The Midwest, where McCain lost every state to Obama, is at least theoretically a better target for the G.O.P. going forward, since it does contain many socially conservative voters who are willing to live with the kind of rhetoric that plays in the South. McCain had limited success tapping into these voters, but the task might have been impossible this year – they are more liberal on economic issues and, with the collapse of the economy, were furious with the ruling Republican Party.
If the G.O.P. is intent on pursuing its Southern strategy in the years ahead, it must realize that this will mean not just writing off the Northeast, but also wide swaths of the West and the South itself. The only hope for the party, then, would be to break through in the Midwest, which would mean balancing cultural conservatism with an economic populism that could play in the Rust Belt. This, needless to say, would be a wholesale departure from the party’s traditions of fiscal conservatism. But it may be the only way to build a winning coalition.