The GOP's minority trap

Writing for the Washington Post, reporter Janell Ross is issuing yet another set of “helpful” suggestions for the GOP this week as to how they might potentially made solid inroads with minority voters. (You can see some more of Ms. Ross’ background here.) Discussing some of Mitt Romney’s stumbles (both real and perceived) in minority outreach in 2012, the author notes the following:

Saying that the party needs to re-frame its ideas and doing so are, of course, two very different tasks. But Romney has a prescription, which he laid out in a separate interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe:” He said Republicans need to talk about things like the importance of business in different, household-level terms like jobs and economic security.

That could help, but it also obscures the real reason Democrats dominate among minorities: policies. And increasingly, data suggest that no amount of repackaging is going to produce major minority voter gains for Republicans. Only actual platform revisions and policy changes — real shifts in the party’s positions — seem capable of a job this big.

The advice on display here as the article rolls onward is nothing we haven’t heard before. The key phrases here are platform revisions and real shifts in the party’s position. The simplified, high school math version of this theory goes as follows: Most minority voters are Democrats. You don’t get enough minority voters. Ergo, you need to adopt more of the policies that Democrats already embrace.

This is a wonderful idea… if you’re trying to ensure victory for the Democrats. After all, what would be a better talking point than saying, “Oh, the GOP finally agrees with us. That’s great. But if you like our policies anyway, why not just vote for an actual Democrat?” And they would be correct, of course. That’s precisely why this sort of toxic thinking needs to be kept out of the conservative tent.

That’s not to say that the Republican Party hasn’t failed to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of minority voters across the board. They have failed, and they have done so spectacularly. But becoming Democrats isn’t the answer. If there’s ever going to be any real progress on this front a new solution is in order. Or, more accurately, I should probably say a very old solution. It dates back to two central themes which seem to be all too easily forgotten in an era when every political battle is fought from coast to coast on multiple cable news shows and countless social media platforms. One is the concept which is generally (and wrongly) attributed to Tip O’Neil, but actually came from Washington AP bureau chief Byron Price: all politics is local. The second is that real lives and real people will, in the end, always trump the most well funded advertising campaign.

Democrats have a huge advantage in the largest and most entrenched minority communities, and why would they not? They control the governments of almost every major urban center and are in contact with potential voters by virtue of local government office space nearly every day of the year. From city hall to the city council to the people behind the desks at the DMV and every appointed civil service position in town, there is unity in the message. Whatever governmental regulation or assistance is available is distributed by their hand. And when complaints arise, it’s all too easy to simply say that the entire system is failing from the top and it’s all the fault of the tax cutting, women and minority hating Republicans. With nobody on the scene to make an opposing case, why should anyone doubt them?

Evidence of this exists in a much discussed Pew Poll which Ross cites in her article.

Just about this time last year, Pew Research Center staff asked a group of just over 10,000 adults questions to try to gauge something they called “political values” — core ideas that guide what sorts of policies individual voters support. In essence, Pew measured ideological consistency.

The survey asked voters to rank how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.” That question alone revealed a vast divide between Republicans and Democrats, with 68 percent of Republicans telling pollsters they agreed and just 29 percent of Democrats doing the same.

Unfortunately, this breakdown in communication is never going to be repaired from the top down. No “rich old white guy” in a slickly produced TV commercial is going to have the impact of someone standing there on the same ground you occupy and dealing with the same issues you face. It’s never going to happen. This is part of the fallout of years of entrenched attitudes among Republicans who were willing to skip over predominantly minority areas and take an attitude of we’ll tend to our fields and let them tend to theirs. It’s a conversation that I’ve had with local Republican officials here in New York enough times that I want to tear my hair out. With all due apologies to those involved, the New York GOP is a mess. Village, city and county party officials spend more time at war with each other than they do trying to expand their footprint. (And that’s when they’re not fighting with the state Conservative Party who bolted the ranks long ago because the Empire State GOP looked too much like the Democrats already.)

And on the rare occasions when people do decide to try to reach out, it’s generally too little and too late. You can’t just go strolling into a Democrat stronghold – particularly a minority heavy area – twice a decade as if you suddenly remembered there were people living there. We do that too often. The only way this changes is if you find and support local folks on the ground who are going through the same problems as everyone else. And when people begin complaining about why the taxes are going up and the school budget is getting cut (again) even though tons of money is being flushed into the system, we need need just a few folks to stand up and yell back at those local Democrat officials and demand to know why. Ask them where all the money is going and why the streets aren’t being fixed. Ask them why businesses close down and there are no jobs to be had in that part of town. As them why there’s so much vandalism and crime, which generally explains the lack of businesses and jobs.

If you have local voices raising those questions, those are the same people who attract attention year after year and maybe… just maybe… they can start suggesting other solutions than the same old failed policies that have driven so many of these communities into the ground and done nothing to bring relief. It’s not that this can’t be done… it can. But it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen from the offices of the RNC in a far away city. It starts from the sidewalks of the community and builds up from there. And it most certainly doesn’t involve shifting your core beliefs to mimic the ones of the opposing party which have already failed.