If they are to regain the White House, Republicans need to win over so-called minority voters. But if they continue to accept an outdated analysis of race and identity in modern America, one that suits the Left more than the Right, then they never will. Instead, they must put forward their own, distinct and holistic vision of a post-racial America, based on liberty, personal responsibility and, above all, treating people as individuals – not bloc identities.
After Mitt Romney’s ill-fated presidential 2012 campaign, there was much talk of the GOP’s need to reach out to ethnic minority voters if it is ever to win back power.
The simple narrative put forward was that a party appealing increasingly to a “white” base would simply fail to win a future majority of the electorate as the proportion of Americans not of predominantly European descent (or at least the appearance of such) moves towards the 50% mark and beyond.
Accordingly, some worthy efforts have followed within the Republican movement: identifying key minority communities in target states, researching the appropriate media and other opinion formers that can reach them, and beginning the process of finding quality candidates among these communities.
Meanwhile, at national level, some within the party establishment think immigration reform is the issue that will win back these voters for the GOP.
They should think again. The sentiment behind some of what is being done may be well meaning. But mimicking the identity politics of the Left is a strategy that is doomed to failure.
In Britain, the Conservative Party tried it after the 2005 General Election – and failed miserably.
At least the very patronising term “minority” was somewhat accurate in their case: they were operating in a European country where, arguably, there was a majority of perhaps 60% of the population of Germano-celtic descent and protestant faith.
America has no such majority today and has not had one for decades.
Modern America is a dynamic blend of people from very diverse European ethnic backgrounds (and faiths) – ranging across British, Italian, Irish, Jewish, Russian, Greek, Albanian, Polish, Lebanese, Serbian – and many, many more; and, of course, also those of Amerindian, African, and Asian descent.
Lumping all those of European ancestry together with the catch-all term “white” is a concept from the early and middle 20th century designed to integrate and unify America’s diverse new immigrants as fully fledged citizens. It achieved that to some extent but at the terrible cost of drawing lines of separation with those of non-European origin – lines that continue to run deep in the American psyche.
Even today’s widely used three-way classification of “white”, “Hispanic” and black” says nothing about the large and rapidly growing populations inside America from the Indian subcontinent, from Eastern Asia, or from far flung parts of South Eastern Europe or North Africa.
Nonetheless, these out of date classifications remain a gift to simplistic rabble rousers of the Left – and, yes, to some extent the Right. They allow the likes of Al Sharpton to continue to talk ridiculously about a “white majority power structure” that is systematically undermining the rights of a persecuted African-American minority.
Whilst, at the other end of the spectrum, the classifications make it possible for the descendants of people who came to America from certain European countries less than 150 years to think of themselves as part of an establishment majority, passing judgement on the descendants of other people who (under coercion) came to America centuries earlier.
So here’s a novel idea for the GOP: why not start to engage with “minorities” by stopping to call them minorities.
Extrapolated to modern America, the dream of the Founding Fathers would be to create a country, not only with all equal under the law, regardless of race or religion. But also one in which people are not relentlessly racially categorised for political advantage.
Language, borders, and culture should remain core tenets of American identity. But biological race never again should be.
By truly grasping these self-evident truths, the Republican Party may lose a lunatic fringe of low information voters wedded to the idea that Americans must be Europeans also.
But by clearly and unambiguously claiming a post-racial vision for an economically dynamic, limited government, free society, it might just reclaim the right to govern the most powerful country on earth.
Brian Cattell is a former Chairman of the Bow Group and a current member of the Group’s Council. He has been involved in politics on both sides of the Atlantic for over 20 years.