Last night’s speakers at the Republican National Convention included Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz, former Democrat Artur Davis and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Earlier in the evening, Utah congressional candidate Mia Love lit up the hall. It was a display of racial, ethnic and gender diversity we have never seen from the GOP. And it elicited very little comment. Say what you will, but the “old white man’s party” isn’t so white, so old or so male.
As is the style of the GOP, the message had nothing to do with diversity and everything to do with capitalism and “you didn’t build that.” Republicans are plainly trying to redo the party’s image, while sticking to core conservative ideas.
The party still has a huge problem reaching Hispanic voters. Its gender gap among unmarried women is large. Will the less-homogenous lineup help ameliorate these problems?
Certainly having some more diverse speakers at a convention isn’t going to in and of itself change votes. But the rise of Hispanic and women Republicans (female GOP candidates are running in Nebraska, New Mexico, Connecticut and New York) does help rebut the most simplistic and unsophisticated Democratic attacks. The invented “war on women” looks and sounds even sillier when you see woman after woman march up to the podium.
It also does allow the GOP to talk more frankly internally and to the American people on certain hot-button topics, most clearly, on immigration. Sen. Marco Rubio (R- Fla.) can talk about legal immigration and border control in a way that is simply more empathetic and compelling than many of his fellow Republicans. The GOP message on health care, very much aimed at married women (who are, polling tells us, the main purchasers of family health care) sounds more empathetic and sincere coming from women. We can pretend the messenger has nothing to do with the message, but in the real world, it simply isn’t so. And the tone and rhetoric of the messenger can make, at the very least, statements of position seem well-intentioned, rather than mean-spirited.
And a more diverse GOP helps the party stand its ground on dicey social issues. It is a reminder that plenty of women are pro-life. It is a reminder that Hispanic kids in urban centers are the ones most hurt by lack of school choice. It is a way of delinking conservative policies from ethnic and gender politics (i.e., the GOP isn’t waging a “war on women”; it is waging a war on abortion on demand).
Over time, a more diverse country will require a more diverse GOP, if it hopes to remain a national party. Republicans are convinced that the party’s policies are the best solution to poverty, inequality and other societal ills. The appeal of those policies to non-white, non-male voters will be tested, with more effective messengers than the party has produced in a very long time.