Is There a New Post-Racial Tide in Conservative Politics?
Recently, South Carolina Republicans have attracted a fair amount of positive national attention (a welcome change from last summer). Not only have they tapped Nikki Haley as their gubernatorial nominee — putting her a general election away from becoming the state’s first non-white, non-male governor — but they overwhelmingly voted to support Tim Scott in his bid to represent the state’s 1st district. With the primary now behind him, Scott is poised to become the first black Republican elected to the House since Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts retired in 2003, and the first from the South since Reconstruction.
Given that liberals have frequently criticized Republicans for racial insensitivity, how much should these results factor into our estimation of conservative racial progress? At The American Prospect, Adam Serwer argues that Haley’s success “says something positive about the direction of the Republican Party on matters of race.” And at The New York Times, Ross Douthat says that Scott’s success is a sign that the conservative base is interested in proving its “post-racial bona fides”:
Does the election of a single black Republican Congressman prove that the G.O.P. is on its way to shedding all the race-related baggage it’s accumulated over the last few decades? No, probably not. But I do think it suggests that I was right about Jindal and Obama — that whatever role race plays in the Republican base’s anxieties about the current president, there are an awful lot of rank-and-file conservative voters who are eager to step inside a ballot box and prove their multicultural, post-racial bona fides.
I think this might be true of Scott, though any celebration of conservative post-racial enthusiasm has to be tempered by the fact that birtherism is widespread among conservative Southern whites. And in Haley’s case, I think it’s worth considering the extent to which she’s had to meet the demands of white identity politics. As I argued at my own blog, it’s hard to imagine a Nimrata Nikki Kaur Randhawa having as much success in Southern conservative politics, and indeed, frequent attacks forced her to repeatedly stress her Christianity, in order to dispel rumors about her religious beliefs. The unfortunate reaction of some conservative South Carolinians to Haley’s candidacy simply doesn’t fit with Douthat’s image of a conservative movement eager to show its “post-racial” bona fides.
That said, I lean towards viewing yesterday’s results as basically positive. Even if racial attitudes among conservatives are less than progressive, it says something good about the GOP that it is becoming more open to minority candidates.