Josh Marshall, founder of the TPM.com, has a post up where he ponders the racial polarization of American politics. In doing so he argues that the Republican Party is so wound up around the issue of race that if it could somehow increase its margin of support among black voters this would cause white Republican voters to flee the party. Serriously:
Imagine a significantly deracialized American politics. Perhaps the Republican party starts getting African-American support into the double digits. Perhaps the partisan split among Hispanic voters moves more toward equal. In other words, a significant de-racialization of our politics. So great, Republicans now get all these new voters. But you don’t think some lower income white voters in Arkansas or Missouri don’t stop and say, “Hey, why am I Republican again?”
Oh, come on.
Earlier in the post, Marshall includes the usual throat-clearing caveat (“Does this mean the GOP is ‘racist’? No. At least not in its entirety. But it benefited mightily from [racism]“). But there is no way to interpret the above post other than Marshall saying that a vast section of the present-day Republican Party is so racist that if — all other things being equal — they started noticing more African-American voters pulling the “R” lever, they would recoil in horror.
But if this were true, wouldn’t the party be trying to hide its black and Hispanic candidates from the voters, instead of offering them prime speaking slots at convention? You could deride Republican efforts in this regard as patronizing or tokenistic, but you certainly can’t say they’re trying to hide black and Hispanic conservatives.
And as any Republican fundraising consultant will tell you, there’s no better way to make Republican donors open their wallets than to send out a mailer with a black conservative asking for money.
The Republican Party could use a lot more credible black and Hispanic primary candidates, perhaps. But when given the opportunity, Republican primary voters in extremely white districts do nominate conservative Black and Hispanic candidates for office. Republicans have also elevated to hero status a number of blacks, such as Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Allen West, Mia Love, Tim Scott, Artur Davis and Ben Carson.
This is a party where Herman Cain could (albeit briefly) hold front-runner status in a presidential primary. While it is beyond dispute that the GOP has a serious outreach problem to African-American voters (which goes back to Barry Goldwater and his libertarian-minded opposition to civil rights legislation) it is not based on some overt or even covert hostility to the black community.
Republican voters would welcome black voters in with open arms if they would come. It’s that the GOP does not know to communicate to them and lacks a critical mass of black leadership figures to bridge the gap. Meanwhile black voters are highly suspicious of the GOP and easily swayed by arguments that it isn’t sincere or doesn’t care when it does make overtures. After all, the GOP rarely does it so rarely anyway. Why shouldn’t they be suspicious?
Democrats have skillfully exploited this with fear-based campaigns every election cycle that Republicans will do horrible things to the black community if only given the chance. The racial gerrymandering prompted by the Voting Rights Act to create majority-minority has furthered this divide. Because of it, relatively few blacks even live in Republican districts.
All of this has in turn prompted “oh-what’s-the-use” thinking among Republican strategists, who urge candidates to focus their time and money elsewhere. Lather-rinse-repeat. By electing the first-ever African-American president, Democrats have further cemented this cycle.
Marshall flatters himself by thinking that he is seriously contemplating the complexities of racial politics. Instead, he is smugly patting himself on the back for being on the side of the angels as he sees it.
UPDATE: On Twitter, Marshall responded to my post saying: “I think its more that many whites [would] flee if GOP made changes that [would] make it credible party for minority voters.”
Now that may be so. A party that substantially changed its policies to reach a different group of people would indeed risk alienating the people who previously supported it. Such trade-offs are inherent in politics. That’s not what Marshall said in his original post though. He didn’t talk about parties changing policies. He talked instead of a hypothetical scenario where politics in general was simply “deracialized.”