Commentary: Rallying the R's as electoral strategy

Special to McClatchy NewspapersNovember 1, 2012 

Long before Mitt Romney, and not just for the sake of alliteration, the Republican Party could have been described as the party of the "r's." That's because its base, the core constituencies it has to energize to win elections, all begin with "r." For a long time there were five, but they recently added a sixth.

First, there are the rich. They vote Republican because the GOP favors reducing their taxes as the answer to every problem. They feel that giving anything back to the government is just plain wrong. Even hedge fund managers who make a billion dollars a year think their tax rate is too high even though theirs, like Mitt Romney’s, is lower than that of many middle class families.

Romney says he is going to cut everyone’s taxes by 20 percent and make up all the revenue lost by eliminating the loopholes of the wealthy. Who knew he is secretly the enemy of the rich? Maybe they aren’t paying attention. Or maybe it’s not going to work out that way under President Mitt.

Then there are the rural. They see little need for government and want to be free of its regulations. So they favor the party that sees little need for government except in a few selected areas like handing out agricultural subsidies.

One other area where Republicans see a strong role for government is in making health care decisions for women and determining who can marry. That generally gets them the support of the third “r”, the religious. They buy the idea that government should dictate their brand of morality with a fervor that would embarrass the Taliban.

Then there are the rabid. They see the threat of world government at every turn and their right to buy weapons with no limits as the only defense against it. Fox News commentator Dick Morris has even written a book targeting this market called “Here Come the Black Helicopters.” He claims the title is only used as a metaphor, but those who buy it no doubt have the whine of aircraft that don’t show up on radar in their ears.

Rounding out the traditional five “r’s” are the racists. In the two elections in the 1950s in which Dwight Eisenhower, a moderate Republican, beat Adlai Stevenson, a liberal Democrat, Stevenson carried no states outside the Deep South. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he turned to his aide Bill Moyers and said he had just lost the South for the Democrats for a generation. He was optimistic. Ever since Richard Nixon launched his southern strategy, the GOP has had an iron grip on the South.

The only other thing that has changed since the Democratic Party was the party of choice for racists is the rhetoric. George Wallace once declared, after losing an election to an even bigger racist, that he would never be out-niggered again. Today Republicans rely on dog whistles to communicate with the same audience Wallace was speaking to. The sound isn’t there, but the message is the same.

And Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and the rest can’t stop blowing those whistles. Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, an angry black man, and the food stamp president who wants to put more people on welfare. He won’t show his transcript because he got by thanks to affirmative action. Colin Powell endorsed him only because they share the same skin color. And so it goes.

And finally the most recently added “r” is for rapists. The pitch to that demographic is demonstrated by Republican candidates who talk about legitimate rape, pregnancies resulting from rape being part of god’s plan, the health of the mother being just an all-purpose excuse for an abortion and that fetuses, like corporations, are people too. The candidates sometimes claim they misspoke, but that is what politicians say when they inadvertently reveal what they really think. It just another coded appeal for votes and not simply a callous and complete disregard for the health and rights of women.

Not every Republican falls into any of the six “r’s”. The electoral strategy of the GOP, however, seems based on the hope that those that do show up on election day and give Romney the right to rule the rest of us.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.

McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.

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