As an attempt to persuade, Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP this morning was an exercise in futility. African Americans are loyal Democratic voters and aren’t particularly interested in an agenda of tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for everyone else. But that wasn’t the point. Romney almost certainly knows that he’ll only win a tiny percentage of black voters in November—at best, he’ll match John McCain's performance in 2008. If current opinion surveys are any indication, it’s more likely that he’ll win fewer African American voters than any Republican in recent history.
The point of this address to the NAACP was to signal to right-leaning, suburban white voters—that Mitt Romney is tolerant and won’t represent the bigots in his party. But there’s a sense in which Romney had it both ways: Not only did he reassure hesitant whites but by pledging to repeal Obamacare—and being booed by the audience—he likely increased his standing with those who do resent African Americans. By going to an audience of black professionals and sticking with his stump speech, Romney, in some sense, might receive credit for refusing to “pander.”
With all of that said, it’s important to emphasize the extent to which black voters share a substantive opposition to the agenda offered by Romney and the Republican Party. Pace right-wing conventional wisdom, African American support for Obama has less to do with the fact that he’s black and everything to do with the fact that he is a Democrat who supports traditional Democratic concerns. The Affordable Care Act, for example, will be a tremendous boon for blacks, who are disproportionately represented among the uninsured. African Americans are more likely to support programs for the poor, less likely to support tax cuts for the rich, and less likely to support attacks on public-sector workers (given that they are overrepresented in public-sector employment).
Simply put, Mitt Romney didn’t attempt to speak to the concerns of the audience; the audience responded accordingly. Buzzfeed captured one particularly brutal reaction: “I believe his vested interests are in white Americans,” said Charlette Stoker Manning, chair of Women in NAACP. “You cannot possibly talk about jobs for black people at the level he’s coming from. He’s talking about entrepreneurship, savings accounts—black people can barely find a way to get back and forth from work.”
It’s a good thing Romney doesn’t actually need to win African American voters, or he would be in trouble.