GOP Worried Its Minority Outreach Was Accidentally Racist

Republicans are afraid they're already blowing their reboot after their disappointing 2012 elections. 

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Republicans are afraid they're already blowing their reboot after their disappointing 2012 elections. "Be Afraid," the conservative Washington Free Beacon's Matthew Continetti writes of the 2014 elections. "It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who's not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be," Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report on Friday under the headline "Eve of Destruction." "Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election." Why? Because the debate over immigration – which was supposed to make the GOP look friendly to Latinos — has featured offensive comments from multiple elected Republicans. Though Republicans tried to reach out to black voters earlier this year, that's been overshadowed by their muted response to the Trayvon Martin case and Republican state legislatures' passage of new voter ID laws

Why do they keep shooting themselves in the foot? Politico reports, "Republicans tell us privately that pressure from conservative media only encourages their public voices to say things that offend black audiences." As the party of personal responsibility, it must especially sting that outside forces like conservative talk radio are holding preventing politicians with so much potential from not saying racist things. Call it the soft bigotry of loud bigotry.

One of the guys making things harder for the RNC's reboot is Iowa Rep. Steve King, who said lots of young illegal immigrants are drug mules with cantaloupe-sized calves and vociferously defended the comment after he was rebuked by Republican leaders. King told CNN on Thursday night:

"Last year, almost everybody in my conference would've agreed with me on this immigration issue. And this year, it seems as though after the presidential election a spell's been cast over a good number of Republicans and they seem to think the presidential election was about immigration. I'd ask them, find me that debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama that addressed immigration. I don't remember it. I can't find it."

When reporters asked South Carolina Rep. Try Gowdy last month how the party could stop guys like King from saying things like that, Gowdy replied, "You can't."

Continetti actually has a great explanation for the "spell" King thinks the party is under. In 2010, 77 percent of the electorate was white. Mitt Romney's campaign, plus many Republicans, were certain that the electorate would look close to this in 2012. Instead, the electorate was 72 percent white. So Republicans concluded that really for real this time they have to reach out to minorities. Not magic, just math. For 2014, Continetti says, Republicans shouldn't assume the electorate will revert to a 2010-like demographic makeup just because President Obama's not on the ballot.

That is why the president lately has been "speaking personally about race." The threat of a return to segregation and Jim Crow is a spur to action—and the greater the perception that such a return is imminent, the better the chances of high Democratic turnout next year. The president’s remarks on Trayvon Martin and race in America, his Justice Department’s continuing fights with Texas over the Voting Rights Act, the steady drumbeat of rhetoric suggesting the right to vote is in peril, the president’s suggestion in a recent New York Times interview that if his economic program is not implemented "racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse," all heighten the stakes for his most committed supporters.

A recent Gallup poll found that Obama had positive approval ratings on only two issues: terrorism and race relations.

And that might be why, after a summer that hasn't been great for GOP minority outreach, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus just implied that Mitt Romney racist. "Using the word 'self-deportation' — it's a horrific comment to make," Priebus said at the RNC's Boston meeting, according to Business Insider. Priebus said, "I don't think it has anything to do with our party. When someone makes those comments, obviously, it's racist." (Update 12:48p.m.: Business Insider's Josh Barro says the site "blew" the quote. Priebus did not say "it's racist," but that "it hurts us.") But of course, self-deportation, which calls for making the lives of immigrants so horrible they leave the country voluntarily, does have something to do with his party. The most famous person to endorse it was Mitt Romney, who, you might recall, was the party's most recent nominee for president of the United States. It's about time the GOP takes a little personal responsibility for its actions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.