Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Faces of the Republican Party

It’s not unusual for people to think of the Republicans as a racist party. It’s not an entirely unearned smear against them. Republicans in decades past have performed very poorly against Democrats among ethnic minorities. The skew in preference is most clear in African Americans where often 9 in 10 vote for Democratic candidates over Republicans. The Latino community also slants towards the Democrats to the tune of about two-thirds. According to Pew Research Obama won Hispanics by 67 to 31, which is just slightly above average.

Republicans are well known as the party of old, white men. The reason for this is that older voters, men, and white voters tend to pull the lever next to R more often than D, not by a significant difference, but enough. Until very recently the Republicans in major positions of leadership were all white. However that is changing.

The 1990s had some prominent non-white Republicans on the scene, such as J. C. Watts, an African American from Oklahoma, but I feel the transformation has taken place in the last ten years. The earliest and most prominent name that comes to mind is Bobby Jindal. Jindal was elected as Governor of Louisiana in 2004. Jindal was born in Louisiana to the parents of Indian immigrants. Jindal’s presence on the national stage became greatly underlined as he was repeatedly mentioned as being on the short list for John McCain as Vice-President. He also delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union in 2009, which is a prominent place parties in opposition like to place their rising stars. Jindal is a potential contender for the 2012 Republican nomination for President or Vice-President.

Jindal is a social and economic conservative and possesses all the hallmarks of a 21st century Republican. The fact that he has risen to such prominence with minimal concern of his race in a Deep South state speaks volumes of the present position of the party.

The second major figure that comes to mind on the national stage is Marco Rubio, who is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Florida. Rubio is a Cuban-American, descended from immigrants from the communist dictatorships off the Florida coast. Rubio had a prominent career as a major leader in the Florida legislature. He challenged Republican (now independent) Governor Charlie Crist for the nomination from the right, his campaign succeeded in pushing Crist out of the Republican Party, and now he, Crist and the Democrat are in a three-way race. Rubio has spent time in recent weeks responding to the Republican Party’s reputation amongst Latinos, given that he himself is one.

Rubio’s insurgent right-wing campaign, if successful, will make him a major star in the Republican Party.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in the American Civil War. It has a long and dark racial history. And, for the first time in its history, has a visible minority as the nominee for Governor on the Republican side. Nikki Haley, after being endorsed by Sarah Palin, catapulted into the nomination to win the governorship of the state. The Republicans are heavily favoured to win in South Carolina, and so her nomination almost assures her a place in the Governor’s Mansion, and history.

Nikki Haley is, like Jindal, an Indian-American. Also, like Jindal, she is a Christian, though she was attacked by Republican opponents for being a Muslim. Haley’s campaign reveals two realities in the Republican Party, the old white establishment that has issues with race, and the new face of America, which is increasing not white, and also open to the principals of the free market and family values.

The Republicans aren’t out of the woods yet. The Tea Party folk have employed openly racist rhetoric and imagery against their opponents. Mainstream Republicans realize that their future is in appealing to minority communities as they grow as a proportion of the electorate. Much like the Conservative Party of Canada, unless they diversify their appeal they may be tossed aside in an increasingly multiracial country, but it should not surprise us if the leaders of the Republican Party reflects the population.

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