In the wake of a paradigm shifting election where evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for a devout Mormon, a black man was reelected as president in spite of a stalling economy and the long discussed demographic clout of the growing Hispanic population was finally felt, one voting bloc remained unchanged; black people still continued to vote overwhelmingly democratic.
With Charles Krauthammer leading the charge, bringing the Hispanic vote into the republican fold has been agreed upon prescription for future Republican success (and understandably so), but with margins so thin in swing states, why no push to bring the naturally conservative black voter back into the party of Lincoln?
Understanding why black people are so dedicated to the Democrats is the first piece to this puzzle. Republicans have their own theories. Mitt Romney implied on multiple occasions, mostly when he thought no on was listing, that the answer lies in the “extraordinary gifts” from the Democratic Party and republicans largely agree, attributing the cause to blacks being government dependents that want something for nothing. Nothing new here. Typical view that all minorities are monolithic, single-issue self-serving voters.
Strangely (or appropriately) enough, the conservative I found best insight on this topic was Karl Rove. My personal feelings about the man aside, you don’t become the architect of the one of the most breathtaking pieces of demagoguery in a generation without some insight into the ethos of your constituency.
Like most other Republicans, Rove addresses the importance of capturing the Hispanic vote. Rove says “If we do with Latinos what we did with African-Americans, Republicans and conservatives will be doomed,”. When asked about the difference in Hispanic turnout for Romney and George W. Bush, Rove attributed it to how “unwelcome” the campaign’s message made even “Latinos who are passionate about border security” feel and its general lack of respect for the Hispanic community.
The subtle genius of Rove’s insight is that it simply acknowledges a link between the Republican party’s actions and the likelihood of minorities voting for it and addresses the all-important interpersonal aspect of politics. And if anyone understands that identity politics is a larger motivation for the average voter than policy proposals (and that most voters care more about what they believe to be the motive behind the policy than the policy itself), it’s Karl Rove.
When Rove speaks of Republicans not doing to Latinos what they did to African Americans, he means alienating them through them racially tinged rhetoric both direct and indirect. He understands that there are electoral consequences for being the face behind Arizona’s jingoistic immigration laws and nominating a presidential candidate who recommended self-deportation as an effective from of immigration reform and suggested his presidential prospects would be brighter if he were Hispanic.
Rove also understands that the actions of the Republican Party are what yoked blacks to the Democrats. His account doesn’t require a unique lack of independent thought or diversity of opinion in the black community to make sense. Only a convincing external force can motivate such a varied group to effectively vote as a herd (upwards of 90 %!), and from Nixon’s southern strategy to Reagan’s depiction of welfare queens, Bush’s Willie Horton ads, to the racial language and the thinly veiled attempts at voter suppression in the form of voter ID laws used in the most recent election, the republicans have provided that force.
If the black allegiance to the Democrats is simply a matter of messaging then it would logically follow that a change of message could break the monopoly. But the Republican Party’s approach to black people doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Another political savant with keen insight into the psyche of the American voter went eyes wide open into a political realignment of his own making. Soon after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson predicted “we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come”. That year marked the beginning of the realignment of the once solidly Democrat southern states to the Republican Party and was the last time a Democrat won a majority of the white vote. In the following presidential election Nixon harnessed the racial animosity triggered by the civil rights act, implemented his Southern Strategy and the rest is history.
From a political perspective, the larger impact of the Republican’s racially charged message is motivating what now consists of the base of the party and framing its platform, not alienating the comparatively small black vote.
The Willie Horton ad, which would double nicely as the trailer for a remake of The Birth of a Nation, ties directly into the Republican position on gun control and crime (i.e. stand your ground laws) by casting a visceral image of a foreign other as a threatening foil to a “civil” society. Reagan’s depiction of welfare queens does the same thing for entitlement reform. The southern strategy saw the reemergence of the pre-civil war concept of “state’s rights” and “limited government” as they pertained to the right of the states’ independence superseding the rights of the individual when it comes to the civil liberties of African-Americans.
Simply put, a platform that actively appeals to African-Americans and the Republican Party as we know it cannot co-exist. The tension that holds the Republican Party together is essentially the same tension that holds blacks at bay. Remove that tension to be more inclusive of blacks and what helps hold together the central tenants of the party’s ideology ceases to exist. The math is simple, and whether they are actively aware or subliminally cognizant of this reality, Republicans are in no rush to commit what amounts to political suicide. But the smarter ones among them understand that satiating the same xenophobia that devoured the black vote with the Hispanic vote will lead to the same end. And that‘s the real reason why we wont see any meaningful number of black republicans