The GOP’s Long, Dark Days Ahead

Republicans continue to show that they’re clueless about people of color.

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swerdjindal

Looking at the radiant Michelle Obama smiling from the covers of every major magazine in America, it’s not hard to imagine that the unquestionably foxy Supriya Jindal could make a very elegant first Indian-American first lady one of these days.

But she’ll never get that chance if her husband doesn’t tighten up his game.

Republicans have rolled out their rising stars of color—Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele—and so far, they have mostly demonstrated that they’re pretty much clueless about how to connect with people of color.

Republicans’ long-term problem isn’t Jindal’s recent decision to oppose the president by signing on to Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” mantra, or that Steele could face a premature vote of no confidence by already-disappointed members of the RNC. Steele badly needed a win in Tuesday’s too-close-to-call special election in New York’s 20th congressional district, just to cancel out last week’s freewheeling CNN interview, wherein he said he’d run for president if “that’s where God wants me to be” and admitted that he’s “done” with “bipartisan crap.” He went on, adding that his recent suite of cringe-inducing interviews was “all strategic” and, of course, tastefully done.

The “elephant” in the room is post-Goldwater Republican reliance on antipathy toward minorities among the hallowed voter demographic known alternatively as Reagan Democrats or “real” Americans. And in the present-day reality of an Obama world, it takes more than a loquacious black dude or true-believing, Indian-American public policy whiz to bootstrap that party into the 21st century.

Jindal and Steele suffer from what might be called the “Condoleezza Conundrum.” They don’t have a core constituency (although she has 170 supporters on Facebook). They’re boxed in by a party looking to branch out on the cheap by putting a few ethnic faces on their marquee, without considering that even when African Americans and Latinos lean to the right on abortion and gay marriage, it doesn’t mean they’re looking for the government to intrude into wombs and bedrooms.

As The Root’s Sophia Nelson reminds us, blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans—frequently devout, and in many instances coming from a striving immigrant perspective—often hold putatively conservative beliefs that are in line with parts of the Republican platform. But this ideological confluence is trumped by the party’s broader message over the long term: That finding a home within the GOP means that people of color should check their unique perspectives at the door.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Obama was questioned for calling himself an African American, rather than a biracial American. In her latest book, Guilty, Ann Coulter wrote that although he is biracial, Obama identifies “simply as ‘black’” in order to “race bait his way to success.” A ridiculous charge, but that, in fact, is exactly what Jindal and Steele have been asked to do.

By not-so-coincidentally choosing Obama’s first few weeks in office as their opportunity to shove forward the nearest camera-ready candidates of color, Republicans have undermined the claims of their own colorblindness and purported emphasis on “the content of our character.”