In the never ending Culture Wars, the modern GOP thinks race is their most powerful weapon.
Writing for Axios, managing editor Margaret Talev reports, “In an era when every topic seems to turn quickly to race, Republicans see this most divisive issue as either political necessity or an election-winner — including as it relates to voting laws, critical race theory, big-city crime, immigration and political correctness.”
The use of race as a wedge issue is hardly a new addition to the political playbook. For generations, politicians on both sides of the aisle aimed to provoke the type of racially-tinged fear and outrage that drives voters to the polls.
But while Democrats have recently focused on big-ticket items like infrastructure, child care, and reducing poverty, Republicans have tried to turn every racial mole hill into a mountain. Esoteric issues – like including more Black perspectives in school curriculums or giving minorities priority to Covid vaccines in some states – have been blown wildly out of proportion. If the GOP had their way with the public imagination, the ‘political correctness’ that frowns upon retrograde language would be a bigger scandal than the fact that nearly 20% of Black people live in poverty.
On the complicated topic of critical race theory, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. said “Democrats want to teach our children to hate each other.” Okay, then.
Overreach on any issue – including race – is always a possibility. Indeed, support for Black Lives Matter spiked after George Floyd’s murder, but public polling shows that the movement lost many new allies after it threw its weight behind the unpopular “Defund the Police” cause. According to an Axios poll, just one in five white independents – a crucial bloc of voters – supports the “defund the police” movement.
Republicans seem to be making the bet that they create that same type of backlash against Democrats writ large by cherrypicking outrages or manufacturing controversies. They’re willing to stick their fingers in the open wound of America’s race relations, instead of engaging in the type of sober policy discussions that would address root issues. Race may be a third-rail in American society – our original sin – but the GOP also sees it as a shortcut to success in the 2022 midterms.
In a recent interview, one of the Republican Party’s most incendiary culture warriors, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, urged the GOP to dive heard-first into controversies, saying “You can have a successful economy, but if the underpinnings of the culture are being torn apart, I don’t think that’s a society that will be very successful.”
DeSantis recently launched an offensive against social media companies, who he says are biased against conservatives. (Look at Facebook’s most popular pages; he’s wrong). “If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” DeSantis said as he signed a law that punished platforms who remove a politician’s posts. The law, it goes without saying, was obviously inspired by Trump’s Twitter ban.
Almost every constitutional expert agrees that the law has no chance of withstanding First Amendment scrutiny. The consensus is clear: it will ultimately be struck down. “This is so obviously unconstitutional, you wouldn’t even put it on an exam,” A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, told Wired.
But enacting the law isn’t the point. The point is creating a controversy, a talking point, fodder for Tucker Carlson and keyboard warriors the world over.
Will Americans take the bait? That’s what the GOP is banking on.