A new Public Policy poll has good news for presidential candidates Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee — in a way — but very bad news for Republican hopefuls in general. And the consequences for the long-term viability of the GOP regarding racial issues could be serious.
The survey of Mississippi Republican primary voters found that Gov. Barbour is the favorite in his home state with 37 percent, followed by Mike Huckabee with 19 percent, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin tied with 10 percent, and Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul trailing behind with single digits. Without Barbour in the race, Huckabee snatches most of Barbour’s supporters.
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Here’s where it gets interesting: 46 percent of these Republican voters believe that interracial marriage should be prohibited by law, while only 40 percent believe it should be legal. The remaining 14 percent just didn’t know. With Barbour in the race, Huckabee and Palin garner more support from those who oppose interracial marriage.
This poll comes only 44 years after the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Jim Crow-era anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial marriages upon penalty of imprisonment. At that time, 16 states still had laws on the books. These laws were similar to legislation enacted under apartheid-era South Africa that forbade whites from marrying or having sexual relations with non-whites, and the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany that banned marriage between “Aryan” Germans and people of Jewish ancestry.
Such laws represent a shameful legacy of oppression, an attempt to keep Americans apart in the name of racial purity, and keep black people down. One would think that in the twenty-first century, the country has moved beyond the criminalization of “race-mixing.” But old habits die hard, even in the midst of conspicuous signs of progress. And in a nation where a majority of people approve of same-sex marriage, other segments of the population are living in the old South.
Meanwhile, a majority of Republicans polled believe President Obama wants to impose Islamic or sharia law, that he is a socialist. Moreover, 51 percent of GOP supporters believe Obama was born in a foreign country. This means that the majority of Republican voters are birthers, conspiracy theorists who believe the president is the illegitimately elected leader of the country because he is not a natural born citizen. Such a development is bound to hurt comparatively moderate candidates such as Mitt Romney.
Both the interracial marriage poll and the anti-Obama birther polls are a part of the Republican Party’s race problem. The former is a manifestation of pure racism and warmed over Jim Crow, while the latter is a proxy for racial animosity. In other words, to say President Obama is foreign-born, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary, is to say he is un-American, that he is not one of “us” and he does not share “our” values.
When conservatives on the fringe —- now apparently a majority of GOP voters — believe that the president is an alien or a Muslim terrorist, they are calling him the “n-word”, without actually uttering a racial epithet. Neither of these political views is legitimate, yet GOP candidates for political office must embrace these views as their own if they want to win over Republican primary voters.
Irrespective of party, primary voters are the most enthusiastic and activist, the most doctrinaire, and the most political. But how did a majority of GOP voters come to embrace these views? Simply put, the tea party hijacked the GOP. With their Southern Strategy, the GOP made racial appeals to white voters, as did segregationist Democrats before them. Both parties had a liberal to moderate wing and a conservative wing. But in recent years, moderates have fled the Republican Party. The result is what we see today.
In this political climate, aspiring political figures such as Donald Trump know that they can question Obama’s birth and make other outrageous — and racially offensive — comments as an effective means to attract attention and increase their popularity among the base. As a result, candidates strive to outdo each other on the crazy scale. This is what they believe the voters want. Obviously, someone thinks it is a winning strategy, which is why conservative lawmakers are introducing legislation to divide people on racial, ethnic and religious lines. Statewide bans on Sharia law, Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation and the movement toward repealing the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship are tantamount to throwing the red meat to the wolves.
Obviously someone thinks the race card is a winning strategy for ultra-conservatives, or they wouldn’t engage in such grimy and cynical politics. But time is not their friend, and demographics are working against them. The new Americans they denigrate and scapegoat — Latino and Asian immigrants, people of more than one race and others — are fueling the nation’s population growth.
And it is highly likely that by the 2020 census, children of color will become the majority of children born in this country. That is already the case in 10 cities and 35 metropolitan areas across the nation, according to the Brookings Institution. It doesn’t take a political guru to realize that pandering to a shrinking pool of segregationists, birthers and teabaggers in an increasingly brown country is a losing proposition.