(The Root) — Little about the GOP candidate appeared to qualify him for the White House as he sweated freely over foreign-policy debate questions Monday night. Clearly ill-suited to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney fidgeted in his chair, fudged his Afghanistan position and, in the cross talk over Iraq, seemed on the verge of proffering another $10,000 bet on whether his position had changed.
Despite losing two of three debates, Romney has going for him a poll-obsessed media keen on a close race sustaining their $2.5 billion flow of TV ads. Plus, he can count on reflexive support from the dominant population backing his party. And what exactly is the makeup of the GOP?
Alas, in this year of our Lord 2012, the Republican Party structurally is 97.9 percent non-African American, fielding only 47 blacks among the 4,411 delegates at its Tampa convention!
With blacks constituting some 13 percent of the electorate, the GOP, win or lose, is likely to register a popular vote that is 99.5 percent non-African American. And this near lily-white party operates in a diverse republic — with a black president, who attracted 43 percent of the white vote in '08.
The pattern is no accident, for the GOP has been heading this way since President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, reconfirming blacks' right to vote as granted by the 15th Amendment 95 years earlier. Repeatedly, blacks are called upon to explain why, other than because of his race, they would vote for Obama (after 128 years of voting for white presidents, including many avowed racists).
Indeed, blacks support President Obama for similar reasons to those stated in the New Yorker magazine's endorsement: "[He] has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds."
That he happens to be African American, of course, is an added value of pride for African Americans.
Seldom, if ever, are whites queried about voting for the candidate of a predominantly white party, who is so shameless a panderer that even ranking party officials are knocked into a quandary over what exactly he believes. So the question arises:
Are whites voting against Obama chiefly because he's black?
The shifty Romney campaign has driven some party loyalists to appeal to the baser instincts of race, especially among the undecided. "Romney is not the perfect candidate," declared Rush Limbaugh, the GOP mouthpiece. "This election isn't about him. He may as well be Elmer Fudd as far as [Republicans] are concerned.
"We're voting against Obama," said Limbaugh, who — as Sen. Mitch McConnell has done in Congress — has fixed as the top GOP goal removing the first black U.S. president from the White House. Such assertions "may have a strong appeal to those who have latent racial motivation," according to a recent Washington University study of some 8,600 voters, 80 percent of them whites.
This refrain, sometimes made with dog whistle, is played by key GOP leaders such as Romney's adviser, former Gov. John Sununu, who called Obama "lazy and detached." Such stereotyping was floated on Facebook just this week by former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who, in criticizing U.S. handling of the Benghazi, Libya, consulate attack, wrote that "President Obama's shuck and jive shtick" must end.
While ideological GOP loyalists cite policy stances on such issues as the economy and health care for supporting their candidate, the Washington University report concluded that among undecided voters, race bias influenced the choice of some 10 percent of white voters, said Anthony Greenwald, a professor who developed the "Implicit Association Test" to measure such attitudes. Among decided voters, he calculated that race bias influenced only 2.4 percent of participants.
"Eligible voters who favored whites over blacks — either consciously or unconsciously — also favored Republican candidates relative to Barack Obama," wrote Molly McElroy about the large-scale WU study by a group of psychologists.
Working with the demographics of the GOP, Romney has kept the faith with his white base. In his appearance before the normally overtly polite NAACP convention, Romney was booed for promising to repeal the signature achievement of the first black president — on day one of his administration! The following day, he suggested that such "Obamacare" supporters simply "want more free stuff from the government," and should not vote for him.
Should such voters take Romney's insult literally, they would likely vote against him 95 percent, much as they did against McCain-Palin, who similarly snubbed black voters.
Unfolding before our very eyes in the upcoming election is something of a racial showdown between an incumbent black president who has enjoyed 43 percent white support and a shifty character from the Republican Party, which is 98 percent white.
Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to The Root.