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July 07, 2014 4:45 PM The Illusory Conservative Campaign for the “Right” Minority Voters

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve been pretty harsh about the racial aspects of Team Chris McDaniel’s argument that the MS GOP SEN runoff was “stolen” from him. But let’s bend over backwards to be fair and adopt Dave Weigel’s interpretation of what hyper-conservatives mean when they complain about the “wrong kind” of appeals to African-Americans:

The Tea Party, a movement that helped elect Allen West to Congress and helped make Herman Cain—Herman Cain!—a presidential contender, and wants to elect Mia Love to Congress in Utah, believes that conservatives can win black votes while remaining conservative. When West talks about escaping “the liberal plantation,” that’s what he means. The “racist” party is the one that wins black votes by promising largesse, and the colorblind party aims to win them by talking free markets and social values.

Taking this seriously, of course, means ignoring the thousands of dog whistles blown during the endless Tea Party efforts to demonize “looters” and “food stamps” and “voter fraud”—and of course, the first African-American president. There’s no binary choice on the table either to offer minority voters “largesse” or to attack their integrity, work ethic, and even patriotism for participating in federal programs when they qualify for them. The whole “plantation” meme beloved particularly of African-American conservatives is an ongoing insult bordering on a blood libel, which is why you don’t find many African-Americans supporting Allen West or Herman Cain.

But intentions aside, if conservatives are waiting for the “right” kind of Republican appeal to attract the “right” kind of minority voters, they’ll be waiting a long time. The simple fact is that the already-meager Republican share of the minority vote has been steadily sliding since the GOP began its latest lurch to the Right. George W. Bush won 11% of the African-American vote and 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. In 2008 John McCain won 4% of the African-American vote and 31% of the Latino vote, and in 2012 Mitt Romney won 6% of the African-American vote and 27% of the Latino vote. That’s a pretty calamitous decline, and any conservative unwilling to admit that endless GOP attacks on “redistribution” and “illegal immigrants” and “welfare” has nothing to do with that is either dishonest or smoking crack.

Check out the language in this tweet over the weekend from McDaniel campaign manager (and state legislator) Melanie Sojourner, made in the course of saying she’d never endorse the “race-baiting” Thad Cochran:

Throughout my campaign and since I’ve repeatedly made comments about how I felt the Republican Party was doing itself a disservice by not reaching out to conservative African-Americans. Where I’m from, in rural Mississippi, I grew up knowing lots a [sic] God-fearing, hard-working, independent conservative minded African-American family’s [sic]. On the McDaniel campaign we had two young men from just such family’s on our staff.

Sojourner’s idea of “outreach” seems to be to wait for minority voters to develop sufficient character to vote for the GOP exactly as it finds it today. That presumably means accepting conservatives have been right all along—dating back to Jim Crow—about the evil nature of the Welfare State and a federal government large and strong enough to support civil rights laws.

Do people like this really believe in their heart of hearts they’re being “color-blind?” I cannot peer into their souls, but it’s no more or less plausible than the constant complaints from southern white conservatives I heard growing up that segregation was good for both races. Lord knows anything’s better for African-Americans than being consigned to the plantation of dependence on Washington for help in feeding one’s kids and gaining access to health care and keeping open threadbare public schools and securing the right to vote. Perhaps if the GOP becomes even more conservative the great minority voting breakthrough will finally occur.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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