Not long before Marco Rubio came out to introduce Mitt Romney on the final night of the Republican convention, some RNC staffers paced the floor carrying stacks of mass-produced “handmade” Hispanics Love Romney signs in search of people to wave them. This was no easy task. First, there were precious few Latinos there. Second, they come in all shades. In the border delegations of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, there was little to distinguish a Hispanic who “loves” Romney from an Anglo who hates Hispanics. Days earlier, two attendees had been thrown out after pelting a black CNN camerawoman with peanuts and shouting: “This is how we feed the animals.” If the sight of a black woman with a camera could incite that much animus, imagine what rage might ensue if the wrong person were presumed Hispanic.
This was not the only contradiction of the week. The convention started on a split screen. On one side of the Gulf of Mexico, every instrument of the state was being marshaled to prevent Hurricane Isaac from wrecking New Orleans. On the other, speaker after speaker demanded that government get out of the way lest it wreck the economy. Conference organizers were keen to prevent unflattering comparisons with Hurricane Katrina—the last time a privatized response to a public disaster washed up the nation’s race/class dynamics to shame a complacent GOP.
But race was by far the most glaring discrepancy. At times it seemed that the only thing more attractive to Republicans than watching a nonwhite person describe how he or she had overcome huge obstacles to reach the top was coming up with new obstacles to throw in front of the next generation. And so it was that the racial composition of the speakers stood in inverse proportion to that of both the audience and GOP backers as a whole. A poll taken shortly before the convention put black support for Romney at zero, while less than 30 percent of Latinos say they will vote for Romney. By comparison, in 2004 Bush got 11 percent of the black vote, and 44 percent from Latinos. And since blacks and Latinos made up a smaller percentage of voters that year, Bush scraped out a narrow victory.
The lineup reflected the party’s vulnerabilities among women as well. After a primary season in which Republican candidates tried to outdo one another in restricting contraception access and attacking Planned Parenthood, polls show Obama ahead among women, 52 to 36 percent.
In the absence of any substantial policies that women or people of color would support—indeed, quite the opposite—Republicans had little choice but to put their prominent women and people of color front and center by way of proxy. In addition to Rubio, Texas Tea Party senatorial candidate Ted Cruz and Mia Love, the Haitian-American mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, key speaking slots were given to Condoleezza Rice, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (who’s of Indian descent) and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. Ann Romney was introduced by Puerto Rico’s first lady, Luce Vale.
To condemn this as cynical choreography would be to miss the point. This is a political convention. Like a microwave chicken dinner, it was made for TV. Fail to curate it, and you end up with Clint Eastwood having a conversation with an invisible president in an empty chair. And then everyone suffers.