05/21/2014 03:25 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

How Real Is the GOP's War on Racism?


Former 2012 GOP Presidential contender Mitt Romney wasted no time in angrily denouncing and calling for the resignation of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire police commissioner Robert Copeland. Copeland made brief headlines when his N-word slur of President Obama went public. New Hampshire GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte, GOP senatorial candidate Scott Brown, and a slew of other GOP state officials also called for Copeland's scalp. This was welcome and at first glance it seemed like yet another turning point for the GOP in its war with racism. Particularly, since it followed fairly close on the heels of the denunciation of nutty rocker Ted Nugent after yet another one of his patented vile racist broadsides against Obama earlier this year. GOP notables also ripped Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for his equally offensive remarks about blacks.

The GOP has been on a bit of a noisy campaign against racism since Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus unveiled a hundred-plus-page blueprint last year on how to dispel the public's image of the GOP as a safe haven for unreconstructed bigots and professional Obama haters. A centerpiece of this campaign is to immediately blast anyone in or affiliated with the GOP who pops off about minorities or gays. It's a tough sell for a bigger reason than just the need to smack down an individual bigot.

The same instant that Romney and other big gun GOP officials in New Hampshire were screaming for Copeland to step down, the official New Hampshire GOP State Committee did not utter a single word about Copeland's slur, let alone call for his ouster on its website. At the same instant, two other ultra-conservative, tea party aligned GOP groups embedded in the state, the Liberty Caucus and the Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, are waging a relentless battle to oust a slew of GOP state senators considered too liberal. One of them, not coincidentally, is the state senator who represents Wolfeboro. These two "independent" groups have plenty of money, plenty of backers, and a well-spring of voter support behind them.

They are hardly an anomaly in New Hampshire. There are legions of like groups in other states that are giving the GOP mainstream incumbents night sweats in the run-up to the November mid-term elections. In most cases, their challenge to well-heeled GOP established incumbents will fall flat on its face. They will likely not win a single primary race as was evident in the first big round of GOP primaries. But they don't need to dump an incumbent to win. Their raucous, spirited, and intense campaign against them is enough to serve notice that any deviation by a GOP incumbent from hard core conservative orthodoxy will be punished. The punishment is that masses of hard-nosed conservative voters will play hooky from the polls in November.

There are millions of GOP backers in the South and Heartland, and the gaggle of right-wing webs, blogs, and talk radio jocks that have made it amply clear the GOP's only flub is that it's not truly conservative enough. They have hammered the GOP that any retreat from its core beliefs and message will perpetually doom it to political extinction in national politics. They warn that if the GOP suddenly started pandering to minorities and gays it could kiss millions of their fervent supporter's goodbye. Indeed many who didn't think Republican presidential contenders John McCain and Romney were authentically conservative enough for their tastes did stay home in 2008 and to an extent in 2012. It was evident even in the backwash of the 2012 defeat, when a parade of GOP hardliners jumped all over Romney and wailed that he and GOP candidates lost because they weren't conservative enough, or their self-inflicted gaffe wounds did them in. They denounced and sloughed off any talk from the GOP party leaders of re-messaging, mounting an aggressive outreach to minorities, even Hispanics, and do a reversal on immigration, and they won't let up on that.

Copeland, Nugent and Bundy, and the other GOP namesake clods are the softest of soft targets, to make examples of when they go off the racial deep end. A swift and seemingly indignant rebuke of them makes good PR copy. They serve to burnish the new image of the GOP as a party that will not tolerate bigotry and is no longer afraid to call out those who spew it. Yet the hard political reality remains that the Copelands, Bundys, and Nugents will not suddenly evaporate. They can be counted on in any season to show up and pull the lever for a GOP candidate. Their votes will be even more crucial in November in the closely divided districts where Democratic incumbents are under ferocious assault and are vulnerable.

GOP party leaders will continue to feign outrage at the idiotic ravings that comes out of a GOP mouth. But many millions still back the GOP precisely because they like the party just the way it has always been and shudder at the thought that it could change. Robert Copeland resigned under pressure but that doesn't mean that the GOP will win or even wants to win its war on racism.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.