Watching the Republican presidential primaries leaves me feeling kind of sorry for the candidates. In their attempts to appeal to minority voters, they’re like a group of Dungeons and Dragons buddies decorating their basement in hopes that the cheerleaders will show up. I’ve got news for you guys: You may get cheered on for telling poor people to shape up and calling Barack Obama the "food-stamp president" at GOP debates, but you’re sorely out of touch with the rest of us.
The 2010 census showed that nonwhites accounted for the majority of growth in this country in the past ten years. Fifty major American cities would be on the decline if it weren’t for Latino and Asian growth, and whites are the minorities in four states. Yet the current crop of Republican nominees consists of five white guys who seem unable to relate to Americans living in a fundamentally different society.
The race and gender of these candidates wouldn’t be such an issue if their platforms also weren't so offensive. Their legislative proposals seem tailored to an ever-shrinking base of religiously conservative, white voters. Republicans more broadly seem little aware that pandering to this group will cost them generations of nonwhite voters.
Take, for starters, Mitt Romney, who is a shoo-in for the nomination after his primary win in New Hampshire. In South Carolina, he's been campaigning with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach by his side. Kobach helped draft the infamous Arizona law SB 1070, which requires local law enforcement to detain people suspected of being illegal immigrants—and use racial profiling. Kobach is also credited as the primary author of Alabama HB 56, which is described as an even "tougher" anti-immigration measure than SB 1070. Since Alabama passed HB 56, thousands of workers have fled the state, leaving crops to rot on the vine and causing hundreds of Latino children to be yanked out of school by their parents for fear that educators, who are required under the new law to inspect students’ immigration status, will turn them in.
Romney has accepted Kobach’s support even though his own father was born in Mexico to American immigrants who were fleeing religious persecution. You'd think Romney were ashamed of it: On the campaign trail, the candidate spoke about his father being born in Mexico at only his last stop in New Hampshire, previously shying away from the impression that his family’s past could make him soft on immigration.
“He comes from a story of such persecution,” Mexican Mormon Julian Le Baron told Univision. “For him to now be persecuting immigrants, to me, is very offensive.”
That’s exactly the kind of lack of human empathy that many minorities perceive from the Republican candidates who oppose immigration reform.
“I think [Romney’s] sticking to his message that he doesn’t support illegal immigration [and] that he supports legal immigration,” said Erika Andiola, a 24-year-old DREAM Act student who spoke to Univision at Romney’s last New Hampshire appearance. “But the thing is that he mentioned that he supports a way for us to come to this country to get opportunities—that this is a country of opportunities. [The DREAM Act] would give thousands of undocumented students in this country opportunity. We’re not looking for anything for free.”
Following Mitt Romney in New Hampshire was Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who came in second with 22.9 percent of the vote. Though most analysts agree that Romney is going to get the Republican nomination, Paul’s libertarian message resonates with Americans who have become more and more economically disenfranchised. Despite Paul’s more progressive stances on foreign military intervention and the war on drugs, his record on race relations is awful. Not only does Paul think that the Civil Rights Act was a bad idea; he vehemently opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and wants to amend the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship.
Then there are Paul’s racist newsletters. Since about 1978, he has published a newsletter that has contained prejudiced remarks about blacks, Jews, and gays. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic describes the newsletters as “a level of bigotry that would be exceptionally difficult for a longtime public figure to hide.” An investigation by the libertarian magazine Reason found that someone else most likely served as the ghostwriter on Paul’s newsletters, but if Paul didn’t know what was being written in the newsletters, he at least knew they were generating more than $1 million a year.
At best, Paul is a shoddy accountant who lends his name to questionable ventures and, at worst, he’s a bigoted conspiracy theorist. In either case, he’s hardly the person to lead the country during such a large demographic and cultural shift.
The remaining Republican candidates will likely be out of the race soon, but they’ve shown plenty of insensitivity of their own. There’s Newt Gingrich’s plan to go to the NAACP convention and encourage blacks to demand paychecks instead of food stamps. In Iowa, Rick Santorum invented a new race, the "blah people," after insisting he didn’t say, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else's money.”
What all of these candidates have in common is an inability to relate to me as a person of color, a woman, and someone who is part of the new majority. Until Republicans show an interest in appreciating "America for America," they’ll remain the party of "no."