A delegate holds up a mask Paul Ryan at the Republican Convention, Tampa, Florida. Photograph: David Goldman/AP
Unless the Republican party embraces diversity and renews its appeal to Americans of color, it faces gradual extinction
Good for the Republicans trying to mix it up, color-wise. Speakers at their convention last month included South Carolina Governor Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, whose parents emigrated from the Punjab, and Mia Love, a Haitian-American Mormon running for congress in Utah. They reached out to Latinos with New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and to African Americans with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Craig Romney, the nominee’s youngest son, even gave a speech in Spanish.
But a few sprinkles of chocolate and caramel don’t change the overall flavour: Republicans are still vanilla. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that among African Americans, Mitt Romney polls at 0%. Yes, zero. That doesn’t mean absolutely no black people will vote for him: former presidential candidate and pizza king Herman Cain says he will. So do Representative Allen “Democrats are Communists” West, of Florida, and Texas Congresswoman Stefani Carter, who has just been named to Romney’s “Black Leadership Council.” But the poll data mean that very, very few African Americans, fewer than the poll’s 3% margin of error, support Romney.
He does better with Latinos: between 25% and 30% (pick your poll) claim they’re willing to give the ticket a whirl. Nevertheless, if the Republicans are to win in November, they will have to do it with white voters. Romney’s own campaign numbers gurus say he needs at least 61% of them.
That might work – this year. But it will probably never work again. White America is shrinking. In 2012, for the first time in modern history, the majority of babies born in the US belonged to some kind of “ethnic minority”. According to the Census Bureau, in 25 to 30 years, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the US population. If the Republican party continues to cling to plutocracy, misogyny, homophobia, and racial division, it will be, as President George HW Bush (surely the whitest of white men ever to occupy the White House) would say, “in deep doo-doo”.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the GOP’s brighter bulbs, worries that they’re “losing the demographic race”. He told the Washington Post:
“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
Ed Rollins, a senior strategist, agrees, calling his party “a bunch of old white guys”, who are ignoring the way the country is heading:
“We need to basically broaden the base, we need to have more women, we need to have more Latinos, we need to have more African-Americans.”
Good luck, gents. Most American women are pretty keen on getting equal pay for equal work, now made easier by the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act. Paul Ryan, along with most Republicans in the House of Representatives, voted against it. Women also want to be in charge of their, you know, lady-parts. Yet Republican-controlled state legislatures have tripped over themselves to introduce laws forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds to get, as one pious supporter called it, “a window into her womb”. This year’s Republican platform document declares that since “life” begins at the nanosecond of conception, abortion is verboten – even if the woman has been raped, even if carrying a pregnancy to term would jeopardise her health. Zygotes: good. Women wielding vaginas: bad.
Republicans wonder why “family values”-loving Latinos favor godless, gay-marriage-promoting Democrats over them. Surely, it can’t just be because conservatives loudly disparage Latino language and culture, denounce the Dream Act, defend the indefensible Sheriff Joe “Mexicans are dirty” Arpaio, and see nothing wrong with a little racial profiling (in 2010, a California congressman confidently asserted that he could identify the undocumented by their shoes) is no reason not to sign up.
And why are black folks so perversely resistant to joining the party of Abraham Lincoln? Could it be because it’s also the party of Richard Nixon, whose “Southern Strategy” exploited fear of integration to transform the Republicans from a socially progressive (if fiscally conservative) party into a paranoid, racist-dogwhistling bunch of pro-gun, anti-science, anti-government fundamentalists whose political base is circling the wagons in the Old Confederacy? Could it be those Romney campaign ads with all the industrious white folks which state, wrongly, that Obama waived the work requirement for welfare?
Or could it be the way even the so-called adults of the Republican party have tolerated and sometimes encouraged the constant birtherism of their Tea Party-infused co-religionists? Donald Trump’s absurd assurances that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake, Mitt Romney’s birth certificate “joke”, the bullfrog chorus of Republicans from John Sununu to Sarah Palin repeatedly croaking that Obama is a socialist/radical/elitist hell-bent on transforming America into France all sound like code for “Oh God! He’s a Negro!” CNN presenter Soledad O’Brien put this to a Tea Party leader who dismissed it. She simply“doesn’t believe that he loves America the way that we do”.
Every time Republicans seem to be making at least cosmetic progress toward inclusiveness, some old white guy shows up and tears off the mask of tolerance: Clint Eastwood talking to an imaginary (though angry and profane) black man in front of millions of people; an apparently-mummified Chuck Norris and his pale wife warning that if Obama is re-elected, your children face “1,000 years of darkness”.
This is what happens when you wrap yourself in the flag so tightly that oxygen can’t get to your brain. This is what happens when you want to “take America back”. Back to when?