OPINION

Lessons From 2012: Bush, Trump, Voter Demographics, and the Future of the GOP.

How Donald Trump defied the conventional wisdom of the political mainstream to expand the Republican base.

An April 29th interview between The Dispatch’s Sarah Isgur and Stephen F. Hayes and former President George W. Bush highlighted a common misconception about the future of the conservative movement. In an effort to promote immigration reform, Bush suggested that the GOP needed to do more to broaden its appeal to non-white voters. “I know this—that if the Republican Party stands for exclusivity, you know, used to be country clubs, now evidently it’s white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, then it’s not going to win anything,” he observed.

On its face, such recommendations seem insincere: essentially, betray the policies you would normally support in order to win elections.

Others have echoed the same sentiments within the GOP. “We’ve got to get back to winning elections again, and we have to be able to have a Republican Party that appeals to a broader group of people,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan noted last month on Meet The Press. “The Republican Party must look like the country it wants to represent,” explained former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina a week later on Washington Post Live.

Leftist pundits have made similar observations, suggesting that the GOP’s lack of appeal to minority voters will lead to the death of the party itself. “The Republican Party is not a party of ideas or policies. It is a party of grievance—including phony grievance… The party resides within a dark, nonsensical, racist framework—and there is no sign this is a framework its leaders or its voters wish to cancel,” Mother Jones pundit David Corn wrote this past March, in an autopsy of the 2020 election. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post argued in a February column that:

“As the portion of electorate that was White went from 71% to 67% between 2016 and 2020, Republicans were once again reminded that the diversification of the electorate is bad news for a party that relies so heavily on white grievance. … It will become increasingly difficult for Republicans to suppress enough votes to retain power. At some point, they might consider whether the search for a dwindling electorate is all that helpful for their survival.”

Interestingly, such alarmist talking points exactly mirror the GOP and mainstream media reaction to Mitt Romney’s crushing electoral defeat at the hands of Barack Obama in 2012. In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee (RNC) conducted a full autopsy of their defeat. The 100-page report recommended embracing more inclusive, socially liberal policies such as immigration reform to expand the voting base in future elections:

“We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all. When it comes to social issues, the party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming. If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues … This includes flexibility for allowing candidates to run as Republicans who may break with the party on certain issues, whether economic or social.”

On its face, such recommendations seem insincere: essentially, betray the policies you would normally support in order to win elections. What’s more, the policy changes suggested in the 2012 report have failed to achieve success in subsequent elections.

In 2016, GOP front runners such as John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio embraced pro-amnesty policies to appease Latino voters, only to be handily defeated by Donald Trump. Trump meanwhile, went completely against the RNC policy recommendation and made combating illegal immigration a top priority. Trump went on to win the general election, in shocking fashion, despite controversial remarks about illegal immigrants, women, and Muslims. Most significantly, Trump outperformed Romney with minority voters and, stunningly, built upon this success in the 2020 election, making gains with every demographic except white men.

The siren song of reforming the party platform to appeal to a more diverse voting demographic was, naturally, seductive. Yet Trump resisted this temptation, sticking to his core policies on issues such as immigration, and charted a different course instead: direct outreach to non-white voting blocs.

Vernon Jones.

Vernon Jones.

CHANGE THE OUTREACH STRATEGY, NOT CORE POLICIES

Interestingly, while the 2012 RNC report was completely wrong about its policy recommendations, many of its outreach suggestions were spot on, and Trump followed those recommendations masterfully. “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” the RNC declared, noting how in 2013, “America looked different.” To evolve, Republican candidates must “Promote forward-looking positive policy proposals to Hispanic communities that unite voters, such as the Republican Party’s support for school choice,” they advised. The point was to find genuine places of overlap between conservative policy and the interest of minority voters: “Perhaps no policy demonstrates the depth of our Party’s commitment  to all Americans as strongly as school choice—our promise of “equal opportunity in education” to all children regardless of color, class or origin.”

