The GOP’s Confused (and Confusing) “Outreach”

Buzzfeed’s Mckay Coppins has an interesting, complicated look at the Republican Party’s conflicted attempts to woo voters of color after Obama’s reelection:

In the wake of the GOP’s bruising 2012 defeat, Republicans universally agreed that their party needed to find a way to appeal to people of color, or else face political extinction. But they didn’t agree on how to get it done. The result of this party-wide epiphany has been a confused jumble of outreach messages, with high-profile politicians, official party committees, activist groups, and media figures tripping over one another as they pursue their own strategies — and send mixed signals to minority groups in the process. Turn on the TV and you’ll see Sen. Rand Paul decrying the social injustice of the war on drugs, but change the channel and black Tea Party hero Ben Carson is calling Obamacare the worst thing since slavery. Open a newspaper and read about the RNC’s unprecedented efforts to reach minority voters in the midterms, but flip the page and red-state legislatures are trying to pass voter ID laws that would depress turnout among those same voters.

According to this article, most of this “outreach” takes the form of publicly picking fights with black media figures and hiring more field operatives of color. The efforts are, in other words, largely symbolic rather than substantive.

In particular, the idea that, to use Coppins description, picking “strategic fights with liberal black institutions,” will bear much fruit at the ballot box seems almost delusional. It’s an adaptation of a strategy (convincing them that the “liberal media” is keeping the truth from them) that has worked well with white voters in the past. 

This strategy is effective, however, because many working and middle class white people resent elites, even when they’re white. There’s scant evidence that African Americans feel the same way about black elites and black institutions and, given the history of persecution of black people in this country, this strategy is as likely to provoke a circling of the wagons as anything else.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with the GOP’s treatment of Barack Obama and his signature achievement, “Obamacare.” Were the GOP particularly concerned about appealing to black voters, you might expect them to be careful about how they went about criticizing the first black President of the United States. After all, Obama’s approval rating amongst African Americans hovers around 88% according to Gallup. Instead, the GOP spent Obama’s first term treating him as an illegitimate usurper, coddling people who alleged he wasn’t born in the United States, and depicting him as alien and threatening in specifically racialized ways in hopes of having success come election time.

In case you think this was all in the past, the House GOP is using an agriculture bill to exclude “urban” areas from a new pilot subsidized lunch program. 

A strategy focused around criticizing black leaders, playing to white resentment in local races in the age of the internet, and leaving all the policies the same is not going to pay off come November. 

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