The Republican Party is trying hard to appear diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. While they can’t do much about the optics of a convention packed with white people, they can control who gets the podium.
Have a look at the list of convention speakers. You have a large number of Latinos, including Ted Cruz, Texas U.S. Senate nominee, Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, and of course, GOP darling Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida. You even have some Asians, with appearances by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida.
GOP leaders recognize that our country is fast becoming a majority minority nation and they need to appeal to people of color, especially growing immigrant communities which will decide the outcome, if not of this year’s elections, certainly of the 2016 race and beyond.
Republicans need to understand that most of us can see through this manufactured and condescending visual. The rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP presidential primaries is still steaming fresh in our minds. Rubio himself admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he agreed with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he said “you can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.”
“Policies matter and, look, the Republican Party does have a challenge,” Rubio said.
The platform they proudly present at the convention is not exactly endearing to us either. While Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the Platform Committee, boasts that the platform “represents the inclusiveness of our party and reaffirms the idea that we are the ‘Big Tent Party,’” many of us see it as the exact opposite, as proof of their propensity to exclude.
The GOP platform pushes for reduction in federal spending, particularly social safety net programs. It advocates for a tax code that shamelessly favors the wealthy. It continues the Republican assault on labor unions. It declares an end to “Obamacare.” It spells out an immigration policy that focuses mainly on law enforcement and opposes any form of reprieve for undocumented immigrants.
The thing is, communities of color which are mostly middle and lower income Americans, rely on safety net programs they pay for with their taxes. These are families and individuals who will not benefit from tax breaks for wealthy Americans who do not need preferential treatment. Labor unions protect the interests of all working Americans. The president’s health care reform law has already benefited millions who would otherwise not have adequate care or any healthcare at all. Are Republicans really so tone deaf to what truly matters to immigrants, their children, and communities?
Shenanigans during the convention are also indicative of the climate that greets people of color when they step into Republican spaces. A couple of attendees threw nuts at an African American camerawoman, explaining “This is how we feed animals.” As Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of the Committee on Permanent Organization, started to speak in her accented English, some in thecrowd started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The attendees who assaulted the camerawomen were promptly ejected and RNC chairman Reince Priebus did call for order and respect for Fonalledas, but none of the bigwigs has come forward to challenge fringe elements in their midst.
On the contrary, Mitt Romney pandered to birthers and nativists in the GOP ranks when he declared “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” while campaigning in Michigan last week.
Eric Liu, former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser for President Clinton and a fellow with the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, writes:
Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer … Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.
Jeb Bush, who has been admonishing his party to ease up on its hardline immigration stance, told The Hill that inclusive language and policies are important symbols which reflect sensitivity for the concerns of communities of color. He also warned that if immigrant communities do not feel welcome, “we’re going to lose elections.” “That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.
Bush’s calculations are spot on. No matter how hard the Republican Party tries, most of us do not feel welcome. Both their words and actions belie their protestations of diversity and inclusivity.
You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.
Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.