The Republican party, in terms of its policies and rhetoric, seems to have gone all in on appealing to white, older, xenophobic, and conservative voters. And yet, at the same time, it seems to be able to put forward, and get elected, people of color for various offices, and also attract some people of color as supporters. This article looks at what is going on with that seemingly contradictory dynamic.
Does [the Republican party] continue to move rightward, exciting its base by stoking white racial grievance?
Or does it pursue a multiracial strategy that can expand the party’s reach?
Recent trends in the GOP suggest that it wants to do both – and that indeed the two strategies are not so much at odds as it might appear.
In a striking development, Michigan Republicans selected in February 2023 a Christian nationalist and election denier as chair of the state party.
This rightward shift of the party is not itself surprising.
What’s striking is that Kristina Karamo, a Black woman, was elected over a white male candidate who also had Trump’s endorsement.
The same voters who elevated Karamo also cheered Trump’s supercharged racist rhetoric against Black people, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and nonwhite countries more generally during his campaigns and presidency.
And yet Karamo is hardly an anomaly.
While the party has made no substantive changes or moderation to its politics or policies around long-standing racial justice issues, it is slowly but steadily growing more racially diverse in its grassroots base, elected officials and opinion leaders.
Nikki Haley, a child of Indian immigrants, has announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, is also expected to do so fairly soon. How do people of color overcome the white supremacist underpinnings of many Republican policies?
Polls show that roughly 70% of Republicans believe the “great replacement theory,” a baseless belief that the Democratic Party is attempting to replace the white electorate in the United States with nonwhite immigrants.
Those same conservative voters are consistently motivated by white racial grievance in issues concerning public education, law enforcement, voting rights and affirmative action.
But what is interesting is that these same voters seem to be willing to accept candidates of color, provided they embrace those policies.
Yet studies also suggest that white conservatives will indeed support candidates of color, not out of a commitment to racial justice or even representation, but because they see it as a way to advance partisan and ideological interests.
A 2015 article in Public Opinion Quarterly presented data showing that these voters “are either more supportive of minority Republicans or just as likely to vote for a minority as they are a white Republican.”
Similarly, a 2021 study showed that under the right conditions, “racially resentful [white] voters prefer to vote for a Black candidate over a white competitor.”
These studies suggest that the Republican electorate is fertile ground for certain candidates of color who can effectively link their biographies to stock conservative accounts of individual uplift, opposition to social welfare – and the demonization of liberalism and liberals.
But can Republican candidates of any kind appeal to voters of color as well? It appears that they have made advances in that area too.
How about voters of color?
Will they continue to view the GOP as a racist party inhospitable to their interests?
Exit polls after the 2020 election showed that Trump increased his gains among all groups of minority voters in comparison to 2016, capturing 1 in 4 voters of color nationally.
He won the votes of nearly 1 in 5 Black men, and roughly one-third of the Asian American and Latino electorate.
While Republican strategists and candidates are attempting to creatively reframe the relationship of race to modern-day conservatism, none have articulated ideas or policies that directly confront the issues facing a majority of African Americans and other people of color.
Those issues include a predatory criminal justice system, the evisceration of funding for health care and education, the existential threats of climate change and attacks against multiracial democracy.
So it looks like the Republican party has been at least partly successful in getting minority candidates elected and minority voters to support them despite its white supremacist tendencies. The key question is how far can it go in this direction before it hits a ceiling.
I explain it to myself thus: a lot of Republican voters are poor working class white people… very much the sort of people who will be maximally damaged by Republican policies that favour the capital-holding class. White people vote against their own interests in droves, I don’t see why people of colour shouldn’t do just the same.
Matt G says
Throwing your own demographic group under the bus to advance your interests are commonplace. Some Jews in Nazi Germany, for example. It may be simple greed, or some deranged (or real) view of self-preservation. And think of the special treatment you get (if only for a while) if you align yourself with a socially dominant group!
What other party can a conservative POC or LGBTQ+ join? Is it not possible that at least some of them join to try to soften some of the party’s more pernicious stances?
ardipithecus @3: the Democratic Party has runs of politicians whom I would call conservative.
By supporting candidates who are not white, those voters can happily pat themselves on the back for not being racist, in spite of supporting racist policies. “I can’t be a racist -- I voted for the black guy!”
By the standards of most civilised countries, ALL politicians in the US would be classified as “far right”.