Hardheaded GOP Might ‘Willie Lynch’ Black and Latino Voters
With the white vote wanning, beware Republican tactics
If you caught a few minutes of Republican reaction to President Barack Obama’s reelection on cable news last week, you probably heard a few talking heads bellyaching about the GOP’s need to racially diversify its coalition.
Exit polling data made it crystal clear that the conservative base – largely old, white and male – can no longer deliver sweeping victories in presidential elections. With 94 percent of the black vote and 70 percent of the Latino vote going to the president, one might assume Republicans are ready to reconsider a fleeting truce on the social and immigration policies alienating these voting blocs.
It’s entirely likely that hardheaded GOP leaders will not heed the lessons of this election – and it would be foolish for President Obama and the Democrats to believe otherwise, given recent history.
Republicans tried – and largely failed -- to suppress the Obama vote in 2012. They tried to destroy President Obama, by rendering him nearly impotent on much of his first-term agenda. But they’ve avoided seriously courting the black and Latino voting blocs away from him. And if backed into a corner, they’ll take the “Willie Lynch approach” of divide and conquer to expand their coalition.
Blacks want to see a substantial decrease in their disproportionately high unemployment rate. Latinos want lawmakers to get serious about increasing legal immigration and creating pathways to citizenship for undocumented residents. If Republicans began championing meaningful immigration reform, they’d easily shave off the Democrats’ growing support among Latinos. And let's face it, the GOP has given up on African Americans, in their belief that blacks will always vote Democratic or, in the case of Obama, with their race.
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There were perhaps no stronger post-election remarks from a prominent Republican than those from Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist responsible for much of the Republican obstructionism on tax reform.
“Ten years from now, you want to be splitting the Hispanic vote by something close to 50-50,” he told Bloomberg News. “That’s completely doable if the threat of deportation was removed.”
Norquist and others have put serious thought into courting Latinos, who trend more conservative on family and social issues than African Americans. There is a Republican road map for gaining Latino support.
In 2004, President George W. Bush, with the help of GOP demigod Karl Rove, garnered 40 percent of the Latino vote in his re-election against U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Back then, Republicans championed cultural diversity and a welcoming legal immigration policy. They, of course, never really delivered – hence the unprecedented swing to Democrats.
On Thursday, retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that her state was the model for Latino courting.
“Texas is a way forward to show that you can be very conservative and talk about the issues that Hispanic small business people and people who want their kids to get a good education embrace,” Hutchison said. “It’s doable for sure at a national level if we kind of follow the Texas model. Our next senator from Texas [Ted Cruz] is going to be a Latino Republican. The reason is, we are talking about the issues and including them in our leadership.”
Few in the Republican Party talk about courting black voters because the winning strategy isn't as clear. There is evidence that black Americans already harbor negative attitudes toward immigrants, giving way to the other half of the Lynch equation.
The Center for Immigration Studies in 2010 commissioned the survey firm Zogby to gather racial attitudes about immigration. The survey found that 70 percent of African Americans believed, like most members of U.S. minority groups, that immigration is too high. The survey found that 56 percent of Hispanic Americans and 57 percent of Asian Americans felt the same. A George Mason University survey of black Virginians in 2007 found that 70 percent agreed that “illegal alien workers in the labor market tend to lower the wages and salaries of American workers.”
While it's unclear if such negative attitudes have changed over time, it’s safe to deduce that Republicans aren’t above playing on them to their advantage.
“Conservatives already need to learn to speak to urban voters,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote last week for The American Conservative. “Why not start with the most-churched members of the city? Just like [Republicans’] core of Midwestern working-class whites, blacks believe themselves to be part of an American core that is destabilized by mass immigration.”
“It is time to reach out to them, to assure them that you will make immigration work for all Americans, that the interests of America’s oldest minority will not be lost in the America to come,” Dougherty concluded.
Either way, blacks and Latinos, who seemed to be united in their support for President Obama’s progressive agenda, might lose that unity if they allow Republicans to divide and conquer.