Commentary by Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There’s some truth, and much myth, in what the GOP is trying to sell. Fourteen black Republicans received their party's nomination to run for Congress. In the run-up to the election, there was talk that several of these black conservatives had a good chance of winning. It had been more than a decade since two black Republicans, J.C. Watts and Gary Franks, served in Congress at the same time.
In the end, though, just two black GOP hopefuls—Tim Scott in South Carolina and Allen West in Florida—prevailed. Many blacks raged at the Democrats for taking their votes for granted; many privately criticized President Obama for not saying and doing more to address the crisis of unemployment and incarceration in the African-American community. Many blacks out of apathy and indifference did not vote. But of the ones who did go to the polls, the vast majority continued to support Democratic candidates.
On the Latino side, the Senate victory by Marco Rubio in Florida and the gubernatorial wins by Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada, were undeniably impressive. But those candidates did not win solely due to Tea Party backing or their conservative philosophies. Rubio won in a tightly contested, three-way race where black congressman Kendrick Meeks and Republican-turned-independent Charlie Christ split the Democratic and moderate GOP vote. Martinez used the scandal-plagued retiring governor, Bill Richardson, to portray her opponent, Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, as corrupt and scandal-plagued, too. And in Nevada, Sandoval’s Democratic opponent was Rory Reid, son of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Overall, their wins did not represent a significant break nationally by Latino voters with the Democratic Party. Across the U.S., nearly 70 percent of Latinos voted for Democrats—virtually the same percentage as in past national elections. In California, the Latino vote was credited with insuring the victory of all the Democrats on the statewide ballot and the reelection of Senator Barbara Boxer. A Latino backlash against anti-immigrant hardliner Sharron Angle also provided the margin of victory for Harry Reid.
The reason there was no seismic shift among black and Latino voters to the GOP: simple pragmatism. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus are members of the Democratic Party, as are the leaders of the mainstream immigration-rights and civil-rights organizations. Despite their frustration , most blacks and Latinos still look to the Democrats to fight the tough battles for health care, jobs and education, voting rights, and immigration reform. Democrats were the only one who consistently opposed draconian cuts in social services by Reagan, Bush Sr., and W. Bush, as well as the Republicans' retrograde appointments to the Supreme Court and their erosion of affirmative action, civil rights and civil liberties.
Then there's the Republican Party’s long, infuriating history of exclusion, race baiting and immigrant bashing, including insulting “gaffes” and racially loaded campaign ads that mainstream GOP leaders have refused to condemn and sometimes blatantly condoned. Over the past three decades, blacks and Latinos have had plenty of reasons to suspect the GOP is filled with bigots, from recent attempts by House Republicans to prevent renewal of the Voting Rights Act to the party’s support of English-only laws to the Bush administration’s indifference to the plight of black New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.
The Tea Party has done absolutely nothing to dispel these suspicions. Party leaders loudly protest that they should not be judged on the basis of a few race baiters among their ranks. But otherwise they have mostly kept quiet about the mean-spirited actions and the ugly slurs; they certainly haven't drummed the race baiters and bigots out of their movement. Their silence is hardly reassurance that the Tea Party's rage against big government and taxes isn't just a cover for latent bigotry. The midterm wins by black and Latino GOP candidates can’t erase that bitter reality.