March 20, 2013

The Desperate Identity Politics of the GOP

The GOP has released its Growth and Opportunity Project report.  This is essentially the big post mortem on why they lost the White House in 2012 by a decisive margin.  The report attempts to address one of the key failures of the 2012 campaign; the resounding rejection of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by a whopping 80% of the minority vote across all groups.  That's an eye opener, or at least it should be. But the GOP still seems to want to cling to a willfully selective point of view about what must be done to woo certain ethnic voting blocks. It's very apparent for example in reading the report that after 2012, the GOP REALLY REALLY wants Hispanic voters.  Black voters? Not so much.....still.

Oh come on you say? They say right in the report they want to do better with black voters. Yeah, they do, but they have been saying that for quite some time.  Its not been sincere in the past and its not sincere now.

I'll repeat for the record my basic conclusion about the GOP and black voters, which I challenge ANYBODY to definitively refute. To wit;

The Republican Party is fundamentally disinterested in black voters as a political constituency. The GOP does not believe that the black voter bloc is necessary or essential to its aspirations for governance. That is a sentiment held by both its leadership and by its rank and file. 

Simple as that.  They don't think they need us to win. Point blank. They used to feel the same way about Hispanics, until they got gobsmacked by the 2012 election results and opened their eyes to the demographic reality of Hispanic population growth.  Now they want Hispanics. They want them bad.  We'll ultimately find out just how bad soon enough.

How do I arrive at this conclusion? It's not difficult.  All you have to do is read the report and see the way that the GOP selectively defines its problems in a way that requires addressing the issue with Hispanics but ignoring the same with blacks.

It's right there, plain as day.  The report leads with the issue of messaging:

"We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue"

Dead accurate. The GOP talks to itself.  All the time. It has some of the worst practice when it comes to communicating persuasively conservative values or approaches.  It's chief tactics are demonization, ridicule, and attack.  Now, mozy on down to the section of the report covering Hispanics where it says the following:

Message matters. Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities. Repairing that relationship will require both a tone that “welcomes in” as well as substantial time spent in the community demonstrating a commitment to addressing its unique concerns. As one participant in a regional listening session noted, “The key problem is that the Republican Party’s message offends too many people unnecessarily. “ [emphasis mine]

Once again, dead on accurate.  Republicans were willing to message their views on immigration in a way that offended and scared Hispanics. They championed the kind of measures being taken in Arizona as measures to be used everywhere. And they did it using a tone that said from leadership down to rank and file, rhetorical and policy hostility towards Hispanics is not only necessary, its justified. They appear to come to some level of recognition of this in the report and call for it to be corrected.  They actually correctly analyzed the source of Hispanic ambivalence towards the GOP party as their own behavior. You could replace Hispanic with African American in the above quote and it would remain 100% accurate. 

However, travel a little further into the report to the section on GOP relations with African Americans and all this searching introspection grinds to a halt. The section on this relationship is devoid of any analysis of GOP behavior and how that behavior is received by this voting group.  The mere three paragraphs that address the  issue essentially suggest that its merely a marketing problem, a sort of "if we just spend more time explaining it to them, they will get it eventually" approach.  It's not GOP behavior, they just need to be more visible. When it comes to Hispanics, the GOP is willing to look at and possibly change its messaging behavior.  For blacks, not so much.  In both the sections on Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders, the recommendations include this one:

"The Republican Party is one of tolerance and respect, and we need to ensure that the tone of our message is always reflective of these core principles. In the modern media environment, a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the Party as a whole. Thus we must emphasize during candidate training,  retreats, etc., the importance of a welcoming, inclusive message in particular when discussing issues that relate directly to a minority group."

That's great.  I could not agree more.  Tolerance and respect in how you communicate.  It's great. Oddly however, this recommendation is not copied in the section on African Americans.  Tolerance and respect is apparently not necessary when dealing with us. Repeated word for word in the list of recommendations for Hispanics and Asians, wholly absent from recommendations for African Americans. Sorta like the way the GOP behaves in real life. 

The report says more than once that they are not a policy committee, but when it comes to Hispanics, the report explicitly says that the GOP must address immigration reform. So, for Hispanics, oh, we got policy.  For black folk, not much.

There was one group, however, that didn’t even get a bland promise of some sort of policy consideration. Can you guess which one? Rather than even think about changing their policies to attract black voters, the RNC’s answer is to infiltrate black organizations, because black voters are just in the bad “habit” of ignoring awesome facts: (emphasis mine)

Establish a presence in African American communities and at black organizations such as the NAACP. We are never going to win over voters who are not asked for their support. Too many African American voters have gotten in the habit of supporting Democrats without hearing anyone in their community making a case to the contrary.

As condescending and simple-minded as the report is to every other group. black voters are the only ones who are portrayed as the ones who have the problem; it’s not the GOP’s failure, it’s the black voters’. Their other big idea is to get in there and edumacate them:

Engage historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with the goal of educating the community on Republican ideals and the Party’s history.

Perhaps my favorite bullet point for black voters, though, is this one:

The RNC should work with the RSLC to develop best practices of Republicans who were successfully elected in districts with a high population of African American voters.

Yeah, like that awesome Shelby County “best practice.”

It's the worst, most desperate and cynical of identity politics. The GOP is ready to consider an about face on immigration reform as an explicit and baldly stated ploy to woo Hispanic voters.  I recall Romney saying that Obama had essentially bought off, bribed minority voters with Obamacare.  If you agreed, how is the GOP's effort to deliver immigration reform for hispanics any different?  They don't value Hispanics as a political constituency. They just want their numbers to win elections and they will even fess up to some of their own nasty behavior to try for them.  

But when it comes to black voters, its business as usual.  No acknowledgment of how GOP messaging behavior has and continues to destroy opportunities for engagement with blacks. More of the same platitudes about outreach. 

Smell the desperation. 

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