Why the GOP presidential candidates talk race (in code)

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 1/24/2012, 3:56 p.m.

Why the GOP presidential candidates talk race (in code)

South Carolina Democratic Congressman James Clyburn lambasted the GOP presidential candidates for talking race in code. There’s plenty of ammunition for the attack with the stream of race-tinged references Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney made to food stamps, welfare, work ethics and an entitlement society.

Then there are the racially loaded newsletters from Ron Paul that resurfaced. The candidates when challenged have ducked, dodged and denied any racial intent, or in the case of Paul’s newsletter, that he even penned them. The denials seem plausible only because the GOP presidential candidates have made it a practiced art of saying absolutely nothing on the campaign trail about discrimination, poverty and the gaping racial health care and educational disparities.

They are even muter in denouncing the nonstop barrage of racist taunts, digs, slurs, depictions of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama by some Tea Party leaders and GOP elected officials.

GOP presidential candidates for the past three decades have crunched the voter numbers and the stats. The GOP base is the white South and the Heartland. They deliver more than one-third of the electoral votes needed to bag the White House. These are also the voters that GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., George W. Bush and John McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons, banked on for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance.

They haven’t disappointed them. Racial code talk has been a key weapon in the GOP’s campaign arsenal. It has been the spark to reignite the GOP’s traditional conservative, lower income, white male loyalists.

The final presidential vote in 2008 gave ample warning of the potency of the GOP’s conservative white constituency when aroused. While Obama made a major breakthrough in winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters, McCain still won a majority of their vote.

Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. In South Carolina and other Deep South states the vote was even more lopsided among white voters against Obama. The only thing that even made Obama’s showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. They were all Democratic votes.

McCain would not have been as competitive as he was during campaign 2008 without the bailout from white male voters. Much has been made since then that they are a dwindling percent of the electorate, and that Hispanic, Asian, black, young, and women voters will permanently tip the balance of political power to the Democrats in coming national elections.

Blue collar white voters have shrunk from more than half of the nation’s voters to less than 40 percent. The assumption based solely on this slide and the increased minority population numbers and regional demographic changes is that the GOP’s white vote strategy is doomed to fail.