Diversity and the GOP
On Monday evening, during the Philadelphia mayoral debate, Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey drew laughter from the audience of about 200 gathered at Temple University when she praised the GOP presidential field for its diversity. The laughter reflected the general understanding that the Republican voter base is more homogenous — older and whiter — than the Democratic voter base, and in a majority Democratic city like Philadelphia, conveyed commentary on Murray Bailey’s perceived political naivité as well as on GOP policies largely perceived to be less friendly to people of color and women.
But Murray Bailey is, of course, right. While both parties’ presidential pool includes women, the Democrats are all white, while the Republicans include an African American, two Latinos and — though he’s fallen out of view and most conversations — a candidate of South Asian heritage, along with the white candidates. Democrats may be loath to admit it, but it means something quite significant that on a national level the GOP better reflects the actual face of America than the Democratic party does.
And it isn’t only at the top. The GOP has more diversity in key positions from which future presidential candidates are usually drawn — governors, senators — than the Democrats do.
After the first televised Democratic debate of the season Jorge Ramos, the veteran Univision and Fusion journalist, asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, about that lack. The DNC chair waved away the question, pointing to President Barack Obama as representative of the party’s diversity.
But despite Wasserman Schultz’s facile dismissal of the concern, any sports aficionado will tell you if you’ve got no bench, you won’t long have game. Particularly if there is a uniformity to each of the players out on the court. Say what you will about the GOP presidential hopefuls team, but it is conformed of individuals of a variety of ages, backgrounds, skills, constituencies, and most significantly, of varied and varying trajectory that has brought each of them into the public sphere and under consideration for the highest office in the nation.
What has often been characterized as the GOP in disarray is really the GOP shifting from the hierarchical top-down mode of handpicking viable politicians for future leadership positions (the longtime paradigm of both political parties) to something much more dynamic and vital — if not grassroots, at least lateralized by the Tea Party conservatives, Libertarians, the GOP’s “care and feeding” of Latino Republicans at local party level.
Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio — all relatively young and strikingly dissimilar from one another — are the candidates produced by that lateral GOP expansion.
The Democratic party should take note. Particularly of Rubio and of what his candidacy says about the future of the Latino vote. Far from being monolithic and securely Democratic, the Latino vote is increasingly nuanced. There are (rightfully, we believe) serious doubts about Rubio’s ability to carry the sizable Mexican-American vote in places like California or Chicago, but Texican voters and Latino voters from other regions of the nation may end up being the crucial Latino swing voters in the 2016 elections anyway, and Rubio has a decided advantage — he is unapologetically Latino. Unapologetic not in the sense of never having faltered or floundered or stumbled (he has, very publicly, in fact), but unapologetic in his own Latinidad.
Affable and bright, Rubio switches easily and without fanfare from English to Spanish and back again. This is not the “hispandering” of Anglo politicians who throw a word or phrase into a speech for effect, but a genuine mainstreaming of the biculturalism and bilingualism that is his reality, his family’s reality, and the reality of a growing number of people in our nation. (Rubio is, in fact, the first person ever to give a nationally televised political address in both English and Spanish.)
Those Latinos who take issue with Rubio’s conservatism cannot take issue with his Latinidad (as they can with Cruz) and this, too, has a diversifying effect on political power structures. Can a bicultural, bilingual Latino politician define mainstream for the GOP? Rubio’s polling numbers argue a yes.
During his recent campaign stop in King of Prussia, Rubio packed the room with 700 or so fundraising contributors. They were, in their majority, according AL DÍA reporter Arturo Varela, people not usually seen at Latino political functions in the Philadelphia area; a variety of age groups; suburban and urban together; mostly white.
There are, from a Latino point of view, several ways to view the peculiarity of that gathering. On the one hand, why weren’t there more Latinos in evidence? Does this lend credence to those who say Latinos won’t vote for Republicans, no matter who, and no matter their Latino bona fides? Or, is it that Rubio is actively redefining what it is to be a Latino candidate in the United States?
For the Democrats, the hope for the upcoming elections probably resides in the former; for Republicans probably the latter.
For Latinos as well, the latter possibility carries weight. Because how many Democratic Latino candidates have we seen that — no matter how fantastic their resumes or how ardent their Latino support — could not break through and get the mainstream to treat them as anything but oddities; the most minor of minority candidates?
Bill Richardson was plagued by that on a national level, and locally Judge Nelson Diaz felt it during the Democratic mayoral primaries earlier this year.
So the laughter when Murray Bailey mentioned the GOP’s presidential candidate diversity at the mayoral debate might have been the derisive hoots of a mostly Democratic audience, but it should have been nervous laughter instead.
Because this time around, diversity may be on the Democrat’s lips, but it’s in the GOP’s DNA.