When it comes to diversity in the slates of candidates offered by each party this season, the scales are decidedly tipped to one side. The GOP field includes not only both genders, but an African American, a couple of guys of Cuban descent and, until very recently, one whose parents came from India. They range in age from the well seasoned to those less than a decade past the constitutional minimum. For their part, the Democrats are offering something different. The field is as lily white as fresh sheets at a hotel, with the only two in serious contention both having been eligible for Social Security benefits when George W. Bush was still in office. To their credit, one of them not only self-identifies as a woman but has produced a child as proof of her gender bona fides.
With that in mind you might think that the Republicans would be well positioned to take advantage of the racial diversity so valued by progressive minded voters, no? But as Marc Fisher points out at the Washington Post, that’s simply not how the GOP rolls, for better or worse.
Republicans’ efforts to broaden their appeal seem to run smack up against many conservatives’ belief that too much of a focus on group identity detracts from American unity — that what comes after the hyphen in any ethnic-American identity risks becoming overshadowed by the front end.
Rubio, Cruz and Carson avoid emphasizing their ethnicity as a selling point. Rather, they tell their family stories of upward mobility — an effort to connect to a universal American narrative of assimilation rather than what they see as a separatist instinct on the other side of the nation’s ideological divide…
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) says the high-profile presence of minority candidates at the top of early polls presents a “pivotal, transitional moment” for the party.
“Can we redefine ourselves, or do we have to lose a third straight election, like the Democrats did in the ’80s, before they redefined themselves?” Cole asked. “We have not done a good job of making people who feel as we do comfortable in our party. We have to change not what we believe but visually who we are. I take a great deal of pride in the political success of a Rubio, Cruz or Carson.”
Much like the demands to expand the party’s reach into Hispanic communities as described in the 2012 Republican autopsy, these questions are essentially a red herring. Any push in the direction of modifying the message based on demographic pigeonholes represents a chance to play the game on the Democrats’ side of the board, and that’s a game they always win. While I’m not trying to sound like too much of a Debby Downer here, there are two chief reasons why such a diversion is a fast track to failure.
First, that’s not what conservatism is about. The whole idea of lifting up the entire country rather than playing favorites and fomenting tension relies on the principle of equality of opportunity for all, not mandated equality of results. The people screaming loudest about racial or gender inequality actually want no such thing. I think of this as the “Finding Bigfoot” dilemma. For those not familiar with the show, Finding Bigfoot is a long running series centered on four explorers who go out each week looking for the elusive creature. They never find him, of course, but if they ever actually did the show would be over. What would they call it the following week… We Found Bigfoot So Now What?
The same thing applies to Democrats and liberals in general. Fighting for supposed racial or gender equality is their stock in trade. If they were ever to admit that we’ve all had equal rights guaranteed under the Constitution for quite a while now and that racists and misogynists are generally reviled in both parties, their basic raison d’etre evaporates.
Second, even if the GOP were to run out this year and begin singing the same sweet songs of racial unrest which power the Democrats, we’d lose that game anyway. If history has taught us anything, it’s that liberals love to promote women and minorities unless they are Republicans. They want a female president, but not if it’s Carly Fiorina. Democrats were ready to put Barack Obama’s face on our currency the day he was elected because of how significant and historic it was to finally have a black president, but Ben Carson is an Uncle Tom. Democratic spokesmodels constantly put the lie to their own lofty ideas when these attacks come to light. They’re not interested in electing more minorities or women… they want to elect more liberals, and the color of the candidate’s skin or the reproductive plumbing under their pants suits is nothing more than a convenient piece of cake to feed to the masses.
If you’re going to win a battle of ideas then the ideas have to be solid. And they have to work for everyone, not just those who are most favored by Uncle Sam at the moment. Giving in to the impulse to play the race card wouldn’t give the GOP any advantage… it would be the doom of the party.