GOP Florida Representative Allen West's shoot from the lip, borderline crackpot quips, digs, and insults at women, blacks, Democrats, and especially President Obama have become the virtual stuff of legend. West always manages to grab headline attention every time he moves his lips to take his off-beat, and off color shots. This is not just a case of a politician that clinically craves attention, or of a sound beat driven, titillation media that hungrily eats up anything that a colorful politician like West verbally dishes out.
There's method here. The method was strongly hinted at by Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus when he staunchly defended West for his latest over the top sound off against Obama in which he charged that Obama wants to turn Americans into his "economic slaves." The last thing that Priebus or any other GOP top cat would do is chastise West. He serves two well-worn purposes for the GOP. West's media attention grabbing digs don't simply get attention for West. They get attention for the GOP. While they are zany, they also touch a deep, dark, and throbbing pulse among legions of ultra-conservatives who think that Obama and many Democrats are communists, gays are immoral, and that the health care reform law is a form of behavior modification. These are all recent West assertions. Mainstream GOP leaders can't utter these inanities. They must always give appearance that they are above the dirt, mud, and hate slinging fray. West can do their verbal mugging of Obama, Democrats, and minorities while they keep their hands clean. But that's only part of West's value to the GOP.
GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney and dozens of GOP candidates that seek to oust perceived vulnerable Democrats from House and Senate seats can't win in November without firing up their base. This means ultra-conservatives and conservative Christian evangelicals must mass march to the polls. To ignite the march, it's not enough to simply pound Obama and the Democrats on health care reform, immigration, alleged big government intrusion, and tax and spend profligacy. There has to be a hype charged emotional edge to rally the bug numbers the GOP needs to win. In 2008, GOP presidential contender John McCain gambled that Sarah Palin could provide the spark needed to inflame ultra-conservatives. She might have if she had possessed an ounce of political savvy, preparation, and respectability. She had none of those things and while she did fire up many conservatives, and provide endless SNL fodder for comics and pundits, the numbers she drew to the GOP presidential ticket were more than offset by centrist independents who fled to Obama at the horror of her being one heart beat from the presidency.
Romney won't make that mistake and pick someone with even the scintilla of political risk and baggage. But the same below the belt hit points that the GOP has turned into a fine art are still very much a part of the party's attack arsenal. The attack will be delivered by surrogates. West proves his value here.
GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, and McCain and packs of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons banked on subtle race and character attacks for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance. The strategy worked like a political charm for four decades. But even that might be enough this election
The GOP is an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. That's not a demographic to be totally sneered at, because the numbers are still huge. But the number of voters who don't fit that demographic is even bigger and are fast changing.
In the past decade the number of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American voters has leaped 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. Since then the number of potential non-white and youth voters has continued to climb and the white electorate has marginally dropped.
Romney will make a few half hearted, token mostly photo-op appearances before black audiences such as the NAACP and carefully selected African-American groups during the campaign. But he knows that the black vote is a hopelessly lost cause for him. But West is an African-American. Though he has zero appeal to African-American voters, he can't easily be written off as a bigoted demagogue. This has added value for the GOP since it allows the GOP to back pat West and if need be shout down anyone as a racist who pummels West for his idiotic remarks.
West will command more media and party visibility during the presidential campaign. Far from being an embarrassment to the GOP, he'll remain their lightening rod to say what many in the GOP think but can't. That's the method to West's madness.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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