There’s no getting around it. Racism will be a central part of the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections. Yes, Democrats already tend to inject race into every election season by labeling their Republican opposition as drooling bigots who hate anyone with excessive melanin levels.
But this time, it will be different.
For the first time, Republicans will also be making race a central issue, and it just might work as long as they play their cards right. Politico’s David Siders wrote a piece in which he detailed the GOP’s plan to counter the Democrats’ ongoing narrative about racism in America. He noted that during the Family Leadership Summit, Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem repeated the “America is not a racist country” theme “in one form or another” during their speeches.
Bob Heckman, a Republican consultant, told Politico that he believes that campaigning on the idea that America is not an inherently racist nation will be an effective way to win over voters – especially those who are alienated by the Democrats’ tendency to hyperfocus on racism. He said:
“It’s a winning issue with independents, and it’s good for the base, but I really think rank-and-file American voters who are in the middle, whether you’re center-left, center-right, suburban votes, parents, I think they all feel like America’s not a racist nation, critical race theory is being shoved down everybody’s throat.”
He continued, pointing out that “this is a case of the Democrats going way too far, and I think it’s a very effective issue.”
According to Sider:
The salience of hitting Democrats on the subject of race was discussed privately by GOP strategists on the sidelines of a Republican National Committee dinner in California last month, and again at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association last week in Aspen, Colo., according to multiple people who attended those events.
At the conference, Republican strategists discussed the potential efficacy of the “America is not a racist country” mantra in detail. They looked to polling data in battleground states, showing that the “white Americans are inherently racist” trope is not resonating with voters.
However, the author notes that there might be a level of risk in this strategy. He points out that “recent polls suggest majorities of Americans believe discrimination exists in America” and that “more voters trusted Biden than Donald Trump to handle race relations’ last year.
At least some Democrats seem to have realized that taking radical stances on racial issues is a losing strategy. After Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said that “America is not a racist country” in his rebuttal to President Biden’s quasi-state of the union address, both the president and Vice President Kamala Harris echoed his sentiments despite being pilloried by the far left.
It appears that the Republicans might be on the right track with this messaging strategy despite the risks that Siders points out. An area of concern would be the reality that the GOP and the conservative movement have been particularly inept at addressing racial matters, preferring to shy away from the conversation instead of engaging honestly on the topic.
For the Republicans’ messaging to appeal to the rest of America, it cannot downplay the existence of racism and expect to be taken seriously by the masses. They must realize that it is possible to acknowledge that racism has some impact without turning into Al Sharpton or Shaun King. The right can aver that racism does exist in America, but it is not the central part of the nation’s identity, nor is it the sole factor determining the quality of life in which many minorities live.
A message that simply represents the polar opposite of whatever the left is saying is doomed to a well-deserved failure. If most of the country can see that racism is a problem to be addressed, trying to convince them otherwise is just as foolish a strategy as trying to convince them that Neo-Nazis are hiding behind every tree with ropes looking for black people to lynch.
Instead, Republicans should position themselves as the adults in the room. They must be willing to proffer authentic conservative solutions to issues related to racial disparities in income, wealth, and education instead of only talking about how the left is wrong. If the GOP wishes to peel off more black and brown voters, it will need to completely overhaul its messaging strategy when it comes to racial issues. If not, they could be sacrificing a long-term benefit for a short-term victory.