Last week, 18-year-old Christopher Berry, who is black, stood in line for an hour at a suburban Atlanta polling place to cast his very first ballot. He voted for President Obama because, he said, “I really like his stance on health care (and) I feel like he is a president for all the people of the United States.”
Berry is emblematic of the new face of America, a browner electorate that neither Mitt Romney nor the Republican establishment believed was significant. They thought that relying on white voters alone would be enough to propel Romney to victory.
Though the U.S. Census, demographers and, in particular, Obama’s campaign strategists knew that the percentage of black and brown citizens is larger in every election cycle, the Republican establishment apparently did not. Or, if it did, its wise men — and I use that term advisedly — did not believe black and Latino citizens would bother to vote in substantial numbers. (Of course, Republican state legislatures had gone to great lengths to make voting as difficult as possible in several states.) Denial and disrespect can extract a steep price.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party is still in denial. Its leading lights have seized on comprehensive immigration reform as the ticket to courting Latino voters, whom they have succeeded in alienating. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, a barometer of right-wing sentiment, claims to have “evolved” on immigration reform and now supports a path to citizenship for illegal workers.
Evolution or not, that misses the point. Now, it’s true that the Republican Party’s intransigence on immigration reform has been costly. And Romney dutifully channeled the hostility that the GOP base holds toward illegal immigrants during the primaries.
But the Republican Party has a much bigger problem than merely immigration reform: For decades now, it has built its presidential election campaigns on a raw antagonism toward people of color. It relies on sending signals that telegraph disrespect toward those citizens — especially blacks and Latinos — to racially antagonistic whites. It’s called the “Southern strategy,” and the modern GOP, which has its base in the Deep South, took it all over the country.
You need look no further than Romney’s ads on welfare reform, in which he claimed that Obama would end the work requirement for welfare recipients. Romney’s campaign kept running the ads even after several fact-checkers pointed out that they were lies.