Political Party Analysis: Republican 'Whites Only' Strategy Is Recipe for Disaster; Try This Instead (Part 3)

(Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gavels the 2012 Republican National Convention into session during the opening session in Tampa, Florida, August 27, 2012.

The future of the Republican Party looks bleak. With the proportion of non-white voters increasing, demography is working against them. Republicans need an agenda that demonstrates their trust of voters — an agenda that looks to expand, rather than simply mobilize, its base. To do this, Republicans need to show potential supporters that they want them in the voting booth.

Part one of this series pointed out that some Republicans have advocated a "whites only" strategy for winning elections, and explained why that strategy would be disastrous for the party and for the nation. (Part two advised Democrats on what to do about their religion problem.)

Instead of a "whites only" strategy, Republicans should seek to expand their base. They can do this with an "expand democracy" platform.

In many ways, some subtle, others not so subtle, Republicans have been sending messages that they do not want to expand voting. Some Republicans have even opposed National Science Foundation funds for the one academic discipline that conducts the most research on voting and democratic institutions — political science. Republicans cannot expand their base if they are sending a message to certain voters that they do not even want them to vote.

This has not always been the case. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Republicans expanded their base by reaching out to Evangelicals and encouraging them to vote. It was a risky strategy. Evangelicals did not vote in high numbers and mostly voted for Democrats when they did. Additionally, after the Civil War, the Republican Party championed the 15th Amendment, which gave voting rights to former slaves. Blacks were loyal Republican voters for a century after that.

Mobilizing voters based upon racism, on the other hand, has not gone well for Republicans. In the 1960's, Republicans embraced a "Southern Strategy" in which they reached out to white Southern Democrats with a "states rights" argument designed to allow them to continue disenfranchising blacks and excluding blacks from public accomodations.

The strategy worked in the short term by helping move the South from strong Democratic territory to strong Republican territory. In the long term, however, the strategy was a disaster. Fifty years later, many non-whites, especially blacks, remain deeply suspicious of the Republican Party because of their embrace of racist sentiments.

To expunge its racist past, Republicans need a proactive platform that demonstrates to non-whites that they are on their side.

This "expand democracy" platform has six parts:

1. Don't Use Voter ID Laws to Hurt Voters

On the election reform front, Republicans have mostly focused on one issue — voter ID. This is not a bad issue for Republicans. Polls show that strong majorities support requiring voters to have a government-issued ID card. The way some Republicans have tried to implement voter ID requirements, however, appear more aimed at keeping certain voters away from the voting booth than preventing election fraud.

Republicans in Pennsylvania, for instance, passed a voter ID law in March of 2012 that they tried to put into effect in less than seven months. This left little time for voters and election commissioners to prepare for the change. In June of that year, Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made some comments at a state Republican committee meeting that suggested the law was passed more to help Republicans rather than protect the integrity of elections.

"Voter ID," he said, "... is gonna allow [Republican presidential nominee] Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

A judge delayed that law from going into effect before the 2012 election, and in June a state judge struck down the law entirely, arguing it placed an "unreasonable burden" on voting.

As Republicans move forward with voter ID laws, they need to do so in a way that does not harm voters. Rushing a law into effect in order to give your party an advantage is not the way to do that.

Besides providing plenty of time for implementation, Republicans need to make sure that acquiring an ID is easy. In Georgia, for instance, voter ID's are free for anyone who does not already have a state-issued ID and can be obtained at the same place one registers to vote or gets a driver's license.

2. Election Reform

Some Republicans have seemed more interested in rigging the system, rather than appealing to voters, to help them win.

In Wisconsin, for instance, Republicans passed a law that eliminates early voting on the weekends. Since most of those who have to work on the weekends are low wage workers, and low wage workers are more likely to vote Democrat, it is not difficult to figure out the electoral calculations involved in the decision.

There are some legitimate reasons to oppose early voting. (Candidates should have until election day to make their case, for instance). But only partly limiting early voting in a way that hurts particular voters is not the way Republicans should do that. Republicans should show they are for, not against, voting.