Unlike his predecessors, Trump willingly went to war against a hostile press, often providing examples of media hypocrisy and contradictions…

Donald Trump placed a strong emphasis on minority outreach in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, not by modifying or compromising his policies but by clearly articulating how his platform benefits minority communities. Perhaps the clearest example of this was in Trump’s 2020 State of the Union Address, where he repeatedly emphasized historically low unemployment rates for minorities, the benefits of Opportunity Zones, school choice, and funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities achieved through his administration.

Another crucial observation in the 2013 RNC report was that “Republicans should develop a more aggressive response to Democrat rhetoric regarding a so-called ‘war on women.’ In 2012, the Republican response to this attack was muddled, and too often, the attack went undefended altogether. We need to actively combat this, better prepare our surrogates, and not stand idly by while the Democrats pigeonhole us using false attacks.” This recommendation was spurred by Romney’s poor performance with female voters following effective attacks from the Democratic Party. The narrative that Romney’s policies were harmful to women was quickly mainstreamed by corporate media: The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon, and other major news organizations echoed the attacks. Romney often had to play defense, deflecting a barrage of media attacks. Once again, Trump took a different approach. Unlike his predecessors, Trump willingly went to war against a hostile press, often providing examples of media hypocrisy and contradictions, a technique later adopted by congressional Republicans during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Trump’s aggressive strategy both undermined trust in the mainstream media and was essential for his resilience against constant negative coverage.

Finally, the RNC report noted that the GOP should “recruit more candidates who come from minority communities.” This is an area in which the GOP has thrived under the leadership of Donald Trump, and it may be critical for the future of the conservative movement. As Trump continued his outreach to minority voters, black Republicans began to play a more prominent role in the national party. This diversity was on full display at the 2020 RNC. The first night of the nominating conference was headlined by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). A host of other black speakers provided memorable speeches: Kim Klacik, a Maryland congressional candidate, Daniel Cameron (Attorney General of Kentucky—the first Republican elected to the office since 1944 and the first African-American attorney general of Kentucky), Hershel Walker (a former football player), Vernon Jones (then a Democrat representative from Georgia), Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), civil rights activist Clarence Henderson, activist Alice Johnson, and others. Hispanic speakers, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, Maximo Alvarez, and Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, also provided powerful moments.

This momentum is continuing into the 2022 election, particularly as a number of high-profile black and Hispanic Republicans are poised to run for various offices.

Predictably, the derogatory term ‘Uncle Tomtrended on Twitter during the RNC, accompanied by the usual media meltdown denigrating conservative minorities. “These white people need some cover, and this year’s RNC is providing it in the form of Black people who support Trump. The Republicans have invited a cadre of professional “Black friends” to validate Donald Trump and make white people feel a little less racist while supporting white supremacy,” argued Elie Mystal of The Nation in response to black speakers at the RNC. Kali Holloway made similar arguments in a Daily Beast editorial: “No GOP event is complete without a few token minorities to absolve the party of its overt race-baiting and appeals to white grievance.” Yet the GOP outreach strategy paid dividends in 2020, sending a record number of Republican women and minorities to Congress, including two black congressmen and six Hispanic representatives.

This momentum is continuing into the 2022 election, particularly as a number of high-profile black and Hispanic Republicans are poised to run for various offices. In Georgia, Vernon Jones, who became a Republican in January 2021 after endorsing Donald Trump for re-election, is running in the GOP gubernatorial primary, while Kelvin King and (potentially) Hershel Walker are running for Senate. In Michigan, Detroit sheriff James Craig and Nigerian-American Austin Chenge are running against governor Gretchen Whitmer, and 39-year-old military veteran and businessman from Farmington Hills, John James, is also considering joining the race.

Other notable Republican candidates either running or contemplating a run in high profile races include Kathy Barnette, Winsome Sears, Mark Moores, Catalina Lauf, Sergio Ortiz, and Jose Castillo; more will likely follow as 2022 draws nearer. There have been promising early electoral signs as well: Republican Javier Villalobos won a June mayoral election in McAllen, Texas, a district that is 85% Hispanic, which Biden had won by 17 points.

Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.

Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.

