Conservatives who oppose any policy revision, especially immigration reform, that they deem to be “selling out” will tell you that the way to win minority voters is to “show up.” That is condescending and wrong.
Minority voters, like all voters, care about what you say. They aren’t merely flattered to be visited; they want something. Hard-right conservatives have gotten the idea that it is not conservative to “give” voters things. But of course, all government is designed to “give” voters something, even if the ends are conservative (e.g. tax cuts, school vouchers). We see no evidence that stark appeals to entrepreneurship or purely ideological conservative nostrums move minority voters.
Take, for example, the semi-disastrous appearance by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at Howard University, where he was greeted with stony silence. The African American students didn’t like being lectured about the political history of African Americans, and they didn’t seem to warm to a strident libertarian theme.
And it doesn’t make any difference if that strident rhetoric is delivered by a minority candidate. If this really did work, then Alan Keyes would have been elected to something or former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) would have held his seat.
Take instead GOP governors like Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Brian Sandoval (Nevada), Chris Christie (New Jersey) and others who show up with something that might actually attract minority voters — better schools, more jobs and the like. When Christie was in Camden on Wednesday, African American elected officials, religious leaders and parents weren’t cheering the governor for showing up; they were cheering his move to take over the failing schools, put in good people and a decent curriculum and insist those schools work.
And here is where the most ideological pols on the right fail. These are people who regard transactional politics as debased and think the highest calling of a politician is to reject deal-making. Even if the ideologues show up in minority areas, they don’t have anything minority voters want to hear. A lecture on “free-market economics” or a tutorial on the “rule of law”? Puleez. These voters already think Republicans are out to lunch and don’t understand them.
And I wonder what minority voters in a Democratic enclave would say if a pol argued that no illegal immigrant should have a way of attaining citizenship and the best thing to do is to shut down the government so they can get rid of Obamacare with no replacement in mind. Oh, they wouldn’t talk about that stuff? Well, the conversation then would be short and dishonest. And “showing up” wouldn’t make up for a message that these voters find offensive or harmful.
Talk about things that will improve their lives and they may perk up; deliver on those promises and they’ll applaud. And talk like a real person whose life experience those voters can relate to and they might even vote for you outside of Texas, Kentucky and Utah.