The Steele call was really an easy call, indeed the only call to make. This was the only thing the party could do to avoid being shoved to the outer margins of national politics. Steele said as much in his terse acceptance speech when he vowed to make the GOP a party of inclusiveness. That's a word that the GOP forgot how to say, spell, let alone put into any semblance of practice since Bush loudly declared that it was going to be the party's watchword in 2000.
The Steele choice had nothing to do with race guilt, Steele's compelling political charm, or even a panic choice to capitalize on Obama's smash White House win. Steele was chosen for a simple reason. The country's fast changing ethnic vote demographics will spell future doom for a party that's widely perceived as an insular party of nativist bent, Deep South, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. In the decade and a half between Clinton's presidential win in 1992 and Obama's win in 2008, the number of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters soared to nearly one quarter of the nation's electorate. At the same time, blue collar white voters shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters to less than forty percent.
Obama handily won the Hispanic and Asian vote and crushed McCain with the black vote. He split close to even with McCain the votes of college educated whites. In the next four years, the number of non-white and youth voters will continue to climb and the white electorate overall will continue to decline.
Ultra conservative talk show shock jocks and a narrow band of Southern GOP politicians loudly protested that the GOP should resist all talk of reversing political direction and touting diversity and inclusion. Other GOP purists screamed that race should have nothing to do with picking a new RNC chairperson. That would fly in the face of the decades old sacred credo of a color-blind America. This is nothing but PR political bluster.
Race politics has always been a major part of the GOP's political calculus. The Southern Strategy typified that. The strategy was simple; say and do as little as possible about civil rights, talk God, country and patriotism, use racially tinged code words and furiously court white males. The strategy worked like a political charm for four decades. It was the path to the White House for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush. W. Bush, and then political kingpin Karl Rove and RNC chair Ken Mehlman, bought some insurance. They nakedly played the GOP version of the race card and dumped millions into a campaign to court Hispanic and black and Hispanic conservative evangelicals, and younger black business and professionals. It worked in Ohio and Florida. Bush modestly bumped up the percentage of the black vote he got in those must win states. He got more than forty percent of the Hispanic vote and an even bigger percent of the Asian vote nationally. That helped seal the White House for him.
However, it does send the message that a kicking and screaming GOP finally figured that to keep doing political business the old way is a prescription for oblivion. The GOP finally got something right with Steele. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new b ook is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).