Let’s be clear: Whether or not he thought he was being funny, when Rush Limbaugh called out Mississippi’s black voters as “Uncle Toms for Thad,” it was an insult. Full stop.
But what it also reveals, and sadly doesn’t come as much of a surprise at this point, is that the king of conservative talk radio is clueless about the African-American electorate.
Limbaugh actually thought he was making a point when—in response to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s win in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff election over Tea Party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel—he mocked, “I thought it was the worst thing you can do, as an African American, to vote for a Republican—the absolute worst thing that you could do!”
To him, in other words, black Mississippi voters were hypocrites for voting in a GOP primary and tipping the scales in Cochran’s favor. But he’s completely missed the point.
Yes, Mississippi’s black voters are overwhelmingly Democrats—95 percent of whom voted in 2012 to reelect President Barack Obama. But what Limbaugh doesn’t seem to get is that they made a completely rational decision, out of self-interest, to opt for the lesser of two electoral evils, at least as they see it.
In other words, they voted just like everyone else does.
Contrary to the notion that’s gained a lot of traction in the Obama era—that black voters are stuck on the Democratic Party “plantation” and vote only for Democrats out of “straitjacket solidarity”—African Americans, like other voting blocs, vote their interests.
We know, according to the Washington Post, that in Tuesday’s race, “turnout in the 24 counties with a black population of 50 percent or more was up almost 40 percent from the primary,” which was held three weeks earlier—and which McDaniel won. So it’s fairly safe to conclude that in a race decided by a margin of 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, or by around 8,000 votes out of around 360,000 cast, black Democrats made the difference.
And as NBC’s Perry Bacon Jr. reports, the reason, according to Bishop Ronnie Crudup of Jackson, Miss.’s New Horizon Church, is that African-American voters “wanted to take a stand” against McDaniel and the Tea Party platform. It’s also because Cochran made an explicit eleventh hour appeal for African-American support based on “his support for historically black colleges and universities” and his reputation as an appropriator who brings home the bacon for his relatively cash-strapped state.
So, given the choice between a big-government conservative like Cochran and a Tea Partier like McDaniel, who was also forced to try to explain away an unsavory comment from 2006 about slavery reparations, it makes perfect self-interested sense that black voters mobilized for Cochran—particularly since Cochran welcomed the support of black voters for his own self-interested reasons. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes, Cochran’s hook was essentially, “We may not agree on much, but at least you can work with me.”