Relevance, it’s something that we all long for. Be it an individual or an organization, there is that desire to feel as though one’s existence has meaning, has some impact and value in the here and now. Existence without significance can be hard to bear. It’s indeed a truism that, “We have a fundamental imperative in our lives to matter to others.”
The desire for relevance is a major reason, I believe, Republicans in many Southern states banded together and helped create what’s known as the “SEC Primary.” For the longest time, the primaries of many Southern states were stuck in a place of political irrelevance when it came down to presidential primary campaigning, largely due to their being held after party crowning was pretty much over. Those days, quite possibly, are now gone.
Named after the NCAA’s powerful college sports conference, the Southeastern Conference or SEC, the March 1, 2016, primary elections are being viewed as serious political game-changers by many Republicans in the South. Originally, as many as 10 Southern states were envisioned as being a part of this Southern political power conference. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp declared, “We [Deep South states] weren’t having a voice in the process. A way to fix that would be to build this coalition in the South to really entice the candidates to come here and campaign and to give us a voice.”
Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have confirmed their allegiance. Louisiana and Florida have decided against joining the coalition. The process is moving forward in states like Alabama and Arkansas. It’s being held up by Republican infighting in Mississippi, yet there is a strong contingent there that supports the change. As the Mississippi Secretary of State noted, “With us being in the mix (March 1) we would remain relevant … We want the next president to talk to Mississippi about national issues.”
To be sure, both major political parties in each state see this is an economic boom due to the fact that national candidates would have to spend more money and time campaigning in Deep South states. But it is the political impact on the Republican primary election that is most talked about, and has some in the party ecstatic about the change and others having feelings of trepidation. Why the fear?
Winning a general election will take a broad appeal. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama won the majority of votes among women, particularly white women. He also won the majority of votes among Hispanics and Asians, a move that many see as a consolidation of these groups into the fold of the Democratic Party. As U.S. demographics continue to change, so too does the electorate. By 2044, the United States will become what some have started calling the “no-majority America,” an America where whites are not a racial majority and the country is a varicolored mix of blacks, Asians, Native Americans, multiracial Americans and Latinos, none with an overwhelming numerical majority.
But as the saying goes, “the future is now,” and to win in 2016 Republicans will need those that ultra-conservative policies are alienating. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) recently stated, “The only way we lose this election is if we beat ourselves and that is very possible … We are getting creamed with non-white voters.” Graham went on to say that Republicans will lose the 2016 presidential election if the party doesn’t get behind major immigration reform. He elaborated: “I mean, we’ve got a big hole we’ve dug with Hispanics … We’ve gone from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote [in the 2004 presidential election] to 27 percent [in 2012]. You’ll never convince me it’s not because of the immigration debate.” Graham favors a pathway to citizenship, “a long hard pathway”but one nevertheless. Yet in the reddest of the red states, ideas like this don’t go over well.
In a time when appealing to various groups is becoming more important politically, there is still a very strong reactionary element in the Republican Party that seems afraid of change and afraid to embrace difference. To those who want to move the party forward, they see an “SEC Primary” or “Deep South Super-Tuesday” as an impediment to progress rather than a facilitator of it.
Once again the Democratic Party has a powerful motivating and appealing figure with whom Republicans will have to contend in a general election. To be sure, Hillary Clinton has created problems for herself that could stymie her bid for the White House, but there’s still no doubt she’s going to be a formidable candidate. She has strong support among women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minority groups, the very same groups that many Republicans realize they will need support from in order to win in 2016.
An “SEC Primary” may give Republicans in Southern states a sense of relevance and meaningfulness within their party, but without policies that are relevant and acceptable to a plurality of voters, the GOP may continue to marginalize and undermine itself when it comes to putting a Republican in the White House.