The end of a long, ugly road for the GOP’s Southern strategy

Ann Romney said one thing during her husband’s presidential run that no one can dispute: “This is hard,” she said of the slog. (Actually being president is hard, too, as George W. Bush once noted 11 times in a single debate.)

Here’s one campaign call, though, that should never have been a head-scratcher: Running on white resentment is not a winning strategy, and the next Republican who tries it will lose, too.

Lyndon Johnson knew when he pushed through civil rights legislation that the Jim Crow South he’d grown up in would reject the Democratic Party for decades to come as a result. But somewhere, L.B.J. is smiling today, because the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy to capitalize on racial animus has now worked so completely that it’s turned back to bite Republicans, with Romney overwhelmingly losing the growing share of America’s minority voters. President Obama captured 93 percent of the African-American vote and 71 percent of the Latino vote.

Turns out, not even competing for their support was a mistake. And here’s how to blow more than a billion dollars and wind up right back where you started: Carefully alienate Latinos with talk of “self-deportation” and promises to veto the DREAM act. Vow that, if elected, you will cancel a widely celebrated reprieve from deportation for some young immigrants. Oh – and this is important — call those in this country without papers “illegals” every chance you get. Then, just sit back and hope no one who finds that insulting turns out to vote.

Keeping African-Americans out of the tent should be a snap at this point, but Romney certainly took nothing for granted in that regard, either. To review, he joked about Obama’s birth certificate and pitched to the angry white guy vote with a wildly inaccurate ad about how the president had supposedly “gutted” welfare work requirements. (In fact, not a single waiver has been granted, though the Obama administration did invite applications for waivers.)

Late in the campaign, Romney surrogate John Sununu stated his startling belief that Colin Powell’s endorsement of the president was a case of ring-knocking within the black brotherhood. And behind closed doors, the candidate himself told donors he’d written off nearly half of America from the start — incorrectly assuming that those who did not support him weren’t interested in his tax plan because they don’t pay any.  

Speaking with reporters in the final hours of the campaign, Romney either developed never-before-seen acting skills or truly believed he was on the glidepath to victory; inside the Fox News bubble, perhaps no other outcome seemed possible.

But far more important than any of this, as we look to the future, is that since Romney’s loss, we’ve continued to hear conservatives who do know they are on camera or writing for publication carry right on cementing the impression that they think Obama only won because he was the choice of Moocher Nation: Not only had they failed to “take back America,” from the guy Newt Gingrich delighted in calling “the food stamp president,” but non-white America, they inferred, is not really America at all.

All of which explains how, in a tepid economy, Romney managed to lose the election more than Obama won it. Yet they’re still at it, with Ole Miss students contributing some standout visuals to the narrative that the GOP is not exactly minority-friendly.

George Allen seemed to blame his Senatorial campaign defeat to Tim Kaine on the anti-business bias of his fellow Virginians: “It would be nice if we had an electorate that supported entrepreneurs.” In Obama’s reelection, conservative radio host Mark Levin literally saw the end of civilization: “We will not negotiate the terms of our economic and political servitude. Period. We will not abandon our child to a dark and bleak future. We will not accept a fate that is alien to the legacy we inherited.” On National Review Online, Ed Whelan wrote that “the great American experiment in constitutional republicanism is in grave peril, if not doomed,” because somehow, the greatest country on earth has been overrun with layabouts: “As the Framers understood, self-government depends on a virtuous citizenry. Instead, we have a growing mass of citizens seemingly wedded to dependency on big-government spending.”


Democrat-turned Republican Artur Davis (The Washington Post/Michael S. Williamson)

This must have been a moment brand new Republican Artur Davis knew would come when he spoke at this summer’s Republican National Convention, where 98 percent of the delegates were white and a couple of those present had to be asked to leave after pelting an African-American camerawoman with peanuts. “The Republican conservative base seems perilously close to shrinking to white southern evangelicals, senior white males, and upper income Protestants,” Davis wrote on Thursday.

His new fellows would do well to takes some cues from him and other minority voices on how to address that problem. But first, they’d have to stop hurling pejoratives at the Americans they so mistakenly see as “takers.”

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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Diana Reese | November 7, 2012