In another scheme, this time unsuccessful, Republican strategists in several states sought to apportion electoral college votes by congressional district after the 2012 election. Here again, there are some legitimate reasons to reform the electoral college, but in this instance they only wanted to institute the reform in the states that would help them win a presidential race. The motivation was not to improve Democracy, it was to rig the system.

Alternatively, Republicans can show that they are on voter's sides by simply improving voting. During the 2012 election, 12 years after the Bush vs. Gore election that spotlighted numerous problems with the U.S. election system, there were still a large number of voting irregularities (many in Florida, again).

By leading on the issue of election reform, Republican politicians can show voters they are on their side.

3. Puerto Rico Statehood

Puerto Rico residents are U.S. citizens but do not have the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship because Puerto Rico is not a state. In January 2013, a group of conservatives called on Republicans to support allowing Puerto Rico to become the 51st state. In an interview with The Christian Post at the time, Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, noted that America was founded because England did not recognize the natural rights of its citizens.

"Not only is it not democratic, it goes against the very soul and ideas of the Founding," he noted. "We were created as a republic, not an empire."

Some Republicans worry that if Puerto Rico becomes a state, its residents would vote for Democrats and Democratic representation in Congress would increase. The Republican Party must learn to compete for votes, however, rather than seeking advantages through the rules of the game. Opposing statehood for Puerto Rico residents does not show Puerto Ricans you have their best interests in mind.

4. D.C. Representation

"No taxation without representation," was a one of the rallying cries of the Revolutionary War. Yet, over 600,000 Americans living in Washington, D.C., have no representation in Congress.

The only reason Republicans have for opposing giving representation to D.C. residents is that most of those residents are Democrats. Here again, though, Republicans cannot attract voters to their cause by being opposed to voting.

To compete for the loyalty of voters, Republicans must first earn the right to be heard. Unless they support the right to representation, they have not earned that right.

5. Immigration Reform With a Path to Citizenship

Immigration reform appears unlikely to pass this year. Regardless of whether it happens in or after 2014, immigration reform is inevitable. It is favored by business groups, religious groups, law enforcement groups and, most importantly, a majority of voters.

When immigration reform is passed, Republicans should think carefully about what form it will take, particularly with regard to current unauthorized immigrants. Since the two extreme positions — mass deportation and mass amnesty — are off the table, some type of path to authorized status will likely be included. The current consensus among Republicans appears to be that the reform legislation should include a path to legal status, but not a path to citizenship. That would be a mistake.

(A clarification: The "path" that Republicans are talking about is not amnesty. There would be consequences for breaking the law. And, it would also not be a "special path" that favors those who broke the law over those who did not.)

If, however, an unauthorized immigrant does pay restitution for their crime and is able to gain permission to remain in the country, why, at that point, deny them the full rights of citizenship? Those who live in the United States should be encouraged to participate fully in its democratic institutions. Anyone who believes in the merits of democracy must surely recognize the benefits of allowing legal residents to participate in the political process that affects their communities, states and nation.

Republicans should also think about the message it sends if they support legal status but not citizenship, which includes voting rights. To the immigrants and children of immigrants who are citizens, it sends the message that they are unworthy of the fruits of democracy. This, in turn, harms GOP outreach to those groups.

6. Repair the Voting Rights Act

Last Summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The VRA singled out certain states and voting districts for extra scrutiny due to their history of discrimination. After nearly 50 years, the formula passed in 1965 is no longer valid, the Court ruled.

The Supreme Court made the correct decision. There is no reason to believe that the worst offenders of discrimination against voters today are the same as they were in 1965. It is up to Congress, the Supreme Court said, to fix the VRA. Republicans should take the lead in making sure this happens.

One Republican, James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin, has co-authored compromise legislation with two Democrats, Patrick Leahy, Vermont, and John Conyers, Michigan. Republicans should support Sensenbrenner in his efforts, reach an agreement with Democrats, and show they want to "expand democracy," not restrict it.