When David Letterman said that the 10 G.O.P. presidential candidates at an early debate looked like “guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club,” he was the first to correctly call the election.
On Nov. 4, that’s roughly the sole constituency that remained loyal to the party — minus its wealthiest slice, a previously solid G.O.P. stronghold that turned blue this year (in a whopping swing of 34 percentage points). The Republicans lost every region of the country by double digits except the South, which they won by less than double digits (9 points). They took the South only because McCain, who ran roughly even with Obama among whites in every other region, won Southern whites by 38 percentage points. …
The icing on this rancid cake was the race-baiting of Obama and the immigrant bashing by G.O.P. hopefuls who tried to outdo the nativist fringe candidate Tom Tancredo. Yet Republican denial is unabated. In an interview with Palin the weekend before the election, a conservative Wall Street Journal editorialist asked whether “the G.O.P. doesn’t in fact have a perception problem, that it is no longer viewed as a big tent.” A perception problem? Hello — how about a reality problem?
Yet the G.O.P. really does believe that it’s all about perception. That’s why its 2000 convention offered a stage full of break dancers and gospel singers, wildly outnumbering the black delegates in the audience. Bush and Karl Rove regarded diversity as a public-relations issue to be finessed with marketing. Round up some black extras! Sell “compassionate conservatism” by posing Bush incessantly with black schoolchildren! Problem solved!
The 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign Web site even boasted a “Compassion” archive of photos of Bush with black folk, including Colin Powell. McCain used the same playbook this year, when he headed south to emote over Katrina victims and stock his own Web site with pictures depicting his adventures in black America. He had been a no-show in New Orleans during the six months after the hurricane hit, when his presence might have made a difference.
In defeat, the party’s thinking remains unchanged. Its leaders once again believe they can bamboozle the public into thinking they’re the “party of Lincoln” by pushing forward a few minority front men or women. The reason why they are promoting Palin and the recently elected Indian-American governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, as the party’s “future” is not just that they are hard-line social conservatives; they are also the onlyprominent Republican officeholders under 50 who are not white men. The G.O.P. will have to dip down to a former one-term lieutenant governor of Maryland, Michael Steele,to put a black public face on its national committee.