Brian Beutler wrote a very insightful article, The Republican Party Is Still Trying to Decide if Minorities Matter. He noted that the Republicans had three options regarding outreach to minority voters. The first was to actually, you know, reach out to minority voters. They obviously didn’t do this. I wrote about this a lot after the 2012 election. The truth is that it wasn’t an actual option. Reaching out to minority voters would have required embracing policies that are anathema to the party.
So the only practical options for them were the two others that Beutler mentioned. First, they could reach out in purely symbolic ways and generally not try to offend them. Let’s call that the “Pretend!” approach. Second, they could try to offend minority voters and believe that all the Republican Party needs is an ever increasing percentage of the white voter. Let’s call that the “Screw you!” approach.
Beutler provided two examples of politicians pursuing these options. Donald Trump is pursuing the “Screw you!” approach. But he isn’t alone: Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson are right there with him. Now, I don’t think it is any coincidence that none of these four is a serious candidate. The “Pretend” approach is exemplified by Rick Perry, who gave a campaign speech on the issue highlighting the fact that the Republican Party has been too focused on the Tenth Amendment (limit of federal powers) and not focused enough on the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection under the law). I would quibble with the conservatives fetishization of the Tenth Amendment; they almost always mistake it for a similar sounding part of the Articles of Confederation. But Perry’s speech was good, and to some extent, the viable candidates are following in the same vein.
But it doesn’t really matter which approach is being used by the Republicans, they all amount to the same thing: trying to win with almost exclusively white voters. Since the Republicans are willing to do basically nothing of any substance for oppressed minority groups, their push for a “kinder and gentler” rhetoric is intended for consumption by whites. These are the whites that don’t actually care about minority groups, but who still don’t think they should be actively insulted and don’t actually think that they are all rapists (with some, I assume, good people). So as it has been for the last 45 years, the Republican Party is devoted to a southern strategy.
Clearly, the “Pretend!” approach is better than the “Screw you!” approach. But the most important point about the Republican Party at this point is that there is no advantage to truly courting minority voters. I think that is why a lot of people in the media were excited by Ron and Rand Paul. Their kind of Republican libertarianism seemed like an easy way for the party to move so that it remained conservative but could appeal to a broader base. But this was always a pipe dream for two reasons. First, the base isn’t fooled. The base is defined by its anger and fear. Libertarians might as well be hippies. But on the other side, it is even worse. What defines minority groups is not race. Race is just a concept made up to justify the oppression of certain groups. Minority groups are defined by their relative poverty. And what, after all, does the Republican Party stand for if not helping the rich?
There has been a lot of chatter on the left that people like Donald Trump actually help the Republican Party by making people like Jeb Bush seem moderate. I doubt that’s the case. Overall, people like Trump just feed into a narrative that although all Republicans may not be bigots, the Republican Party is where bigots are welcome. And that taints the party. Regardless of who gets the nomination, they will be washed clean by the nomination and given the official media stamp as “not a bigot.” So it hardly matters that Trump is around.