Republicans Don’t Play Identity Politics

Conservatives have many reasons to be disappointed with the GOP. But here is something they’re mostly getting right. In the Washington Post we read, “The GOP’s identity-politics crisis: Holding race-card aces but loath to play them.”

Juan Rodriguez, a Colombian immigrant and Republican businessman in Des Moines, is on a mission to persuade his employees, nearly all Hispanic Democrats, to elect a president from what they think of as the party of white guys.

This year, with three minorities among the top four GOP contenders, Rodriguez thought he had a shot. “You are against abortion, yes? Against same-sex marriage, yes?” he tells them. “Then you are a Republican!”

“No, no,” comes the response. The workers can’t get past what they hear from some Republican candidates about immigrants and immigration. They respond, in other words, with what many Republicans have long argued — that ethnic identity is not as important as what candidates stand for.

After years of deriding Democrats for dividing Americans into hyphenated subgroups, Republicans face a tantalizing and vexing prospect this year. With two sons of Cuban immigrants, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, joining a famed African American surgeon, Ben Carson, near the top of the polls, they have a unique opportunity to reach out to minorities as the party has long wanted to.

The Washington Post writer seems a bit mystified that Republican resist appealing to ethnic identity. Some wish the Party would do so. But, notably, our three minority candidates for president refuse to appeal to race.

[See also, “Millennials Are Voting GOP (Even Hispanic Ones)]

Rubio, Cruz and Carson avoid emphasizing their ethnicity as a selling point. Rather, they tell their family stories of upward mobility — an effort to connect to a universal American narrative of assimilation rather than what they see as a separatist instinct on the other side of the nation’s ideological divide.

Rubio’s spokesman, Alex ­Conant, said his candidate actively seeks Hispanic votes by doing interviews with Spanish-language media but “he delivers the same message as he does in English. We have a president who for eight years has tried to pit Americans against each other. ­Rubio is more interested in speaking to all Americans, not just to one group.”

Similarly, “Cruz talks about his father’s story, from dishwasher to having a son who’s a candidate for president,” rather than about being Hispanic, said campaign spokesman Rick Tyler. “If the answer is to be the party of identity politics, then we’ll just lose. There’s nothing for us there, because the Democrats will say things we can’t and won’t say about the government giving people things. Instead, we have to show we’re the party of success.”

This is an area where our candidates are clearly sticking to principal. As identity politics gets increasingly insane, hopefully the appeal of basic Conservative ideas will grow as well.