Democrats and Republicans Have Mirror Image Race Problems

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On Sunday, Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump about former KKK grand wizard and famous white nationalist David Duke:

“Depending on who the Democrat is” doesn’t seem like a very strong repudiation of Duke, does it? Apparently Trump is still playing footsie with the racists. On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman asked about Trump’s reply to Todd:

And here is longtime Republican policy wonk Avik Roy:

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.

….He expands on this idea: “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights. “[Trump] tapped into something that was latent in the Republican Party and conservative movement — but a lot of people in the conservative movement didn’t notice,” Roy concludes, glumly.

The problem for Republicans is simple to describe: it’s not that their leaders are racist, but that they’ve long tolerated racism in their ranks. They know this perfectly well, and they know that they have to broaden their appeal beyond just whites. But they’re stuck. If they do that—say, by supporting comprehensive immigration reform or easing up on opposition to affirmative action—their white base goes ballistic. In the end, they never make the base-broadening moves that they all know they have to make eventually.

For Democrats, the problem is the mirror image. Bashing Donald Trump and his supporters for their white nationalism helps with their base, but it’s the worst possible way to attract working-class whites who might be attracted to traditional Democratic economic messages. Once you say the word “racism,” the conversation is over. Potentially persuadable voters won’t hear another word you say.

As long as this remains the case, Democrats will routinely win the presidency because their non-white base is growing every year. But Republicans will routinely win the House—and sometimes the Senate—because way more than half of all congressional districts are majority white. Result: endless gridlock.

I wish I knew the answer.

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