Truly Bad Grits: The GOP's Curse of the South

With convening of the 114th Congress and the swearing in this week of new governors and state representatives, the GOP on paper is sitting very pretty in the Capitol and the nation's statehouses.

Republicans now hold majorities in both the U.S. House and the Senate. They also hold 32 governorships (that included winning four new seats in the last election) and constitute a majority of state representatives nationwide.

You would think that it looks like a great opportunity to drive an anti-Obama agenda both on a national and state level.

But there already have been a number of warning signs that the GOP is about to self-destruct (again) and destroy its chances of (re)capturing the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans.

Right now, in terms of strengthening its bid to take back the White House in 2016, the momentum gained in the 2014 elections is likely to be lost shortly into this new year.

The Republican Party in 2015 is still a party that draws its power base from an American South characterized by historic bigotry and an intolerant Christian social and religious culture. That strength in votes translates into a debilitating fundamental weakness that the GOP can't escape, particularly in populous states like California and New York, even when its candidates individually perform well in state races in very blue states.

A number of recent events illustrate this problem.

First, right out of the Democratic distraction playbook, there was a controversy surrounding the revelation that in 2002 House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group linked to former Louisiana Ku Klux Klan leader and politician David Duke.

While GOP leaders and fellow members of Congress rushed to his defense as a "a man of... good heart and good character," Democrats, including President Barack Obama's Press Secretary Josh Earnest, went on the attack, questioning both Scalise's character and the GOP's tolerance of Scalise's perceived racism.

"There's no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference's priorities and values are," said Earnest.

Then, there was the announcement of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee that he was quitting his show on Fox to explore running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

Huckabee is the darling of the evangelistic wing of the GOP and presents a serious threat to more mainstream, even Tea Party candidates, particularly in the early primaries like Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, where the Christian right is a substantial vote.

Just as much as the arch conservative Michelle Bachmann was able to knock out centrist former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Iowa Caucuses in 2012 (he would have been a much better candidate than Mitt Romney), Huckabee could do serious damage to a Jeb Bush, Rand Paul or Marco Rubio in Iowa and other southern states.

So Huckabee, who has defined homosexuality as an "aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle," as a presidential candidate not only presents the Democratic Party a ripe target for its well-received diversionary social attacks, but also will once again define the GOP presidential playing field as one that demands adherence to divisive social stands on abortion, women's rights and immigration. That focus on the evangelistic wing of the party loses about half the electoral votes in the Northeast and West Coast and led to both John McCain's and Romney's defeat in their races against Obama.

Then, there was the failed coup against the reelection of John Boehner as House speaker led by, you guessed it, southern congressmen like Reps. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), which was mischaracterized solely as a "Tea Party" rebellion. The fact that more than two dozen Republicans failed to vote for their conference's choice illustrated a lack of political discipline essential to mount a concerted successful attack on the Obama administration's policies and to function well as a united political force capable of the essential compromising necessary to get this country moving forward economically.

So instead of setting a new agenda for the country, it looks like the Republican Party is about to enter yet another destructive phase of eating its own while enduring yet another debilitating leftist campaign of distraction on social issues and immigration.

To avoid a repeat of history and to beat a weakened Democratic Party in a true sense, the GOP must focus on continuing its winning streak in blue Northern states to build on its 2014 momentum. That means focusing purely on economic, foreign policy and defense issues and reining in the anti-immigration reform and southern evangelistic rebels in Congress.

Bottom line: The GOP needs to eat more Wheaties and less grits to win the White House in 2016 and to bring a new generation of Americans across the nation into its fold.

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary ( and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.