They can sweep away the confetti, crumpled signs and busted balloons. But there’s one bit of 2012 election debris the Republican Party won’t be able to clean up so easily: its relationship with blacks.
The venomous campaign from Day One to get rid of the first black president has been a “lose-lose” that will cost both the GOP and African-Americans.
As the white share of the electorate shrinks, how will the GOP ever credibly compete for more of the black vote after going so far beyond legitimate philosophical differences over governance?
From South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” in 2009 to Romney surrogate John Sununu’s “lazy” and a race-baiting Buffalo flier days before the election, the lack of respect and the resurrection of age-old code words won’t easily be forgotten.
From mocking a president whose Nobel Peace Prize brought honor to America, to cheering when his hometown of Chicago lost its bid to bring Olympic prestige to the United States, the GOP has worn its hatred of Obama on its sleeve, patriotism be damned. Blacks won’t soon forget such insults. Nor will they forget the false “welfare” ad that played to whites’ worst assumptions about African-Americans.
And such symbolism pales when compared with the systematic targeting of blacks and other groups in the war on nonexistent voter fraud, the first time in America’s history that there has been such a widespread attempt to limit the franchise. It was all part of a race-based strategy to “take back” the country – and the victims know from whom. Even with black frustration at being taken for granted by Democrats, how does the GOP now compete for the voters it has insulted and tried to eliminate?
“It’s not good for African-Americans; it’s not good for Americans, period,” said Warren Galloway, chairman of the local group Republicans of Color. Galloway, who served in the administration of then-County Executive Joel Giambra, said extremists have taken over the party. Their tactics even showed up in a local GOP flier with a sinister-looking Obama next to the conservative running against Republican State Sen. Mark Grisanti. ROC sent a letter to the county GOP deploring a mailing designed “to bring race into the campaign.”
“At a time when the Republican Party should be reaching out to African-Americans, it does everything it can to affirm some of the old things about the party being anti-black,” lamented ROC member George Alexander, who has held county and state government posts.
He’s right about reaching out. As critics such as Cornel West note, having a Democratic president – even a black one – is no guarantee that racial disparities will be addressed. National disenchantment is mirrored locally in long-standing anger over Democrats’ treatment of black candidates and judicial aspirants
Yet GOP tactics allow Democrats to coast. In the letter to Langworthy, Galloway noted how hard the party is making it to recruit blacks, and offered to meet to discuss the issue. But that means members such as Galloway and Alexander would have to be listened to, and it optimistically assumes the best about the current GOP.
For all of the false claims, counterclaims and ads that marred the 2012 campaign, the biggest lie may simply be the notion that today’s Republican Party actually wants black voters.