It’s common for prominent conservatives to attack identity politics — despite the belief that the right won the 2016 election by appealing to specific identity groups such as evangelicals, rural voters and the white working class. But for some, the idea that certain groups look at political issues through the lens of one demographic is sometimes interpreted as divisive on the right.
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon said the left's embrace of identity politics is ammunition for his goals.
“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” he told the New York Times. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said identity politics exploits fear and ignorance by dividing Americans for personal gain.
“I think identity politics has gotten out of control in our country,” Ryan told CBS's “This Morning.” “That is how you disunify a culture, a society and a country.”
And even Mark Lilla, a Columbia University professor and historian who identifies as liberal, blamed the left for the election of Donald Trump because of their support for identity politics.
“This partisan, divisive form of liberalism alienated the working class and helped create the conditions for the rise of Donald Trump,” he wrote in the New Statesman, a British politics and literary magazine.
But multiple conservatives over the past week proved that they do value identity politics as long as people belong to the correct identity group: the Republican Party.
Lawmakers from both parties have deemed GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama unfit for the office after his alleged sexual misconduct with teenage girls. But Trump and other supporters have responded to questions about the candidate's qualifications by pointing to his identity group.
“We don’t need a liberal person in there — a Democrat,” the president told reporters Tuesday when asked about the allegations.
His response is similar to that of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who, when asked about Moore, highlighted that his opponent was not a Republican.
“Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal,” she said on Fox News Channel.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey rose to office after replacing another Republican lawmaker accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. She told reporters that her support for Moore is rooted in his political identity group.
“We need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on the things like Supreme Court justices,” she said.
And when an ABC reporter asked Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) whether he believed Moore's statement that he did not assault underage girls, the congressman replied while running away from the reporter:
“I believe that the Democrats will do great damage to our country.”
It's hard to make a case that identity politics are unique to the left when the primary explanation for supporting a controversial candidate is his identity — which is how many Republicans are responding to the Alabama race.
The argument that appealing to one's identity prevents unity already has been dismissed by those who understand that there can be diversity within unity. But the argument is even more difficult to accept when its adherents use it only against their political opponents.
Perhaps using Moore's political identity is a move to unify a party that has experienced much division this year. But it can be challenging to promote unity beyond one's identity group when the main reason for supporting a divisive candidate — who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct and has made disparaging statements about minority groups, such as Muslims and gays — is, “Well, at least he's on my team.”