Tampa—Most Republicans oppose affirmative action, but their national convention is the apotheosis of the practice at its most tokenistic and least substantive. Whereas Democrats and liberals support policies that are meant to actually assist disadvantaged groups as a whole and to protect them from discrimination, Republicans have no interest in women or minorities except as window dressing for their discriminatory policies. It would be insulting for them to think it will actually work. In fairness, Republicans probably know they will not actually move many African-American or Latino votes by putting a handful of non-white speakers on the dais in Tampa. Rather, it is part of Mitt Romney’s general election strategy of the ricochet pander. Like his speech at the NAACP, the purpose is not to appeal to minorities but to socially moderate white suburban swing voters who want to be reassured that pulling the lever for the GOP does not make them bigots.
Republicans’ poll numbers among Latinos, African-Americans and women are daunting. In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Mitt Romney actually got 0 percent of the black vote. In a recent poll of Latino voters, Romney trailed President Obama 65 to 26. And according to several recent polls, Romney performs about eight points worse among women than among men.
Romney and his supporters recognize that these are problems. That’s why Herman Cain went on at length in Sunday night’s Tea Party Unity Rally about how the NBC/WSJ poll was wrong and there are many black Republicans. It’s also why Republicans want Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) to drop out of the Missouri Senate race, even though they agree with any actual votes he would take on reproductive rights.
As Dick Peerson, a Missouri RNC delegate and state Republican committeeman, told me yesterday, “Akin can’t win.” And it might even have a small, negative trickle-up effect on Romney in Missouri if Akin stays on the ballot. Peerson actually agrees with Akin’s policy on abortion—that women who are violently raped, even, say, by their own father—should be forced to bear the child if they become pregnant. “It’s not that [Missouri Republicans] disagree with his [Akin’s] position,” says Peerson. “It’s the way that he said it.”
In a similar effort to distance himself from Akin’s abortion extremism, Romney absurdly claimed in an interview with CBS that federal abortion regulation is not an executive branch issue. “This is a matter in the courts, it’s been settled for some time in the courts,” said Romney, apparently forgetting his own campaign pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, or his party’s longstanding commitment to the Global Gag Rule. He also told CBS that he supports exceptions for the “health and life of the mother,” when his actual platform makes only life of the mother exceptions, which is a significant difference.
The GOP is unwilling to compromise substantively on these issues. Its platform calls for banning abortion with no exceptions, its rhetoric on illegal immigration is as harsh as ever and it justifies its desire to dismantle the welfare state with coded racial appeals. Those are political necessities for Republicans, because stoking the anger of older white voters is how they retain their advantage among them.