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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) — Mitt Romney delivered a good acceptance speech that will help him in the polls. But it won’t fundamentally change the contours of his campaign, which now depends on compensating for his deficits with women and Hispanics by maximizing the white working-class male vote.

This means emitting a series of “dog whistles” — carefully coded messages heard only by anxious white voters inclined to think President Barack Obama is too easy on minorities.

Neither Romney nor his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, went heavy on dog whistles in their speeches this week. The Republican National Convention was devoted to softening Romney’s image and too much racial subtext would have gone over badly.

But both men did assert that Obama was raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare, a coded way of telling senior citizens that the president was taking their benefits and giving them to poor (read black) uninsured people.

This is entirely untrue. Obama’s plan doesn’t cut any basic Medicare benefits and, in fact, reduces prescription-drug costs for senior citizens.

Meanwhile, a welfare dog whistle continues to account for half of Romney’s paid advertising against Obama. A Romney ad in heavy rotation says that under a recent welfare-policy change “they just send you your welfare check.” That’s false, but it successfully conjures unemployed people sitting on the couch mooching off the middle class.

Contrary to the claims of some Democrats, there was no explicit racist tone at the convention in Tampa, Florida. When a black CNN camerawoman was pelted with nuts by two white convention goers who said, “this is how we feed the animals,” it was an isolated incident. Green, not black, is the color that most interested the well-heeled delegates.

Even so, I was troubled to find delegates — including one with close ties to Romney — who actually believe that Obama should disclose his Occidental College transcript to prove that he deserved to be admitted to Columbia University as a transfer student in 1981. This was a sign that even as the so-called birthers have been relegated to the fringe, many Republicans still disrespect Obama in ways that they might not if he were white. Dare I say the same might go for Clint Eastwood?

In employing dog whistles, the Romney campaign is tapping into racial themes that Republicans have used going back to 1968, when Richard Nixon inaugurated his infamous “Southern strategy.”

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