[President Bush's] standing invitation to judge his heart shows a man of genuine compassion. But words are not enough. The fact remains that in the period Bush has been talking this talk, he's not been walking the walk - not as far the African American community is concerned. In fact, Bush conducted himself in a way that has apparently eroded his standing among the ethnic group with the greatest claim on the American conscience. Bush got only 8 percent of the black vote in the recent election. That was a bit poorer than what Ronald Reagan got in 1984. He did worse than Bob Dole and worse than his father… But Bush had sought to become a new kind of GOP presidential candidate. He was not going to write off black America. He not only featured speeches by Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell at the convention, but no black child in America was safe from his photo-op hugs. The effort produced what could only be called a magisterial rebuff.
Richard Cohen, Washington Post, 1/23/2001
For trying to win more minority votes, using Democratic-style multiculturalist campaign appeals, President George W. Bush has been widely commended. For failing to win them (only 8% of his votes came from minorities), he has been widely condemned … often by the same commentators. Since the election, Dubya and his nominees like John Ashcroft have been subject nonstop to questioning along the lines of "Have you stopped whipping your slaves yet?"
Dubya brought this on himself and his party. By pinning a big "I Care" button on his breast, Dubya automatically pinned an even bigger "Kick Me" sign on his butt. By campaigning on a theme that said, in effect, "I'm a new kind of Republican - I'm not a racist!" Dubya has only called down ferocious attacks upon his party. In contrast, Ronald Reagan radiated benign neglect and insouciance on the subject of his appeal - or lack thereof - to minority voters, leaving his enemies to gnash their teeth in impotent rage. (And, by the way, Reagan did just as well, if not better, than Dubya did with minority voters.)
The GOP's obsession with minority votes has lead to some strange behavior. Fearing a backlash among minority voters, Republican politicians have fled in horror from the vote winning issues embodied in three recent successful California initiatives:
Instead, Republicans concoct hare-brained schemes like Newt Gingrich's attempt to grant statehood to Puerto Rico in order to win over the fast growing Mexican immigrant population. Since Republicans don't know much about minorities, nobody told Newt that Puerto Ricans aren't immigrants, aren't fast-growing, and aren't Mexicans. Republicans tend to feel that "minorities is minorities." If you do something nice for one group, they'll all appreciate the gesture.
To get out of this trap, it's crucial for Republicans to understand the fundamental fact of racial politics as it's currently played out in national elections: at present, minority votes just don't matter much one way or another for the GOP.
Let's do the math comparing the results of Bush's strategy to Bob Dole's in 1996 Dole didn't mount the same sort of minority-sensitive campaign. Bob Dole doesn't do "sensitive."
For example, Bush drew 35% of the Hispanic vote. Dole got only 21%. However, it's not reasonable to say that Bush's Hispanic-oriented campaigned netted him 14 percentage points more Hispanics. The analytical problem is that Dubya did 7.2 percentage points better overall than Dole (47.9% vs. 40.7%). Dole did worse because Ross Perot's respectable third party showing of 8.4% dragged him down.
Plus, in 1996 Bob Dole was approximately 112 years old and his campaign sorely needed some political Viagra. So the change in Hispanic votes from 1996 to 2000 needs to be adjusted somehow so we can compare the effects of strategies rather than personalities.
The way I'm going to concoct a more apples-to-apples comparison of 1996 to 2000 is to add Dole's and Perot's exit poll numbers together. This creates a putative Right-Center coalition that together netted 49.1% in 1996, just 1.2 percentage points greater than Dubya's numbers. For purposes of creating a 1996 baseline for analyzing Dubya's performance in 2000, it's fairly reasonable to lump Perot's votes with Dole's. Perot's appeal was always greatest to those in the right-center. In 2000, Dubya beat Al Gore 64%-27% among those who had voted for Perot in 1996. Similarly, in 1996, Bill Clinton had won only 22% of those who had voted for Perot in 1992. Finally, Perot always had a tin ear regarding minorities. Recall how he got razzed at the 1992 NAACP convention for referring to the delegates as "you people," then freaked out and went into seclusion for months.
Ultimately, Dole, Perot, and Dubya all did almost equally poorly with nonwhite voters. Dole received got 93% of his votes from whites, Perot 90%, and Dubya came in right between the two. (The 1996 Voter News Service exit poll and the 2000 exit poll are on CNN.com. Also, anyone looking for important data and solid sense on this topic needs to read "How Republicans Can Approach The Minority Vote," by Adam C. Kolasinski on David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com.)
Anyway, feel free to come up with your own analytical system. I strongly doubt that your results will look much different from mine.
What does it all add up to? I come up with Dubya losing 0.14% of the minority vote versus what he would have gotten if he had run an old-fashioned Republican campaign. Your guess may vary. But I'm confident that it wouldn't vary all that much from my conclusion that - from the point of view of winning minority votes - Dubya's multiculturalist campaign turned out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying next to nothing.
Ultimately, Dubya's diversity strategy only makes sense as an appeal to those whites (especially white women) who want to be seen as racially sensitive. In effect, the President is saying, "Hey, I'm not a racist! Look at all these minorities who voted for me! I got a majority of Arabs and Muslims, 41% of Asians, 35% of Hispanics, and … uh, 10% of blacks."
The President's problem is obvious. This list is the reverse of what he needs to raise his stock among these "nice" whites who want to feel morally superior to not-nice whites. Dubya's emphasis on diversity just highlights the facts that:
Indeed, it's hard to think of a way the President could make his ethnic strategy even more unappealing – except possibly announcing that the French love him even more than they love Jerry Lewis.
January 29, 2001