Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Are Republicans the party of White People?

As we discussed previously and on multiple occasions the re-election of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States, sent some conservative whites into paroxysms of rage or valleys of despair. Now obviously not all of this was racially based but a great deal of it was, with the comments and snarks by people like Sununu, Palin, Nugent, and more recently South Carolina GOP Executive Director Todd Kincannon.

The main issue that some people seem to have is that despite the fact that overall Romney won a majority of the white vote of both genders (59% overall, 62% of white men and 56% of white women) that simply wasn't enough to give Romney a victory, let alone a decisive one. Some folks just can't wrap their heads around why that happened. The reasons will still be debated and discussed for quite some time but they include at least three salient points:
  • The country has become more diverse. The white vote in 2012 was just not as large a portion of the electorate as it was in 2004 or in 2008, let alone 1996 or 1992.
  • Many white voters who came out for Republicans in 2008 did not show up in 2012.
  • The Republican party has become overly identified with a particular form of social conservatism and radical free market theory that remains quite popular in the South but is not easy to sell in the Northeast or to a lesser extent in the Midwest, and is virtually impossible to win with in California.
Recently, The New Republic magazine produced a cover story by New York Times Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus (he's also an author) that basically argued that Republicans (since at least the sixties) explicitly became the "party of white people" and have worked that particular mojo for about all it's worth. You can read the whole article here.


"Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?" Kevin Phillips, the prophet of "the emerging Republican majority," asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon's electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. "Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don't need the big cities. We don't even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?"
Forty-five years later, the GOP safely has Oklahoma, and Dixie, too. But Phillips's Sunbelt strategy was built for a different time, and a different America. Many have noted Mitt Romney's failure to collect a single vote in 91 precincts in New York City and 59 precincts in Philadelphia. More telling is his defeat in eleven more of the nation's 15 largest cities. Not just Chicago and Columbus, but also Indianapolis, San Diego, Houston, even Dallas—this last a reason the GOP fears that, within a generation Texas will become a swing state. Remove Texas from the vast, lightly populated Republican expanse west of the Mississippi, and the remaining 13 states yield fewer electoral votes than the West Coast triad of California, Oregon, and Washington. If those trends continue, the GOP could find itself unable to count on a single state that has as many as 20 electoral votes.It won't do to blame it all on Romney. No doubt he was a weak candidate, but he was the best the party could muster, as the GOP's leaders insisted till the end, many of them convinced he would win, possibly in a landslide.
Neither can Romney be blamed for the party's whiter-shade-of-pale legislative Rotary Club: the four Republicans among the record 20 women in the Senate, the absence of Republicans among the 42 African Americans in the House (and the GOP's absence as well among the six new members who are openly gay or lesbian). These are remarkable totals in a two-party system, and they reflect not only a failure of strategy or "outreach," but also a history of long-standing indifference, at times outright hostility, to the nation's diverse constituencies—blacks, women, Latinos, Asians, gays.
But that history, with its repeated instances of racialist political strategy dating back many decades, only partially accounts for the party's electoral woes. The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun's ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.

So what's going to happen with the Republican Party going forward? Are things quite as dire as Tanenhaus would make them seem? Is Tanenhaus doing a little premature spiking of the football and touchdown dance? Well maybe. Look, the Republicans have lost four out of the last six Presidential elections. They would be foolish not to examine why. And the 2012 loss is going to sting them for a while because not only did they lose (again) to a racially different incumbent presiding over a sluggish economy, they did virtually everything but take out signs saying "Don't vote for that (insert racial slur of choice)! "and they still lost decisively. Republican operatives or media personalities attacked President Obama's parents in the nastiest and ugliest of ways but it just didn't get the job done. The electorate is just not what it was in the good old days. Certain tricks just won't work any more. The Republican party needs to do some soul searching and some addition by subtraction. This probably explains the slow thaw on immigration reform. I am sure that over time we shall see similar overtures made on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. There is some evidence that younger voters are less open to the current Republican message. Republicans will need to change that to remain competitive going forward. Hoping that President Obama messes up for the next four years might be gratifying but is not really a political strategy.

On the other hand, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Whites are still the overwhelming majority in this country and will continue to be so for quite some time. Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives and are the majority of governors. So obviously many people think that some Republicans are doing a good job. No one knows what will happen going forward but we do know that President Obama (absent some very unlikely turn of events) will not be on the ballot in 2016. A more charismatic and less ideologically rigid Republican candidate could very easily win in 2016. I have no idea who that person might be. By 2016 there will have been more Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action, voting rights, and racial discrimination cases. These decisions could theoretically move more white voters to vote Republican. Or there could be millions more Hispanic voters that might vote Democratic. The Republican Party is stuck between the frying pan and the fire. Does it more explicitly embrace a grievance based white nationalism and try to get its base out?  It could do that but then lose almost everyone else. Or it could become Democratic-lite and try to sell a message of limited government, low taxes and free markets (without any ugly racial overtones) to a changing demographic. However so far it hasn't had success doing that with Hispanics, Asians or Blacks. "Limited government" often has racialized meaning to different groups of people. It's very difficult to have a racially neutral discussion about "states rights", "negative rights", "rugged individualism" or several other tropes of Republican belief.
What to do, what to do...

Questions

1) Do you think the Republican Party is the party of Whites?

2) If so how can this change? Should it change? What's wrong with looking out for "white interests"?

3) Can Republicans win back the Senate and the Presidency or are they a dying party?

4) Will the Republican party split between the social conservatives and economic conservatives?

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