Is the Supreme Court’s decision to make it easier for states to institute voter ID laws a gift to the center left? So argues Ross Douthat, who points out that while voter IDs do not seem to have driven down voting by nonwhites in 2012, there is reason to think that the left can use them to rally public opinion against the return of Jim Crow-type disenfranchisement.
There is a reason why Democrats and their allies would like to fight for the votes of African Americans and Latinos on the basis of preventing the return of Jim Crow. A post-Obama politics based on tax policy, size of government issues, and incremental abortion restrictions would present Republicans with an opportunity to win more votes among nonwhites. Democrats and their allies would obviously like to prevent that from happening.
We often hear how African Americans and Latinos skew left-of-center in their policy preferences. That is true, but it obscures a major complication: The Democratic margins of victory among African Americans and Latinos are larger than the support for Democratic policies within those populations.
Thirty-two percent of African Americans and 40 percent of Latinos agreed with the statement "Government is providing too many social services that should be left to religious groups and private charities." Thirty-six percent of African-Americans and a larger percentage of Latinos support banning most abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy.
While it’s regrettable that majorities of African-Americans and Latinos disagree with the consensus conservative position on these issues, things look more encouraging when one recalls that Mitt Romney won 6 percent of the African-American vote and 27 percent of the Latino vote. If Republicans could polarize voting on those issues, Republicans would make significant inroads among nonwhite voters even if they made no converts on policy.
Of course it is not that simple. Voting is not just about whether government crowds out intermediary institutions or when and how abortion should be restricted. It is also about what side you are on. That is why it is important for Democrats to paint Republicans and conservatives as supporters of white supremacy. The point is not whether Republicans will actually prevent African Americans and Latinos from voting; the point is to portray Republicans as spiritual sympathizers with Jim Crow.
Such slanderous campaigns against Republicans are effective partly because African Americans and Latinos are less likely to consume right-leaning media, and so they are less likely to hear Republican perspectives described sympathetically. But even though a better Republican media strategy is necessary, it would not be sufficient. If Republicans want to do better among right-leaning nonwhites, they have to become a different right-leaning party.
Part of the Republican party's problem with nonwhites is how Republicans talk about issues. That right-leaning fraction of nonwhite votes can't reject the abortion radicalism of the Democrats if they never hear about it—and nonwhite voters who don't consume much right-leaning media won't hear about it from liberal-leaning journalists. The refusal of Republicans and their allies among the outside groups to invest in discussing incremental abortion restrictions meant that the Democrats—whose presidential candidate opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act and lied about it—seemed like the more prudent party on abortion.
But it isn't just a problem of emphasis. Republicans have a real agenda problem when it comes to talking to even right-leaning nonwhites. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote, "the Republican party’s yawning minorities deficit is also an example of what happens when you don’t have an agenda that directly addresses lower-middle [class] people’s day-to-day concerns and try to make it up with cultural appeals" [emphases in the original].
One can be for a combination of spending restraint and tax cuts, but still oppose proposals for tax cuts that would go overwhelmingly to high-earners. One can think the government does too much and still believe that middle-class families have legitimate worries about rising premiums and losing access to health care. It is this lack of a middle-class agenda that is so poisonous for Republicans. The absence of a relevant middle-class agenda makes it easier for Democrats to portray Republicans as the party of both high-earner selfishness and white resentment.
The Republican establishment's approach to winning over nonwhites involves trying to find common ground between business and left-leaning lobbies. The Gang of Eight immigration bill can be seen as an example of this kind of outreach. The Gang of Eight plan involves amnesty and low-skill guest worker programs while enforcement is put off into the future (or perhaps never.) The Republican establishment acts as the broker between the Chamber of Commerce and La Raza.
This approach can't solve the Republican problem with nonwhites. The Republicans cannot win a contest over who is more favorable to increased low-skill immigration. Too many rank-and-file Republican voters are against it. Republicans can't be the welcoming party and want to bring in low-skill guest workers who face deportation if they lose their jobs. Republicans can't be the party of opportunity even as they try to drive down the wages of low-skill workers.
Republicans can be the party of the aspiring middle and working classes. They can be the party that restrains government spending while offering substantial tax cuts to middle-class parents. They can be the party that opposes government-run health care while proposing more stable and affordable health insurance coverage. Republicans could meet Democratic slanders with real-life benefits rather than clichés about the business owners who "built that."
Such a Republican party would not win outright majorities among African Americans and Latinos in the foreseeable future. But it would have a chance to win over some of those African Americans and Latinos who already have a center-right policy orientation, but who have never heard a relevant Republican message. And who knows, Republicans might even make some converts.