The Daily Kos Research 2000 survey that found a majority or a significant percent of Republicans think president Obama is a Red, foreigner masquerading as an American, is marshmallow soft on terrorism, a racist, thinks Palin would be a better President, and should be booted out of office was hardly the revelation of the ages. Other polls and surveys that surveyed GOP rank and file opinion have found pretty much the same thing. The pundits mock the polls as a kind of what do you expect from a party that is chock full of loony, bigoted, paranoid cranks. A party that for the past two decades has egged on, pandered to, and openly courted a wide assortment of anti-government, frustrated Deep South rednecks.
That's a mistake, a potentially fatal political mistake. The endless pack of conservative bloggers, talk show gabbers, websites, and chatrooms that have made Obama bashing a lucrative growth industry with their endless rants, crude, racist digs, slurs, cartoon depictions has been wildly effective. Polls now show that Obama is the most polarizing president in recent American history. And Americans heap almost as much scorn on Democrats as the GOP for the political bickering, infighting, and paralysis. This is not an accident. The GOP has partly tuned the political tide by re-energizing and reorganizing its oldest and most dependable base, the same white males in the Deep South and the Heartland states who are routinely made the butt of fun and ridicule.
Conservative, lower income white males are the GOP's strength and they did not fade away with Obama's win. The 2008 presidential vote gave ample warning of that. Obama won a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters. But their numbers came nowhere close to being a majority of white votes. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. Overall, Republican rival John McCain, garnered nearly 60 percent of the white vote.
Even this doesn't tell the whole story. Rightwing populism with its mix of xenophobia, loath of government as too liberal, too tax and spend, and too permissive, and its latent bigotry has been the engine that powered two Reagan and Bush White House wins. Scores of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons have twisted and massaged wedge issues to win and hold office and to maintain regional and national political dominance. The GOP grassroots brand of populism has stirred millions operating outside the confines of the GOP mainstream. In 2008 many of these voters stayed home. Even Palin wasn't enough to budge them. Their defection was more a personal and visceral reaction to the bumbles of Bush than a radical and permanent sea change in overall white voter sentiment about Obama, the Democrats, and the GOP. Even if the GOP is, as is widely seen, an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites as polls amusingly like to remind this is still not a demographic to be dismissed. The numbers are huge.
Much has been made since the election that they are a dwindling percent of the electorate, and that Hispanics, 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 forty 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. This ignores three major factors in voting patterns. Elections are almost always won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. They traditionally vote in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks.
More importantly blue collar white male voters can be easily aroused to vote on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts. The GOP simply snatched a page from its standard playbook and turned these emotional drenched issues against Obama and the Democrats. The twist is that the backlash came early in Obama's White House tenure, and the GOP governorship wins in New Jersey, Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts are the results.
Tarring Obama as a tax and big spend, closet socialist is not the only ploy that the GOP has used to drag itself off the political mat and do more than fantasize about seizing back congressional power in 2010. It also banks that pundits will continue to mock the GOP as a washed up fringe party stocked with frustrated bigots and political dregs. That's more than a big mistake; it's a prescription for political disaster.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.