Republican Young Kim, who is the first Korean American woman elected to Congress. (Photo Credit: Thomas McKinless/CQ)
Editor’s Note:Since the writing of this post, it has become clear that Young Kim’s race has not yet been called due to a number of outstanding ballots still to be counted; however she leads by a 5-point margin in her race. This post will be updated if the outcome of her election changes.
The dust settled on Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 with a consequential power shift for Democrats: the House of Representatives flipped to a substantial Democratic majority after Democratic candidates were able to unseat or overcome Republican opponents in several states across the nation; and Democrats also picked up 7 governorships, rendering the new gubernatorial balance of power a near-even split with Republicans.
The Asian American community also saw its own historic firsts. Just shy of the number of Asian Americans or Pacific Islander (AAPI) candidates who competed for a congressional or gubernatorial seat in 2016, 26 AAPI candidates were vying in a federal or gubernatorial race on Tuesday night. All AAPIs running as incumbents, including thirteen members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) were re-elected — most by sweeping margins. In particular, Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono — who has dominated headlines recently for her fiery commentary during the Kavanaugh hearings — won more than 70% of the votes in her district, which serve as a clear mandate for more prominent feminist rhetoric on the Hill after more than a year of headlines dominated by the erosion of women’s rights.
It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?
By Guest Contributor: Bel Leong-Hong, Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s AAPI Caucus
Three years ago today, the Republican National Committee released a report as part of their “Growth and Opportunity Project,” known as the GOP Autopsy, explaining their overwhelming losses in the 2012 election. When it came to the issues that matter to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, the autopsy vowed to embrace comprehensive immigration reform and recommended that the GOP be more inclusive of the community in party messaging and flexibility in party policies. Basically, it recommended they be more like Democrats.
But it seems that the GOP has thrown this autopsy out the window, because the fear-mongering and anti-immigrant rhetoric has actually gotten worse since 2012, as often demonstrated by their presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.
It should come as no surprise that the progressive expansion of America’s non-White populations has left the Grand Old Party in a turmoil. In both 2008 and 2012, Republicans lost the Black, Latino, and Asian votes by wide margins, and most demographic projections predict that in the aggregate, non-White people will outnumber Whites in America by the year 2042 or sooner. Thus, the GOP is in a scramble to develop a loyal non-White voting block in the next decade in order to retain their political power over Democrats.
For many conservatives, the voting block most vulnerable to partisan Republican appeals is the Asian American community. Rooting their hopes largely on model minority stereotypes of Asian Americans, conservatives like Bill O’Reilly view Asian Americans as “not liberal… by nature” because we are “industrious and hard-working”.
To be fair, AAPI are less likely to identify as either Democrat or Republican, with a large segment of our voters preferring to register with an “independent” party affiliation. And certainly, with some Asian American ethnic groups well-represented as small business owners and in the upper echelons of the private sector, the GOP’s conventional pro-business platform should be appealing. Indeed, in the early 1990’s, Asian Americans were evenly split between those who voted George H.W. Bush and his Democratic opponent. Yet, 25 years later, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Asian voters voted with the Democratic party in the last two general elections.
Within days of President Obama’s re-election and with ballots in states like Arizona still to be counted, Republican fingers were already pointing. It was the President’s fault (negative campaigning). It was the media’s fault (too liberal). It was the voters’ fault (too brown). It was the Super-PACs’ fault (too… rich?). It was Karl Rove’s fault (too misguided and foolish). But beneath all the blame game, there’s one simple truth: the Republican party has come face-to-face with its own failures. It is a party dominated by rich White men who have fundamentally lost touch with how to speak to the newly diverse American voting demographic, many of whom would not rather vote with a party who faults them for not being… well, rich White men.
And, so, the Republican party is at a crossroads. Until this past two weeks, the GOP had closed their eyes and plugged their ears, and vainly hoped that all those pesky young voters, female voters, and voters of colour who swung the election Obama’s way in 2008 would just disapparate — or, “self-deport” — to wherever it is that we came from. But forced to face the reality that these voters are here to stay, and that in two presidential elections, they had gone overwhelmingly (some would say, embarassingly) Democratic, the GOP is taking a good long look in the mirror to figure out how they could’ve gotten it all so very, very wrong.
