Cecilia Hyunjung Mo wrote a good article over at The Washington Post, Why Asian Americans Don’t Vote Republican. Her idea is that Asian Americans still feel like foreigners in this country because they are still treated that way, even if they were born in Texas. That’s certainly part of it. And let us not forget that at least in the western United States, Chinese immigrants were the most hated group only a century ago.
But I have a different take on why Asian Americans aren’t keen on the Republican Party. While it is certainly true that Asian Americans are treated as outsiders in their own country, that’s true coming from both political parties. The problem with Asian Americans and the Republican Party is really a broader issue. Republicans have really bad policy ideas. They would not manage to have substantial support throughout the United States if it weren’t for the fact that they push the idea that whites are the “real” Americans and that all those “fake” Americans (Asians, Latinos, blacks) were taking away what was rightly theirs.
This allows the Republican Party to push ideas like tax cuts for the rich and privatizing Social Security. These are not even popular among Republican voters. Yet those voters still side with the Republicans. They vote for the Republicans not because of the explicit policies but because of the implicit message: we are the party that stands with you and against all those invalid Americans who are destroying what is the true nature of America. If you took away this implicit message, very few people would vote for the Republican Party — or at least the Republican Party would have to drastically change the policies that it is pushing.
Many Americans with Asian ancestors may well react against the clear white supremacist nature of the Republican Party. But I don’t think that’s the main thing. There are two things that the Republicans have to offer. First is the pro-white narrative about how they did everything for themselves and didn’t depend upon the abuse of Africans and native peoples and Chinese and Latinos and pretty much every other group you can think of. That clearly isn’t going to appeal to people who don’t see themselves as white. The second thing the Republicans have to offer is policy that further enriches the rich and goes to war whenever possible. That’s a very unpopular set of policies and people only go along with if they are blinded by the first thing the Republicans offer.
The question that the Republicans need to ask of themselves is why it is that all groups who aren’t vested in white resentment avoid them. Perhaps their biggest problem is that over the decades, they’ve created an insular culture that they really think that everyone agrees with them. (“Everyone at my country club is a Republican!”) This leads to their conspiracy theories about how ACORN stole not only the 2008 election, but also the 2012 election, long after the group even existed. Or more generally why there must be wide scale voter fraud because obviously America wanted John McCain and Mitt Romney to be president.
It’s not a secret that the Republican Party is in a bind. If it reaches out to other groups, it is going to lose its base voters. These voters, after all, don’t vote Republican because they really think that the capital gains tax or the estate tax need to be reduced. So how do they signal to Asian Americans that the Republican Party likes them while making white people feel that they are aggrieved by everyone else? I’m not saying they can’t do it. That’s the one thing that Republicans are very good at. But at this point, they don’t even seem to be interested in it.