Ross Douthat acknowledges the absence of a serious Republican “populist” candidate in yesterday’s  NYT.  This should be seen by southern Democrats as a void begging to be filled. He begins:

By rights, this should be the election when conservative populists, frequently thwarted and co-opted by the Republican Party’s kingmakers, finally succeed in pushing an insurgent candidate to the top of the presidential ticket. Between the zeal of the Tea Party, the unlovability of Mitt Romney and the widespread hatred of all things Washington, there’s never been a better time to run against the Republican establishment and win.

But the populists haven’t found a standard-bearer capable of taking advantage of this moment. . .

I wholly agree with his assessment here; “there’s never been a better time to run against the Republican establishment and win” but for southern Democrats . He continues:

But amid the bombast and identity politics, it’s still possible to discern a serious populist critique of how the Republican establishment does business — one that links Pat Buchanan’s primary campaigns in the 1990s to figures like Palin, Huckabee, Cain and Ron Paul today.

This critique accuses the Republican leadership of being too cavalier about illegal immigration, too forgiving of crony capitalism and Wall Street-Washington coziness, too promiscuous with overseas military interventions, and too willing to imitate Democrats and centralize power in Washington. Right-wing populists tend to argue that Beltway Republicans have lost touch with the party’s core constituencies: small-business owners, middle-class families and Main Street, U.S.A.

This critique sounds very southern to me, and very Democratic. With the exodus of Tim Pawlenty and his Sam’s Club Conservativism and the utter absence of a populist voice which the Douthats of the world desire, southern Democrats have an incredible opportunity. Southern Democrats authentically can decry crony-capitalism and the “Wall Street-Washington coziness.” We too can advocate against “too promiscuous overseas military interventions.” Whereas the GOP seeks to discredit any and all government,  Democrats are the Party of Jefferson and can advocate for local solutions and control when appropriate and more effective. The fact that we are not already branded as the Party of “small-business owners, middle-class families and Main Street, USA” should be a devastating indictment. And even on the immigration issue, most southerners really only want effective solutions to their bread-and-butter issues consistent with their deepest convictions and morals. Southern Democrats have failed to provide any real alternative policies and ideas, so the GOP nativist poison has been the only serving on the table and all the people have been offered to drink.

These arguments often have merit. The trouble is that no populist politician has been able to deliver an agenda to match. Having identified important problems, right-wing populists almost inevitably rally to unworkable solutions.

They absolutely have merit. Where the GOP has  failed and further entrenched itself further behind an ugly, mongrel of corporatism and libertarianism , Alabamans and other southern Democrats must take advantage of this strategic error by the GOP.