LEFT-WING RACISM REMAINS A BARRIER

Despite the gains made in recent years, success with voters from underrepresented groups will remain a challenge due to the mainstream media’s hostility towards minority Republicans. Considering the abysmal ratings from Joe Biden’s Congressional address on April 28th, there is a high probability you did not see the GOP response that immediately followed—which was delivered by Sen. Tim Scott. While Scott’s speech has received plaudits in conservative circles, it was the racially-charged responses from left-wing critics that were truly newsworthy.   Much like in response to Scott’s RNC address, “Uncle Tim” immediately trended on Twitter. The attacks did not stop there: Gary O’Connor, a white Democratic Party Chair in Lamar County, Texas, referred to the South Carolina Senator as an “oreo,” another racially charged insult. Tiffany Cross, a host for MSNBC, excoriated Sen. Scott’s speech and suggested that he was only selected because he was a “token” black Republican. Other leftist figures echoed such sentiments, from Jimmy Kimmel to the cast of The View.

Racially-tinged criticisms of African-American Republicans are, sadly, nothing new.

Racially-tinged criticisms of African-American Republicans are, sadly, nothing new. Take, for example, Dr. Ben Carson, an extraordinary neurosurgeon. When he sought the GOP nomination for president in 2016, he was also subjected to the ‘Uncle Tom’ moniker. The insults weren’t limited only to Dr. Carson; his wife, Candy, was subjected to outrageous criticisms focused on her physical appearance. Herman Cain was dubbed the “perfect racist” and a “race minstrel” by pundits during his 2012 presidential campaign, and his tragic death from COVID-19 was quickly politicized by corporate media. Utah representative Burgess Owens was, in April, compared to a KKK member in a disgusting political cartoon for his support of border security measures.

Other GOP figures who frequently face racist insults from the left include Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, podcast host Candace Owens, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, among others. The criticism isn’t limited only to outspoken conservative political figures. Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest running back of all time, beloved for breaking down barriers on and off the football field, has lost all credibility among the woke—for the cardinal sin of supporting Donald Trump. Ditto for Kanye West and Tiger Woods. Indeed, the phenomenon of race-based attacks directed towards black conservatives is so pervasive that it has become the subject of a Larry Elder-produced documentary, Uncle Tom.

Hispanic Trump voters.

Hispanic Trump voters.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The effectiveness of the ‘token black Republican’ line of attack depends entirely on the number of black conservatives on the national stage; the label will soon become obsolete if the GOP continues to increase the number of minority candidates elected at statewide and national levels. Moreover, opportunities for gaining minority voters will continue to increase as the Democratic party moves leftward. For example, Cezar McKnight, a Democrat state senator from South Carolina, drew ire from his party in March for proposing a bill banning gender reassignment surgery for minors. “Black Democrats tend to be more conservative than white progressives… I would not have ever put this bill forward if I didn’t think the people in my district wouldn’t be receptive, and they are.” McKnight noted when discussing the bill with Associated Press reporter Meg Kinnard. In other words, if the Democrat party continues to placate its far-left base, they run a serious risk of alienating more moderate minority voters.

In other words, if the Democrat party continues to placate its far-left base, they run a serious risk of alienating more moderate minority voters.

The left’s hostility towards religion, perhaps most notably through their restrictions on Church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with their willingness to introduce controversial subject matter to children (e.g., pornography, gender identity, drag queen story hour, etc.), may begin to turn off black and Hispanic voters, who on average attend religious services far more frequently than whites. The far left’s attempts to defund the police in the face of skyrocketing crime are also unpopular with minority voters, as are “open border” policies.

The GOP has an opportunity to reach new voting demographics by emphasizing how their policies have traditionally protected religious liberties, promoted moral values, and created safe communities. The Trump presidency demonstrated that the GOP can expand its base, not by compromising on policy, but through effective voter outreach, recruitment of strong candidates, and a willingness to confront dishonesty from the mainstream media. Trump, as he so often does, defied the so-called “conventional wisdom” espoused by many prominent Republicans and pundits alike in the aftermath of 2012 and shocked the world. If the conservative movement follows his roadmap for voter outreach, the political mainstream may be rendered speechless again in 2022 and 2024.

Written By:

J. Allen Cartwright, is a chemical researcher in the energy sector. His interest is in the interplay of politics with cultural and scientific institutions. He can be followed on Parler at @jallencartwright.