Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned this week: "I think Republicans will not win again in my lifetime for the presidency unless they become a new GOP, a new Republican Party."
Paul's alarm came as various analysts say that Tea Party radicals have pulled the GOP so far to the right that most mainstream Americans cannot support it. A Los Angeles Times column said:
"Ever since a wave of conservative insurgents arrived in Washington after the congressional election of 2010, Congress has careened from one Tea Party-inspired fiscal crisis to another, from the debt-ceiling showdown of 2011 to last year's 16-day government shutdown."
During the October shutdown, the analysis continued, "Tea Party conservatives expected the American public to rally behind their demand to defund President Obama's healthcare plan -- but the public didn't rally. Instead, voters turned against the GOP for staging a needless crisis, driving the party's popularity to record lows."
The GOP -- the party of the rich, the party of military "hawks," the party of narrow fundamentalists -- is losing ground nationwide, as Sen. Paul said. But not in West Virginia.
Ironically, while most of urban America has distanced itself from the GOP, rural West Virginia has become a Republican "red state," as far as the presidency is concerned. In four straight elections -- 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 -- the Mountain State backed the GOP White House ticket, despite nearly two-to-one Democratic registration. This year's congressional elections may indicate whether the red shift is continuing.
Multitudes of West Virginians are low-income, in need of affordable health care and other "safety net" benefits advocated by Democrats. It's puzzling that so many of these Appalachian folks instead back the party that constantly tries to slash the safety net.
A couple of years ago, The New York Times said the Mountain State turned red because "the state is rural, culturally conservative and religious" with "the fifth-largest share of gun owners, the third-oldest median age and one of the least-diverse and least-educated populations -- all variables associated with Republican Party affiliation."Has West Virginia become permanently red, like Dixie? Watch this year's elections for a clue.