Politics

01.22.14

GOP Strategists to Party: Hug More Brown Kids

For this year’s minority “outreach,” Republican strategists are urging the party to adopt “school choice.” But it’s less for the substance, and more for the photo ops.

Between the terrible rhetoric on women’s health, immigration reform, marriage equality, and poverty, the GOP’s “rebranding” effort isn’t going well. But that doesn’t mean the party hasn’t stopped trying! As POLITICO reports, Republicans now see school choice as an issue that will help them connect with minority voters. Here’s more:

Talking about helping poor minority children softens the GOP’s image and lets candidates offer a positive vision instead of forever going on the attack. And unlike immigration reform, school choice is politically safe; there’s no chance of blowback from the tea party.

Of course, good rhetoric isn’t quite enough for the GOP. if black and Latino voters are suspicious of Republicans, it’s not because they haven’t heard the right words, it’s because, to these groups, GOP politicians have long pursued policies that hurt their interests, from cutting federal benefits to—more recently—fighting a relentless campaign to end universal health coverage. And this is to say nothing of election strategies that hinged on racial resentment. Indeed, with this kind of tension, Republicans will need more than just “school choice” to build a connection between them and minority communities.

With that said, Republicans should be fine if they have a genuine interest in building that connection, and having it for its own sake. But even that’s an open question, since, as POLITICO notes, GOP outreach might have more to do with assuaging the concerns of white voters than it does with helping minorities:

“It allows Republicans to be positive, and different from how they are normally perceived,” said Matthew Dowd, a political strategist and the architect of George W. Bush’s 2004 victory. “Republicans are often seen as supporting policies that help a certain class of voters,” Dowd said. “Here, we have policies that provide opportunity for everyone, especially low-income voters.”

Even if minority voters aren’t entirely won over, Dowd said, GOP candidates still benefit from talking up school choice: “It gives the message to moderate white suburban voters that they’re tolerant, they’re expansive — they care.”

More cynical than this is the note from FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, about the photo opportunities that come with minority outreach: “Focus on kids and the future = excellent media opportunity,” says a line from the group’s “strategic planning document.”

In fairness, given the GOP’s reliance on white voters, this is sound advice. Still, it’s incredibly cynical to pitch minority outreach as a chance to take the kinds of photos you usually see on the Facebook page of a well-meaning college student. Not that it would stop Republicans from taking this advice to heart.

In other words, don’t be surprised if—as the 2014 election approaches—you see a lot more photos of white Republicans surrounded by smiling groups of brown and black children.