas wrote this depiction of the "Blue State of Mind" in New York magazine: "Do you mean there's still going to be civilization? Classical music, summaries of the week's New York Times Book Review, murmurous programs on the 'Treasures of Ancient China' exhibit at the Met?"