When Peter Brimelow was still at National Review, he wrote a piece entitled “Electing a New People” detailing how mass immigration is a disaster for the GOP. He opened with the line, “Demography is destiny in American Politics.” Few Republicans took him seriously at the time. And now when groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center smear Brimelow as a “racist,” they take the quote out of its “in American Politics” context.
The reason is that discussing racial and demographic differences in voting patterns is slightly less taboo than other areas—such as immigration or education. It’s nearly impossible to ignore the fact that 88-95% of blacks vote Democratic while every Republican since Barry Goldwater has won the majority of the white vote.
But even this area has become frequently sparse of intelligent content in the age of Obama. The chatter is usually limited to the importance of pandering to minorities—Hispanics in particular, and how the GOP’s Southern Strategy to win working class whites that gave Nixon and Reagan landslide victories was not only immoral but a losing plan.
But in the last few weeks, a number of analysts and strategists have rediscovered the fact that winning white voters still matters. A July 20 study showed that in 2008, turnout among whites was down 1 percent, 1.5 percent among older whites. While much was made out of the 5 percent increase in black turnout, the total number of white voters who stayed home was still much greater than the number of new black voters who came out for Obama.
Coincidentally, that same day, prominent GOP strategist Bill Greener wrote a typical pandering column for Salon entitled “My GOP: Too white, too old to win.”
Brookings Institute demographer William Frey had some more thoughtful reflections,
While the significance of minority votes for Obama is clearly key, it cannot be overlooked that reduced white support for a Republican candidate allowed minorities to tip the balance in many slow-growing ‘purple’ states. The question I would ask is if a continuing stagnating economy could change that.
Of course, there are other factors besides the economy that will drive white voters to the polls.
Two days later, President Obama told reporters that Cambridge Police Officers “acted stupidly” in arresting black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct. Even though he acknowledged he didn’t know all the facts about the case, he said that the “long history” of racial profiling is “just a fact.”
White Americans were outraged at the comments of their apparently not-so-post-racial present. The reaction to the controversy was more racially polarized than any event since the OJ Simpson verdict—but this time, the anger was directed at the President.
Gallup polls show that Obama’s approval ratings have fallen 16 percent among whites since he was elected. In the week following his attack on Crowley, his approval slipped from 53 percent to 46 percent. A Wall Street Journal poll showed that Obama’s approval among working class whites have fallen 30 percent since January. A Rammussen poll showed that only 22 percent of whites approved of Obama’s handling of the incident, and only 21 percent agreed that the police treat blacks unfairly. African Americans, in contrast strongly supported Obama’s response (but they’d all vote Democrat anyway.)
Writing in the Washington Independent, libertarian journalist David Weigel—who has often blamed the Republican electoral defeats on their opposition to illegal immigration—wrote a piece entitled, “GOP Sees Opportunity With White Voters After Gates Saga.” Weigel quotes GOP Strategist George Fletcher,
He got really close to losing the image he has as a post-racial president. For a few days, the question for a lot of people became, ‘Wait a minute. Is he the president of the United States? Or is he just the president of minorities?
In addition to the disaffected white Obama voters who might vote Republican, Fletcher added, “Three to four percent of the white vote didn’t come out last time. They’re coming out this time.”
Weigel notes that the 70 targeted Republican takeover seats for 2010 are filled with “nine members of Congress elected before the Obama win who represent Southern districts with sizable numbers of black voters” along with “dozens of seats where the historic African-American turnout of 2008 either pushed Democratic challengers over the finish line or gave extra job security for longtime incumbents.”
Black commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House, wrote a piece entitled “The GOP’s White Guy Fix” for the Huffington Post. Mr. Hutchinson argued that the GOP lost in 2008 in large part because Bush’s policy alienated whites,
Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. And they voted in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks…
This strategy failed in 2008 only because of the rage and disgust of legions of white voters at Bush’s horribly failed and flawed domestic and war policies. This was more a personal, and visceral reaction to the bumbles of Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment about Obama, the Democrats, and the GOP.
Acknowledging Bush and McCain’s failed attempts to pander, Hutchinson concluded, “The other hard reality is that the party has absolutely no chance to win any significant support from black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American voters even if they made an honest effort to,” so the only way for the GOP to win is to “lean on its white guy fix to try to put it back on the political playing field.”
One commentator who still does not get it is HuffPost Political Editor and former Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall. His column, “For The Modern GOP, It’s A Return To The “‘White Voter Strategy,’” repeats all the old conventional wisdom about race and politics, so it is useful to take a look.
Edsall’s piece is filled with contradictions. Putting “White Voter Strategy” in quotations would suggest that somebody other than himself has used it, but they haven’t. In fact to him,
it’s all very reminiscent of the party’s notorious Southern Strategy, which carried the GOP for decades. But that strategy backfired spectacularly in the 2006 and 2008 elections, and there’s no reason to think it will work any better in 2010—especially given the ever-growing importance of the minority electorate.
