It’s a hunch I have, a feeling from growing up in a deep blue urban area which has seen a parade of different majority-minorities dominate the area, that the GOP’s attempt to “diversify” by running candidates of color just might not do what they want it to do. As a child, it was a deep blue and liberal professional lower middle class Jewish neighborhood. Our teachers lived in the same neighborhood as we did back in elementary school. There were also the Catholic kids (we didn’t know them because they went to Catholic school) who were from blue collar union and police and firefighter families. But they too, were deeply blue.
I moved away to New Mexico to attend university, but came back to Philly because my now husband then boyfriend wanted to live in a big city. And over the years, as we’ve lived in more or less the same area in which I grew up, we’ve seen the neighborhood transition. There were the first Black families in the mid-1990s which caused a panic of White flight. Though the neighborhood settled down racially, it’s political color remained the same, deep blue. Now, there’s been a little more shifting: Brazilians, East Asians, and Middle Easterners have moved into the neighborhood and reshaped it. But while the color has changed, the stores and restaurants are far more interesting, and we have the sort of diversity dreamed of by Progressive planners (and we all pretty much get along, at least to each others’ faces), the shade of the ideology (to paraphrase Senator Rand Paul) is deep blue. Even the very religious White union Catholics who hate the Democratic Party on a national level because they’re pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, etc, etc are bluer than blue.
Breaking this blue hold on minority voters is something the GOP has realized is a necessity if the party is to remain viable in presidential and even senatorial elections. The strategy they’ve come up with by and large seems to be, “Hey, let’s encourage a bunch of People of Color to run for various offices, and when they win, let’s make a really big deal of it publicly.” And that’s what GOP does. There are amazing successes. The GOP has elected minority senators, governors, representatives (I’m thinking of Mia Love and Raul Labrador– though I’ve never seen anyone play up his ethnic background and he’s run as a liberty candidate), and now the GOP has a bunch of People of Color running for President. They happily point out, “We have two Hispanics, a Black doctor, and soon they’ll be joined by an Indian-American. And a woman! Hurray! We’re diverse, now come vote for us.”
As we’ve seen in past elections, in polls, comment sections on the internet, and as I’ve seen from talking to people in my neighborhood and watching their voting patterns, it doesn’t matter. The reason why, on one level, is summed up quite well by Reason’s Shikha Dalmia, writing on why Indian Americans, who should be ideal Republican voters based on education levels, affluence, dislike of high taxes, and suffering at the hands of affirmative action quotas to gain access to higher education (much like Americans of Chinese and Korean descent) vote Democratic at a rate of nearly eighty-five percent.
Ms Dalmia goes on to clarify why Indians (and the same came be said of other minority groups, in my opinion), don’t flock to the GOP despite what seems like a good fit in terms of policy. Using Bobby Jindal as an example, she points out that in order to become palatable to the GOP base (read: White Christians) Jindal has had to embrace that particular culture to the detriment of the one he came from. He converted to Catholicism, yes. He appears at places like Liberty University and talks about (by her account) reading the Bible secretly in a closet to a hardcore Evangelical audience (the whole Catholic speaking at Liberty for Evangelicals is enough to make my head spin, but that’s another issue). She points out that he erects walls between his culture of origin with its strong ties to Hinduism, and his culture of choice: a White, Christian, GOP culture that knows little to nothing about Hinduism or Indian American culture in general. What’s worse, he’s erecting walls and separating when he should be building bridges, and because he’s doing the former rather than the latter, it sends a message that to succeed with the GOP as a “desi”, one has to give up too much of the old to be accepted by the new.
I understand what she’s saying, and agree to a point. Part of the problem is that the Right has ceded the control of culture in general to the Left. This is especially true when it comes to defining what it means “to be” a true representative of a specific ethnic group. The fact that we’re having a debate this week about whether a woman who is Whiter than me can actually be Black tells us a lot about where we stand. She can “go over” and get caught out and it’s all right with many on the Left because she has the correct politics. She wanted to “be Black” because she understood and sympathized with the plight of Black Americans. Hey, she even lived in Africa (another lie). Because she’s ideologically correct, they not only accept but some celebrate the great big spray-tan minstrel show flim flam she ran up on an entire community– even using her scam to take a job on the basis of “race”.
But Jindal, Haley, Love, West, Carson, Cain, Labrador, Cruz, Scott, Rubio, Martinez, and the myriad of other Republican, Conservative, and Conservatarian people of color are dismissed as “being too White” and not seen as representatives of their ethnic/racial communities. How many times have we heard Leftists, even in the mainstream press, lambast Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas as being “Uncle Toms”. This is even true for grassroots supporters of conservative politicians– as was seen in the case of a young woman named Zuri Davis (who happens to be Black) being taken to task on social media for appearing online wearing a “Stand With Rand” T-shirt a few months back. The Left has succeeded in setting up a dichotomy on race/ethnicity and ideology, and the GOP has fallen into the trap. You can be ethnic and Leftist, but to be Conservative you have to be White, or culturally White. You can never be ethnic culturally and Conservative in the West. To redefine the parameters of the discourse will take a great deal of effort on both policy and cultural levels, hard work the GOP and their supporting pundits seem loathe to do (because that would be “pandering”) or oblivious of the need to do it.
Also, because it’s not something that’s a quick and easy fix– like hey, let’s run some People of Color to show we’re diverse– and can’t be righted in an election cycle (or two, maybe longer) no one wants to do it. They’ll do the same thing they’re doing– run People of Color, and a few will win, but they won’t win on the votes of their racial/ethnic communities- though the newly elected mayor of San Antonio is an exception– they’ll win with people their own communities define as “outsiders” and to some degree opponents and even enemies. A Rainbow Connection slate, and I’m thinking of the song from the original Muppet Movie when I use that term, is really for the dreamers. It’s not going to draw large numbers of minorities into the fold.
What will? Any candidate, even gasp– a White, Christian, male, who is willing to go out and engage voters. A candidate who is willing to listen to the concerns of various communities on issues the Right in general doesn’t want to deal with– the persistence of racism and its impact on minority communities for example– and not dismiss these concerns out of hand. A candidate who’s not afraid to buck their own party on issues of liberty and justice (government over-reach in domestic spying and education, criminal justice reform, urban economic improvement plans). A candidate who manages to do these things while connecting them with the core values they have always stood for– Constitutional principles, support for the entire Bill of Rights, a belief in the sanctity of life, a belief in the agency and ability of each individual to embrace liberty and succeed. This could work, and not only with voters of color– it could bring back the blue collar Reagan Democrats who have either been pulling the big D lever against their better judgement (many of my devout Catholic neighbors), or have simply not voted in a while.
However– it would call for a change in the usual campaign strategy GOP candidates use. It means getting out of the upscale suburbs and small towns, and going into the cities and inner ring, working and lower middle class ‘burbs. It means doing talks in city row houses on crowded streets instead of McMansions in gated communities. It means stepping out of the safe zone and facing a potentially hostile audience and working to win them over, then being able to admit your missteps in the process.
This would require a new kind of candidate, and the question is, does the GOP have this person? Everyone of course has to come to their own conclusion by studying the candidates for POTUS who have declared, and who look likely to declare. We’re going to end up with different answers. A lot of people will refuse to engage in the process– the reasoning being “if we run an ultra-conservative, they’ll win, like in 2010 and 2014”, or “that’s pandering, we’re not about that”. Other people will just think it’s untenable, “those people will never vote to lose their free stuff”. Some will come up with a candidate that’s more of the same, and that has little chance to win in the general. Some will come with some amazingly inventive candidates. To me, it doesn’t matter as long as we advance the cause of liberty and limited federal power.