The GOP's Whiteness Could Actually Help Republicans Win Elections

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 1 2013 9:45 AM

The GOP Majority: Guilty of Being White

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Sarah Palin was for a path to citizenship before she was against it.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

My latest story gets into the Immigration Bill Doomsaying game—a popular game right now, one Zynga should invest in—and explains why Republicans really don't think they'll lose if this process stalls.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

“I don't look at Obama completely as stunt casting,” says Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson, “but the fact that he was the first minority president moved a lot of minority voters. And right now the group of possible Democratic nominees for 2016 looks like a meeting of the Robert Byrd fan club. It's the white boy coalition. None of these guys will light a fire for black voters.”
But Republicans, increasingly, light a fire with whites. From 2008 to 2012, Barack Obama’s share of the white vote fell from 43 percent to 39 percent. Right after the election, the fact that Obama scored a smaller white vote than Michael Dukakis was cited as proof that the GOP needed to change. Flip the logic. If Republicans can build on the white trend but Democrats can’t build on the nonwhite trends, Republicans will be safe, for a while. If Republicans get back to the 66 percent white vote won by Ronald Reagan in 1984, they’re golden.
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This, incidentally, is why the coverage of various Republican Thought Leaders* and what they say about immigration is mostly pretty pointless. Sarah Palin, whose clout never really recovered after Sen. Lisa Murkowski thrashed Joe Miller**, has been carping at Republicans who back the immigration bill. Republicans strategists have been pointing out that Palin herself once backed legalization over attritition. But she only did so when she was running with John McCain, and conservatives believe that McCain's shellacking with Hispanic voters proved that Hispanics aren't about to come around and vote for Republicans who back "amnesty." And then gerrymandering shored up the GOP House majority so that they need only worry about winning white votes. They don't care what Palin says, and they don't care what Jeb Bush says, but Palin is more representative of their base.

Look, here's what I mean—Alex Burns has a story up about how gerrymandering could "cost" Republicans. By depriving them of the majority? Oh, not that.

Some top GOP strategists and candidates warn that the ruby red districts the party drew itself into are pushing House Republicans further to the right — narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening. If you’re looking for a root cause of the recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start.

But if the GOP's going to hold the House anyway, it's going to get to block Barack Obama for the rest of his presidency. Then, if the voters want a pivot, their 2016 candidate can criticize the GOP in D.C. That's what happened in 2000—that's what "compassionate conservatism" was about.

*You spend two days in Aspen and this is how you talk.

**Palin endorsed Miller in the GOP primary. He narrowly beat Murkowski. Murkowski went on to wage a write-in campaign, and Miller imploded, freeing up the senator to do things like, well, vote for immigration reform.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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