Shay’s election compounds these problems by cementing stereotypes that have only begun to hold Republicans back. In recent months, Republicans have made significant attempts to address the diversity deficit with the election of Michael Steele and Joseph Cao. But that momentum has been derailed by the election of Audra Shay. And with her pattern of racial callousness and cluelessness out on the table before the vote, it may take a while for young black conservatives to feel welcome in a party that already turned its back on their grandfathers.
Shay’s election also reflects a reactionary impulse within the GOP that seeks to dismiss any criticism or inconvenient facts as the work of the liberal mainstream media. This self-segregates the GOP into ideological isolation. Even the term ‘big tent’—a banner advanced by Ronald Reagan—is dismissed as code for “squishes” or closet liberals. The hunt for heretics increasingly seems like a hobby for the far-right, with special venom reserved for centrists like Colin Powell and even John McCain. Shay’s immediate decision to “de-friend” those who called out the racist comments on her Facebook page reflects this impulse to purge any disagreement or departure from conservative orthodoxy. There is a reluctance to confront extremists for fear of angering the base. And in this, partisan conformity and cowardice is confused with personal courage.