The polling numbers for Donald Trump are looking bad, and Republicans across the party are distancing themselves from his controversial outbursts, whether it be calling Mexicans rapists, or disparaging the Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier. But will Republicans try to avoid another Trump after November if the predictions of impending doom for the GOP come true? The short answer is no, because the GOP has been infected with racism for decades and continues to show no sign of confronting the truth about the voters who put Trump in power to begin with.
Part of the reason that the GOP has no incentive to look racists in the eye and start cultivating minority voters is the tired old argument that Republicans don't really need them to win elections.
In a recent article, New York Times "Upshot" elections analyst Nate Cohn argued that the Latino vote is overrated, and that a legitimate Republican candidate can make up losses in the Latino vote by appealing to white voters.
Is the Latino Vote "Overrated"?
“They’re just not a large enough share of the electorate. They’re a key component of Clinton’s coalition, but they’re small enough that they can be ‘jumped,’ ” stated Cohn about Latino voters.
This is a comforting argument for Republicans, because it reinforces the notion that they are right to ignore Latinos or antagonize them in pursuit of more white voters, meanwhile convincing them that the rising water in the underdecks of the party ship is an illusion.
When asked about the Trump campaign's outreach effort into the Latino community and whether there has been any attempt to rectify his incendiary rhetoric with Latino Republicans, Artemio Muniz, a member of the Latino Conservative Leaders group flat out said, "No".
Muniz, a Hispanic Republican who is not supporting Trump, told me that "so long as he does not understand a need for a change in our immigration system there is no effective outreach by the Trump campaign."
At the local level, Republicans have been able to game the electoral system through gerrymandering and erecting barriers to participation for minorities. In some areas, there currently is no incentive to expand their outreach at the local level.
Yet Republican leaders see the long game, and they know they have a problem with Latinos and other minorities; they said as much after Romney was trounced in 2012.
And months before the 2016 election, there isn’t much the party leadership can do because they are beholden to the angry elements of the party, the ones who put Trump in the driver's seat. It's this loud faction that's hanging on to their ancient values which have been hardwired into the country from the beginning.
Until we confront the racist undertones of the Republican party, the GOP will not change.
But here's the thing, Republicans don't have the luxury of doing nothing. NBC's Mark Murray reported that the latest polls show Clinton leading in battleground states such as Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina. Moreover, whatever post-convention bounce the Clinton campaign got after July seems to be solidifying.
If the numbers hold and Trump continues to train-wreck his way into November, it won’t be a big secret why he was so appealing to Republican voters. Trump was able to touch the exposed nerve of racism that is central to American politics but many still refuse to acknowledge it.
Why Identity Matters, and Why the GOP Doesn't Get It
Even if the GOP fully took responsibility for what the party has become, it doesn’t mean they will be able to fix the problem because the country still has to come to terms with what racism is.
And this is what journalists and pundits don't get about the "math" of American politics amid the discussions of "white" and "Latino" voters.
The reality, and tragedy, is that the two identities — "white" and "Latino" — are different social constructions which have an important political significance. Historically, whiteness has been used interchangeably with American. The Trump voter psychologically equates whiteness with Americanness.
Whiteness is a constricting identity; this means that the importance of whiteness is specifically about who is not white. Historically, whiteness has essentially meant that you are not black, but increasingly it means you are also not "illegal", not a "Muslim", not "Latino", not "gay", etc.
An appeal to whiteness is necessarily limiting because of what whiteness has been defined as in American history.
By contrast, when you appeal to African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT-Americans, and so on, you are doing the exact opposite. Rather than constricting your vision of Americans as with whiteness, you are expanding your reach into a larger tent. In today's demographic reality, appealing to whiteness limits your political calculus, it does not improve it.
In a year where Trump has stripped the façade off the Republican party’s motivations, analysts and pundits have long discussed the forces behind Trump through the prism of "economic anxiety" while straining to avoid the “r word” — racism.
Republicans in California bought into this argument for decades and banked their political futures on it; the disastrous results that followed Prop 187 say it all. Colorado and Virginia Republicans took the same path and it looks like they will face the same fate.
White Voters are Not Monolithic
Like Latinos, the “white vote” is also not monolithic. For instance, there are progressive whites who will not tolerate explicit appeals to whiteness, and single white women for whom any appeal to their racial identity will fall flat under the current Republican program of hostility towards women in the workplace and their reproductive rights.
So what some simply call “white voters” really means white male voters and their dependents, ie. their wives and assorted minority aspirants, or what a prominent Republican calls “white nationalism”.
In an article in Vox, Avik Roy says, “The fact is, today, the Republican coalition has inherited the people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the Southern Democrats who are now Republicans.”
The problem analysts and pundits are ignoring is not a mathematical problem, but a political one.
Two Theories that Explain Trump
Two theories have emerged to explain Donald Trump; the “Hillbilly theory” and “contact theory”.
The first posits that Trump supporters are largely uneducated, unsophisticated racists who are emboldened by Trump’s bravado against Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, etc. “Contact theory” posits that greater contact with diversity makes one less likely to be hostile to it.
So what about Trump voters? Those who are overwhelmingly white, more affluent, and just as educated as other whites have quite literally walled themselves off from the rest of America, and have simply had less contact, through their own volition, with the changing face of America. Their imaginations about the demographic changes in the country have gone wild largely thanks to the encouragement of the Republican party over the last few decades.
These theories are not exclusive, meaning both can be occurring at the same time, and indeed, critical race theorists have written plenty on the racial bond between affluent and poor whites in America. This bond is frankly, the supremacy of white masculinity, but its appeal also has limitations. In fact, James Baldwin claimed that there was no such thing as a “white community” at all, only an alliance of European immigrants who have made a “moral choice”.
This moral choice is the country’s original sin, of course.
But even assuming the GOP is able to succeed, the math is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Philip Bump of the Washington Post summarizes the math problem inherent in a white strategy; the Republicans already get 90 percent of their votes from white voters, but the problem is, as Bump says, "the white vote doesn't go as far as it once did.”
The demographic growth of Latinos is more than just numbers, but about culture. As the Latino vote grows, so does Latino contact with whites, through marriage and everyday social and economic interactions.
Some argue that many Latinos may cease to identify as Latino and internalize whiteness as an alternative, but hostility towards Latinos has the opposite effect, strengthening Latino identity, rather than dissipating it.
Today, one in three Americans live in five states, California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. The politics of identity is changing, and the GOP must atone for the past if they will have any chance at a future in national politics.
This puts Republicans in an existential bind. They can continue to appeal to traditional notions of whiteness, ie. white male superiority. But whiteness is less about what someone is, and more about what someone is not. This means any appeal to whiteness will necessarily seek to define who does not belong to the Republican vision of America, thus turning off wide swaths of voters that don't see themselves in that limited world view.
We already know what that looks like thanks to Donald Trump. Trump has spent a year defining who is not American, and one look at his rallies makes it not only obvious who this appeals to, but also how homogeneous it is. Those still hanging to this world view of white privilege have been constrained by the changing demographics of the country.
The Trump campaign has all the makings of a disaster for the GOP which may reverberate on down the ticket throughout state and local elections, from Arizona to Georgia. This could be a watershed moment for the Republican Party. But the first order of business will be for the Republican Party to look into the mirror and see just how un-American the party has become.