Much has been made of the Republican Party "autopsy" done in the wake of its poor showing in the 2012 national elections. Some party watchers and activists blamed its nominee, Mitt Romney, for their failure to overcome a beatable President Barack Obama, takeover the Senate, or expand its majority in the House of Representatives. As usual, some beat up on their old standby, the media, charging it with the usual indictment that they have it in for the Republicans. The more conscientious among them see poor minority outreach as at least some of the problem. They believe that the key to the hearts and votes of minorities can be found once the party ramps up its outreach, particularly to Latinos and Latinas. While they are right to be alarmed about their abysmal performance among minority groups, they are missing the point if they think it is about outreach. The Grand Old Party's fundamental problem is not outreach. It is policy. As long as the GOP is dedicated to being more conservative today than it was yesterday, then its minority outreach is doomed to failure.
What makes the party so strong among White voters -- its militant conservatism -- is exactly what hurts it among minority voters. Emphasizing this conservatism has worked well for the GOP. It began moving toward militant conservatism in the 1960s, priming White voters with talk of states' rights and reverse racism. The reward was the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as president. Continued success only emboldened the Right to push out liberal and moderate voices. The purification is nearly complete and after close to two generations of scapegoating, demonizing, and otherwise vilifying minority voters, the party now stares in the face of a new reality: the old ways won't work in an increasingly diversified nation.
Professor Robert C. Smith's incredible book Conservatism and Racism, and Why in America They Are the Same, reveals the Republican conundrum. If he is correct when he writes that "in no country, none, anywhere, ever can a people be ideologically conservative if they are dissatisfied with the status quo," then it is difficult to see a time when conservatism will ever be attractive to anything other than token numbers of minority voters.
Nearly two generations of Republican stiff arms to the face of minority voters won't be turned around time soon. So far, the party outreach strategy appears to be to find minorities to sell the same failed policies that pushed away millions of potential voters. That is a losing plan. I am confident that current party leaders do not fully understand the hole they are in. After all, they have risen to their positions while defending the policies that put the party in its current predicament. I am equally certain that some elements of the party are perfectly fine with a nearly Whites only GOP. Of course, that faction is ignoring America's racial reality: The Republican Party as we now know it is headed for extinction if it cannot become more competitive in the fight for minority voters. It will not be able to become competitive if it does not turn away from its militant conservatism and adopt policies that minorities can support. Changing faces without changing policies is the political equivalent to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote. His next book, Attacking Democracy: Conservatism and Black Voter Suppression, will be published in 2014. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com and can be found on Twitter @MKFauntroy.
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