If the GOP was still relying on the “Southern Strategy” in 2008, and they are using something “very reminiscent” to it in 2009, then couldn’t you just call it the Southern Strategy?
Labels aside, Edsall accurately describes what an appeal to working class whites entails,
The party’s opposition to President Obama’s agenda—particularly his cap-and-trade energy proposal and health care reform plan—is resonating strongly with disaffected white Democratic voters. Republican grievances about Obama, combined with race-baiting commentary from the far-right ideologues who have become some of the most dominant voices of the modern GOP, have led to a precipitous drop in the president’s approval ratings among whites.
Edsall then contradicts himself again by saying that this strategy might very well work in 2010 and 2012, as it is clear that working-class whites are quickly fleeing Obama. But this will be disastrous in the long term because “the demographic trends.” These trends are, of course, whites’ shrinking percentage of the American population and in turn, the electorate.
In 1976, 89 percent of the electorate was white. That number fell every four years, to 88 percent in 1980, 86 percent in 1984, 85 percent in 1988, 83 percent in 1996, 81 percent in 2000, 77 percent in 2004, and 74 percent last year. [Actually it was 76 percent]
Edsall’s comments then devolve into the usual drivel about how the GOP’s opposition to Sotomayor and mass immigration will keep them from getting the “44 percent of the Hispanic vote” that Bush received in 2004 actually—38-40 percent in actuality—thus inevitably leading them to minority status.
While a few of his numbers might be off, the nugget of truth in Edsall’s point is that as America becomes more non-white, the harder it will be for the GOP to win elections. This is exactly what Peter Brimelow tried to argue in his National Review article quoted in the beginning of this piece.
Most all of the people who’ve taken to the streets this year to protest government spending and indebtedness appear to have something in common.
This does not mean, however, that Republican Party will get anywhere pandering to minorities by abandoning—or continuing not to take up—issues such as immigration control and affirmative action.
1) The Southern Strategy did not fail in 2006 and 2008, it wasn’t used. RNC officials said, “For the last three decades, we’ve had a Southern strategy. The next goal is to move to a Hispanic strategy for the next three decades.” Bush’s disastrous positions on immigration, foreign policy, and the economy turned off white voters from the GOP in 2006 and 2008, and pushed them towards “Lou Dobbs Democrats.” The Republicans didn’t lose because of insufficient pandering to Hispanics.
2) The “Demographic Trends” are not inevitable. The GOP can successfully appeal to white voters and stop, or at least significantly slow down, the demographic transition by stopping mass immigration. Of course had Nixon, Reagan, Bushes I and II, Gingrich, and Delay made it a priority, we wouldn’t even need to talk about this.
Furthermore, it is wrong to assume that any position that appeals to whites will automatically turn off minorities. Opposition to mass immigration is popular with black voters, and even more popular among Hispanics than the open-borders Bush or McCain. Even black opposition to affirmative action—while incredibly low—is significantly higher than the numbers who vote for Republican.
3) The GOP doesn’t have a “white guy” problem, the Democrats do. In 2008 whites still made up 76.3 percent of the electorate—and only 60 percent of Democratic voters. Despite white’s shrinking percentage of the population, the GOP share of the vote will likely go up in 2010. The more the Democrats get attached to their anti-white agenda, the higher percentage of the white vote can win. Mississippi and Alabama have huge minority populations, but the GOP can continue to win elections when whites vote en bloc, as they do across the board in the South.
It’s true that Southern Whites are relatively more conservative than in the rest of the country, but this does not mean that these majorities could not happen elsewhere. Many whites—including Officer Crowley—were willing to vote for and/or approve of Obama, but will not stand for a president who immediately sides with a black Harvard Professor over a working class Irish Cop and appoints Supreme Court justices who believe that Hispanic women are inherently wiser than white males.
Furthermore, one of the reasons white Southerners are more conservative is that they have to deal with more minorities, just as white Arizonians are more opposed to immigration than whites in Maine. The more non-white the country becomes, the more whites may begin to vote en bloc.
Of course what’s good for the GOP is not necessarily good for America. The Southern Strategy succeeded in electing Republicans, but they didn’t even bother trying to do anything about immigration or quotas. Richard Nixon won by appropriating the language of George Wallace, but went on to increase the Civil Rights department’s budget by 800 percent, institute the Philadelphia Plan for quotas, and a host of other left-wing racial policies. Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty bill. Bush I won with the Willie Horton ad, but went on to extend quotas with the renewed Civil Rights Act. In addition to his constant push for amnesty, Bush II encouraged the Supreme Court to uphold racial preferences in the Gratz and Grutter cases.
Many at Takimag probably would be happy to see the Party collapse under the weight of its disastrous policies of the past forty years. But an open dialogue about the role race in politics might be a baby step towards building a Republican Party that doesn’t habitually betray the people who vote for it year in, year out. It might also be a baby step towards a real dialogue on the importance of race in American society—and not just the type Eric Holder wants to have.
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