In just four years, U.S. presidential politics has gone from “the black guy can’t win” to “only the black guy can win.”
Barack Obama disproved the first notion with his victory in 2008, but Mitt Romney and his few loyal minions are now pushing the second.
Their version of recent history is simple: Mitt Romney did not lose because of any lack of personal attributes or campaign skills. He did not lose because of any of his protect-the-rich, sneer-at-the-middle-class policies. He did not lose because his campaign failed miserably at its most basic function, turning out the vote.
No, none of that mattered. Romney lost, according to Romney, because a secret was kept from him. A trap was sprung on him at the last moment: Black people can vote! Hispanic people can vote! Young people can vote!
Hoards of these people have been living among us for decades, their numbers ever increasing. Strictly speaking, this has not happened in secret. Strictly speaking, the increased voting power of minorities has been tracked and written about for years and brought to the attention of the Republican Party by Republican strategists at least a dozen years ago.
Still, it was a shock. And vastly unfair. As Ashley Parker of The New York Times reported, Romney summed up the reason for his loss to his fundraisers and donors shortly after Election Day. Obama had followed what Romney called the “old playbook” of seeking votes from specific interest groups, “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
And, in each case, Romney said, the Obama people “were very generous in what they gave to those groups.”
It was bribery, pure and simple.
Mitt, on the other hand, felt compelled by his strict upbringing to stick to the high road “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”
The “and so forth” included tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, which was also part of Mitt’s strict upbringing.
So when you get right down to it, Mitt had no chance, even though he and his supporters raised a billion dollars and campaigned for years. Obama was a minority, he promised stuff to minorities, and so he won. Simple as that.
Unfortunately, this is more than sour grapes. It is another attempt to delegitimize Obama. The first attempt was the “birther” movement, which tried to make his 2008 victory illegitimate by claiming Obama had not been born in the United States. (That in 2012 Romney warmly and publicly embraced Donald Trump, the most high-profile person to question Obama’s birthplace, speaks for itself.)
But birtherism failed to catch on. And now it has been replaced with the theory of “racial destiny”: Obama was born a minority and so minorities (and anyone else who can be easily bribed) will vote for him. Simple as that.
This was the message of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks. They are worth repeating for what they reveal about how the Republican Party currently looks at America:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney said. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”
The key phrases, used twice in four sentences, is “no matter what.” Destiny itself is against the Republicans.
How could Romney defeat Obama’s black skin? How could he defeat Obama’s appeal to “victims” who believe government has a “responsibility” to keep them from starving in the street, living in gutters or dying of tuberculosis?
It is not fair. Romney was cursed with white skin, a rich and powerful father, the best education money could buy, and numerous cars, houses, boats, and offshore bank accounts. Life can be so cruel.
Some might say that the job of the Republican Party in the next four years would be to develop a message that attracted minorities, the young and the 47 percent. This is far from impossible.
As Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod said: “The Republican Party has some soul-searching to do. They have to deal with America as it is.”
Wrong! says Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens. The Republicans don’t have to change because there will not be a Minority Messiah on the Democratic ticket in 2016.
Obama “was a charismatic African-American president with a billion dollars, no primary and media that often felt morally conflicted about being critical. How easy is that to replicate?” Steven recently wrote in The Washington Post.
Stevens is probably right. No African American candidate, let alone one the media will be “morally conflicted” about (and who knew the media had morals to be conflicted about?) is likely to emerge in the next four years.
Under this theory, the Republicans do not have to do anything differently. Instead of meeting the challenge of demographic changes in America, instead of persuading minorities that conservative values should be their values, instead of demonstrating that the Republican Party has something to offer all Americans and not just well-off, white Americans, the party can just sit on its butt and wait for victory to fall into its lap.
I have a feeling this will not work, however. I have a feeling that unless it wants to become a regional party, winning only a shrinking number of Western and Southern states, the Republicans will have to react dynamically to a new America.
This is not bribery. This is coalition-building. This is democracy. And maybe the Republicans should give it a whirl.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.