Republicans are a party of white people. They have been for the past 50 years though they’re loath to admit it. What’s different now is that instead denying it, candidates are embracing it. Donald Trump owes his presidency to thinly veiled appeals to racists and white supremacist groups feel empowered by his leadership.
Now, in the Charlotte mayor’s race, a Republican candidate listed “white” as a qualifying characteristic. She immediately got blow back and Robin Hayes, the Chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, rebuked her. Still, she thought, correctly, that whiteness is an attribute that appeals to a broad section of GOP primary voters. Her mistake was saying it out loud.
For fifty years, Republicans have been courting the racists in our midst with dog whistles and discriminatory policies. In the wake of Trump’s sideways defense of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Kimberly Paige Barnette must have thought the GOP was ready to come out of the closet with its appeals to race. She posted on her Facebook page, “REPUBLICAN & SMART, WHITE, TRADITIONAL.” It almost reads like the title of a personal ad.
Barnette is wrong, of course. The GOP is not going to admit that they welcome racists in their midst despite Republican support of policies that encourage them. If Republicans really wanted to show that they oppose the likes of Barnette, they could drop their support of voter suppression bills, fix our immigration system with policies that allow a path to citizenship, restore the voting rights act and admit that 400 years of state-sanctioned oppression and discrimination against African-Americans still negatively impacts the community 50 years after the Civil Rights Act.
The poll that came out yesterday shows how attitudes toward our increasing diversity will hurt the GOP in the long run. Nationally, they have ceased to be an effective governing party while remaining a strong electoral one. Their reliance on race drives white voters who fear the browning of America to the polls, but those views don’t reflect the majority of people. They can get elected but they can’t govern. The GOP’s base is in control. Donald Trump essentially acknowledged that yesterday when he cut a deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over the debt ceiling and Harvey funding, while cutting out the GOP Congressional leadership.
The GOP’s electoral strategy may work for another generation or so. They attract an increasing percentage of older white voters who tend to vote more reliably while alienating younger, darker voters who only show up in presidential years. But the attitude of the country as a whole is not the same as the subset of voters. Americans are becoming more tolerant, not less. In a democracy, even one that is strained as much as ours is today, it’s very difficult govern when the majority of people opposes your policies.
Eventually, the Republican strategy will collapse, but they can cause a lot of division and dysfunction before that happens. A smarter move would be to suffer short-term electoral losses by purging their party of racists elements while reaching out to minority voters. If they don’t make some sort of serious adjustment though, they will eventually be as impotent in elections as they are in governing.