Ed Gillespie and the Republican Party in Virginia are so bent on using racism as a political weapon that they’re campaigning against sanctuary cities even though Virginia doesn’t have any sanctuary cities. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when you consider the other things they’re doing, including the mailers they’re sending out and the advertisements they’re producing even in downticket races.
I want to go back again to July 2nd, 2013. That’s the day I wrote a piece called The GOP is Moving in the Wrong Direction. It was in response to an article Benjy Sarlin had written for MSNBC in which he detailed the transformation that occurred in Republican circles as they moved from following the RNC post-2012 autopsy report’s analysis (that insisted on the political necessity of passing immigration reform) to following the analysis of Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende (who argued that the GOP could win by opposing immigration reform and getting better turnout and a greater share of the white vote).
What Mr. Sarlin doesn’t broach is the subject of how conservatives might be able to grab a higher percentage of whites and how they might go about driving up white turnout. The most obvious way is to pursue an us vs. them approach that alternatively praises whites as the true, patriotic Americans, and that demonizes non-whites as a drain on the nation’s resources. This is basically the exact strategy pursued by McCain and especially Romney. It’s what Palin was all about, and it’s what that 47% speech was all about.
An added element was introduced by Barack Obama, whose controversial pastor and Kenyan ancestry opened up avenues for both veiled and nakedly racist appeals to the white voter. A white Democratic nominee would be less of an easy target for talk about secret Islamic sympathies and fraudulent birth certificates, but that would only make other racially polarizing arguments more necessary.
The problem is that these attacks have already been made, and they failed in even near-optimal circumstances. Accusing the Democrats of socialism, which is a race-neutral way of accusing the party of being beholden to the racial underclasses, has been proven insufficient. The only hope for a racial-polarization strategy is to get the races to segregate their votes much more thoroughly, and that requires that more and more whites come to conclude that the Democratic Party is the party for blacks, Asians, and Latinos.
That is, indeed, how the party is perceived in the Deep South, but it would be criminal to expand those racial attitudes to the country at large.
The Republicans are coalescing around a strategy that will, by necessity, be more overtly racist than anything we’ve seen since segregation was outlawed.
The way I look at this is that it wasn’t inevitable. The main reason to take the racist approach was to protect movement conservatism’s rank in the Republican coalition. The party could have moved away from movement conservatism and gone looking for votes from immigrant communities, but it would have had to adapt on more than just racial issues to have success.
Once they determined that they would oppose comprehensive immigration reform, the way was pretty much blocked for them to do anything other than pursue Sean Trende’s formula.
Was it an accident that Donald Trump emerged with a plan to do precisely that?
I have no idea how much foresight and planning went into Trump’s idea for his campaign before he launched it. Most of the time, I’m not inclined to attribute planning to him at all. Maybe he just had a feel for the zeitgeist of the Republican Party and the nation.
Back in 2013, I thought this kind of campaign would be “criminal” but I didn’t discount it working. It has worked. It continues to work, and the Democrats’ advantage in the Virginia gubernatorial race is narrowing to a dead heat.
The Republicans are doing this because they’re driven by movement conservatives who believe it’s the only way they can win in a country that is growing more diverse. The Democrats are grappling with how to adjust as a party to their collapse of support in small towns and rural America, so I know parties can struggle to change to meet new challenges. But the GOP is using racism to protect conservative ideology. They know that immigrant communities don’t share their values on a host of issues related to how the government should function, and they want to avoid having to ask for their votes for as long as possible.
Racial animosity has always played a big part of movement conservatism and in the Christian Coalition, but the need to keep polarizing whites against everyone else is making it more central and more transparent than ever before. It’s actually making people more racist both by design and by osmosis.
For the Republican Party to break out of this transformation into a fascist party, they need a rump to emerge with a lot of financial backing that is opposed to movement conservatism and that refuses to cede the party to them. We’ve seen pushback when the business community intervened to stop antigay measures pushed in North Carolina and Mike Pence’s Indiana. I know it is possible for traditional Republicans to organize, finance and push back against the extremists in their midst. But when a guy like Ed Gillespie is using racism like this in the Virginia governor’s race, it’s obvious that this process has not yet begun.