Romney’s Unsubtle Race-Baiting Campaign Can’t Be Ignored

Bill Scher

There is already plenty of attention being paid to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews telling the Republican Party chair to his face that the Romney campaign is playing the “race card” by running dishonest ads about welfare and making birth certificate jokes.

But Matthews is not alone this morning.

The New York Times’ Tom Edsall meticulously breaks down how the Romney campaign is trying to reach 51% by pitting race against race:

Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare — a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency — in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.

The goal is not to make a legitimate critique, but to portray Obama as willing to give the “undeserving” poor government handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.

The importance to the Romney-Ryan ticket of two overlapping constituencies — whites without college degrees and white Medicare recipients — cannot be overestimated. Romney, continuing the Republican approach of 2010, is banking on a huge turnout among key white segments of the electorate in order to counter Obama’s strengths with minority voters as well as with young and unmarried female voters of all races.

Faced with few if any possibilities of making gains among blacks and Hispanics — whose support for Obama has remained strong — the Romney campaign has no other choice if the goal is to win but to adopt a strategy to drive up white turnout.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, highlighting an anonymous Republican operative’s quote to The Atlantic, also illuminates the Romney race gambit, and argues that if it works, it means the end of Social Security and Medicare as we know it:

The Republican strategist told [The Atlantic’s Ron] Brownstein, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this” — “this” being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election …

This is their last, best chance to win an election in the party’s current demographic and ideological form. Future generations of GOP politicians will have to appeal to nonwhite voters who hold far more liberal views about the role of government than does the party’s current base. The “2012 or never” hypothesis helps explain why a series of Republican candidates, first in the House and most recently at the presidential candidate level, have taken the politically risky step of openly declaring themselves for Paul Ryan’s radical blueprint.

On Medicare, Romney is putting himself forward as the candidate who will outspend Obama, at least when it comes to benefits for people 55 years old and up. Romney will restore the $700 billion in Medicare budget cuts imposed by Obama to its rightful owners — people who are currently old.

He will cut subsidies to the non-elderly people who would get insurance through Obamacare — a program that, Romney’s ads remind older voters, is “NOT FOR YOU.” Romney’s repeated ads on welfare, blaring the brazen lie that Obama has repealed the welfare work requirement, hammer home the same theme. The purpose is to portray Obama as diverting resources from us to them.

The nonwhite share of the electorate is increasing fast enough that the political math of this sort of gambit will grow completely impossible — there will simply be, from the right-wing perspective, too many of them and not enough us. But there may be just enough us to pull out one more win, and thus the Republican determination to make such a win as consequential as possible.

And over at Slate, William Saletan details all the instances where Team Romney speaks in race-baiting code then denies it and blame liberals for oversensitivity:

Everything Romney and his surrogates say about Obama gets treated as some kind of offense. Not understanding America. Not knowing how to be an American. Growing up in Indonesia. Thinking like a foreigner. Declaring war on our religion. Not sharing our values. Not appreciating our Anglo-Saxon heritage. Not investigating Muslims. Not having a trusted birth certificate. It’s gotten to the point where Romney can’t open his mouth without somebody misconstruing his motives. Poor guy.

All of the above is just from this morning! The Romney’s campaign’s general lack of creativity and subtly in making this race play has also made it impossible to miss.

To sum up, instead of offering proposals that independent economists project would create jobs, and instead of ideas that would protect retirement security instead of gutting it, the Romney-Ryan campaign wants to win the votes of the economically distressed by encouraging them to hate someone else.

And because so many commentators can’t avert their eyes to this strategy, bet that Romney is going to have to answer for it. Soon.

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