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Romney chooses whites-only election strategy

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Smart v. Stupid

Romney chooses whites-only election strategy

  • Original photo Smithsonian Institutution

The signals from the past two weeks are unmistakable. Mitt Romney has settled on a whites-only strategy for winning the White House. Demographically, he can still do that. Euro-whites are 66% of all registered voters. But he’ll have to walk the fine line of racial pandering and denying it. Americans no longer elect overt racists.

In any case, a whites-only strategy means Romney must run an unseemly and distasteful campaign. He began it with a visit to a charter school in Philadelphia, a city known for both its cheesesteaks and its endemic black culture. Billed by the campaign as a reach out to the black community, the speech was actually used to hector black people about perceived failings. In reality, this kind of speech is aimed at some white people. It was nearly the worst speech Romney could have given if he’d actually wanted to court the black vote. But by itself, it was not quite a clear signal of an emerging whites-only strategy.

In hindsight, it would turn out to be the beginning of a week long, five-part roll out.

Any single-race strategy relies on fear. Some white voters believe a change of status is coming and they are afraid. Mostly, these are voters who are not racially discriminatory in daily word or deed. They fear becoming a minority for what they have seen it entails. They assume that contemporary people of color will behave just as badly as their own granddaddies did. So they can be convinced to vote along color lines. Call this “racialism”—something truly sad, but something a lot less loathsome than racism.

Still, whites-only remains a high risk strategy for Romney, because it also requires reduced turnout from non-whites. Last time whites were only 47% of actual voters—not a winning slice. In order for whites-only to prevail, a third party candidate would be helpful. Barring that, a race-biased voter suppression plan would be necessary. Oh…

If the Philly visit wasn’t clear evidence, the three-day birther wallow that was Trump Week surely was. On Day 1, the campaign made a lukewarm attempt to distance itself from birtherism—while at the same time releasing Romney’s birth certificate. It was never made clear why, since no one had asked for it. So part two was to crack open the door.

Just 48 hours and five more coincidences later, it would become crystal clear. For the rest of the day, Trump made every cable appearance his people could book while the Romney campaign pretended to wring their hands. Romney deplaned in front of Trump's gaudy brand while the campaign pretended it was “unfortunate.” Part 3 was to associate.

The next day, the three stooges of the Republican Party, Trump as Moe, Romney as Larry, and Newt Gingrich as Curly, held their much-publicized dinner in Las Vegas. The event itself—it turns out—was low-news and simply the pretext for all the rest.

Afterwards, when reporters asked Romney about Trump and birtherism, he mused, “I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.” Part 4 was to legitimize. Hey birthers, you’re good people and you’re welcome on the Romney team, just like Donald Trump!

Lastly, Newt Gingrich, still grinning like Curly, made the cable rounds to wink and talk about what a “good guy” Donald Trump is.

While the press opined that Romney had lost his message to Trump, Romney was able to double down on his Philadelphia dog-whistle and drive three days of birther meme. He had signaled birthers that they were welcome in his 50.1 percent tent. The whole thing had a Lee Atwater-evolved Southern Strategy feel to it, brilliant but sickening. And Romney enjoyed a noticeable bump in the daily tracking polls.

On the last day, Romney spoke what he claimed was a constituent quote,

“I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.”

Part 5 was a thinly veiled attempt to keep “birthplace” in the news. And with that, Romney’s whites-only strategy became impossible to explain away. He’d owned it.

No matter what contortions one uses to explain it, Birtherism is simply an election strategy used by one party to court voters of one race. Romney could win with a whites-only and voter-suppression strategy, but this is probably the last election where that will be possible. Euro-white citizens do themselves (and their children) no service by using their declining majority to elect racial opportunists. The self-fulfilling tragedy of this kind of self-inflicted wound is boundless.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

And with that, Romney’s whites-only strategy became impossible to explain away. He’d owned it.

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