The GOP has a new strategy for turning African Americans into Republicans. Mostly, it focuses on proving that some African Americans already are Republicans. In Michigan, the GOP recently hired an African-American talk-show host to serve as “director of African-American engagement.” For Black History Month, the RNC is airing commercials that “share the remarkable stories of Black Republicans.” Last March, in its “autopsy” examining why Mitt Romney lost, the RNC presented a 10-point plan for winning more Black votes. None of the 10 involved policy. Five of them involved recruiting more African-American staffers, spokespeople, and candidates.
There’s an irony here. When bashing Democrats, Republicans often decry identity politics. They deride liberals for treating people as members of racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual groups rather as individuals. “I am sick and tired of hyphenated Americans,” declared Rush Limbaugh a few years ago. “It's bullshit. We all want the same things.” But when it comes to winning the votes of African Americans, that goes out the window and the GOP decides that what really matters to Black people is not the ideas Republicans espouse but the skin color of the Republicans espousing them.
That’s empirically false. As Nia-Malika Henderson recently pointed out, the biggest factor determining whether African Americans vote Republican isn’t a candidate’s race. It’s his or her views. In 2006, for instance, conservative Black Republican Ken Blackwell won 20 percent of the African-American vote in his campaign for governor of Ohio. In 1994, by contrast, a White Republican candidate for the same office, George Voinovich, won 42 percent of the Black vote, largely because as mayor of Cleveland he had pursued policies—like desegregating the city’s police force—that African Americans liked.
But there’s a deeper problem with the GOP push to increase the number of Blacks who vote Republican: It coincides with a GOP push to decrease the number of Blacks who vote at all. Over the last few years, Republicans have pushed an avalanche of voter-identification and registration laws that disproportionately prevent African Americans from exercising the franchise. Since 2011, state legislatures in 14 states (11 of them entirely controlled by Republicans and only one entirely controlled by Democrats) have passed voter-ID laws, despite academic studies showing that such laws are far more likely to prevent Blacks from voting than Whites.