Election results show GOP big tent still doesn't include minorities, gays

November 08, 1998|By Paul Delaney

THE BLAME game is in full effect. For sure, the national Republican Party, and some of its branch offices, Maryland included, are in disarray and deep crisis.

Tuesday's elections bore an ill wind so strong that many in the GOP will have trouble comprehending their weakened national position to think rationally about solutions. It is much too early to discern whether the blows suffered have rendered them senseless or maybe will knock some sense into their hard heads.

Reverberations have the sound and feel of aftershocks from an earthquake. The immediate fallout is Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who announced Friday he will not seek re-election to the leadership post. The purge has started.

The GOP leadership miscalculated its congressional election strategies with disastrous consequences for the leaders themselves and the party. It was as though they meant to shoot themselves in the foot and missed, grazing the head instead. One consolation: politics is cyclical.

Republicans' last-minute, misguided impeachment advertising blitz was only a continuation of the anti-Clinton campaign they bullheadedly convinced themselves would win votes and elections. Americans kept telling them to let it go, move on to more important issues.

Fumbling the ball

What the Republicans brought on themselves is stunning. They allowed the Democrats -- in sports parlance -- to get back into the game. They are now energized for the year 2000 presidential elections, and have a clear idea how to do it from lessons learned Tuesday. It was really only old homework.

The GOP allowed the Democrats to pick up governorships in several key states, most importantly in California, and now redistricting will be in their favor and could affect the makeup of Congress as early as the 2002 off-year elections. Democrats could pickup as many as 10 seats in California, a state that has enhanced its power position by moving its primary to an earlier date, and will probably add to its electoral vote total by four, to 58.

Earlier this year, Democrats in the South were considered road kill. Republicans gleefully paraded a host of white Democrats switching to the GOP, where they felt "more comfortable," more at home. Here in Maryland, Ellen Sauerbrey pulled in some former and current Democratic officeholders, though most were deemed sore losers and weren't all that influential.

Now Southern Democrats will occupy the governor's mansions in Alabama and South Carolina. Recent political wisdom had it that Southern white Democrats were a relic and had no chance in a future political landscape. The party was much too aligned with African Americans, it was said.

Alabama was a special case where voters rid themselves of a right-wing buffoon, Fob James Jr., who was considered more than simply an embarrassment, but a real threat to attracting big business to the state. Such a change may be a warning for Gov. Kirk Fordice in neighboring Mississippi next year. He is second to Mr. James as Dixie's royal clown.

The history of the transformation of the Republican Party from that of Abraham Lincoln and friend of blacks to one whose policies are antithetical to nonwhite interests is fascinating. It started with Barry Goldwater conservatism that rejected civil rights and ended up welcoming former Dixiecrats, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina and racists like David Duke. And modern Republicans wonder why they cannot attract black support?

(Oh, let's be honest. They know that. They understand that a whole bunch of their constituents cannot accept nonwhites, cannot rid themselves of their prejudices against racial minorities and gays. A few black people feel successful enough that we can be comfortable with that crowd, but look at the statistics: Most black people shun the GOP, with notable exceptions.)

Race card drawn?

The outcome of the election also has lessons for Republicans in Maryland. For instance, was it really a case of Gov. Parris Glendening playing the "race card" at the end of the campaign, and throwing Ms. Sauerbrey off stride? He aggressively questioned her civil rights record. But, what record was that?

It did not take a reminder by Mr. Glendening or anyone else to know that Ms. Sauerbrey is no friend of civil rights and no real ally of African Americans. That is the case for Maryland HTC Republicans in general, and it will be an issue for any GOP challenger to Sen. Paul Sarbanes in two years. Rep. Bob Ehrlich, mentioned as probable Sarbanes' opponent, is not a civil rights champion either and is likely to be in a similar position as Ms. Sauerbrey and other Republicans when it is time to seek black votes.

What the Republicans do not seem to understand is that identifying with blacks has to begin before the campaign. It means attending functions year-round, appointing nonwhite staff members and getting away from the idea of tokenism (a single black staffer).

Until our condition changes, or until the GOP recognizes that condition and decides to confront it with us, the party will always be in crisis and find it difficult to attract minorities in sizable numbers. With a few exceptions.

Paul Delaney is a Baltimore writer.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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