March 7, 2013

After the 2004 presidential election, victorious Republicans attempted continued outreach to African Americans and Latinos, with Republican National Committee chief Ken Mehlman apologizing to the NAACP for the “Southern Strategy” of elections past. It was a thoughtful move, but didn’t do much to change black opinion of the GOP. Even still, the following cycle, after Republicans suffered a decisive loss to Barack Obama, the RNC attempted a second round of outreach by hiring former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele as its chair. That didn’t work, either.

To their credit, however, Republicans are still trying. The GOP’s newfound embrace of immigration reform is part of a push to make inroads with Latino voters, and at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, organizers are trying to highlight the “diversity” of the Republican Party with a larger number of minority speakers. Here is The Hill with more:

“This year in particular, with the [conference’s] 40th anniversary and the focus on America’s future, we really wanted to welcome in conservatives from a number of different backgrounds, and wanted to ensure that as many different voices are heard as possible,” said Laura Rigas, communications director for the ACU.

Among the roster of CPAC speakers and panelists, there are nearly twice as many black and Hispanic speakers as there were in 2012, and a third more female speakers.

It’s a little hard to know what to think of this. On one hand, it’s a welcome change from past conferences, when most speakers were white and male. On the other hand, if most speakers are white and male, it’s because most Republicans are white and male. Thirty-four percent of all voters in last year’s election were white men, and 62 percent supported Mitt Romney. White men account for the vast majority of GOP lawmakers, and they are well-represented among GOP activists.

Republicans have never had trouble highlighting the female and minority public officials in their ranks. The problem has always been with actual outreach to voters. To win them, you have to appeal to their concerns and interests, and relative to the median Republican voter, women and minorities are more likely to have concerns that don’t fit into the GOP platform. They’re more likely to support government intervention in the economy (African Americans and Latinos are the biggest supporters of Obamacare), more likely to support abortion rights, and are less likely to be interested in an agenda of low taxes and low services.

Of course, that’s the nut of the problem for Republicans. They need a larger margin among women and minorities to stay competitive with Democrats in national elections. But winning that margin requires them to deviate from established orthodoxy, which — for now, at least — isn’t on the docket. Under the current constraints of GOP politics, the only thing they can do for minority “outreach” is the highlight the people already on their side, which — as we’ve seen — is far from a winning strategy.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.