Which has sparked a fascinating conversation for us non-Republicans as conservatives of all flavours crawl out of the woodwork to postulate why it is that all these diverse voters — including Black, Latino, Asian American, and youth voters — voted in such huge majorities in favour of Democrats. And, not just for Obama; no, we voted blue in large numbers in down-ticket races, too. This Rightwing soul-searching has been enlightening. And, frankly, almost endlessly entertaining.
The basic problem is that there’s been a growing schism within the Republican party, that has finally fractured the party to its core. On one side are moderate Republicans: economically conservative and socially libertarian “small government” Republicans who make up the traditional Republican party. And on the other side are the Tea Party extremists: socially conservative finger-waggers who want to use the power of government to ostracize those the dislike, in an effort to return this country to the way it was when their parents were young. That is, they want to use the power of government to return the United States to a time when everyone shared a healthy fear of the Left-wing lest they be labelled communist, and when minorities knew our place.
For the last decade, the Republican party has encouraged the Tea Party wing of their party, for one simple reason: this constituency is a ready-made cohort of energized voters, which means an automatic bump at the polls and more money in the coffers. Rightly or wrongly, Tea Party voters came out in droves in the 2010 election, and delivered the House to Republicans. And so, although their brand of Rightwing hate radio has been around for a long time prior to this last series of elections, we’ve seen a growing shift of even mainstream Republican media towards the extreme Right, in an effort to attract and retain Tea Party voters as the new Republican base. In return, empowered by the media attention, Tea Party voters have encouraged this movement of the GOP towards the Far Right, alienating the party’s middle-of-the-road Republicans. The net result is that now the Republican party is so far right that the GOP of today scarcely resembles the GOP of the mid-nineties.
The Republican party of today is one so contaminated with the hatred and anti-intellectualism of the Far Right that it’s become almost a prerequisite that Republican politicians vocally adopt far Right positions condemning abortion, denying climate change and evolution, supporting “traditional” marriage and blaming America’s woes on poor people and Brown people, chief among them President Obama. The Republican party of today is one where racist and homophobic rhetoric is commonplace, and one wherein a morally reprehensible defense of rape is a mere campaign inconvenience (when it should rightfully invalidate a person for public office). It is one whose chief talking points are bolstered by nothing more than hatespeech and wishful thinking, and that pooh-poohs the practices of science and fact-checking as the stuff of liberals. It is one that despises and dismisses 47% of this country’s population. The Republican party of today is a party that caters to the close-minded, the hateful, and the xenophobic.
In short, the Republican party of today has willfully become the party of stupid people and racists.
If Election 2012 accomplished anything positive for the Republican party, it is that it woken moderate Republicans out of their stupor and demonstrated the damage that the Tea Party conservatives and their oftentimes hateful ideology has wrought their party. And it will almost certainly result in the ejection of that same stupidity and hatred from the Republican platform, if the party hopes to survive.
The question is who in the Republican party will lead this charge?
Like his now infamous 47% comment, this is Mitt Romney unscripted. And, like his now infamous 47% comment, this is clear evidence that Mitt Romney hates most of America.
But, Mitt Romney has aligned himself with the Republican Old Guard, and this kind of rhetoric — while gratifying for someone who has just lost a major political campaign and is now facing the end of his career in public office — cannot be the future of the Republican party. Election Night 2012 demonstrated just how far a platform of exclusion and intolerance will take this party.
Republicans need to appeal to –not blame — those voters that Romney classifies as the 47%. And this requires an open repudiation of Romney’s denigration of them.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a rising star in the GOP, has situated himself at the forefront of that GOP charge. In a powerful interview with Politico, Jindal chastised his party for their “dumbed-down conservativism” and urging them to stop “insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
Calling on the GOP to be “the party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,” the Louisianan urged the party to “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same. “
He added: “Simply being the anti-Obama party didn’t work. You can’t beat something with nothing. The reality is we have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions.”
Jindal, like a growing group of conservatives, are cautioning Republicans from reacting to their 2012 presidential loss with knee-jerk about-faces on issues like immigration reform designed to attract Latino voters to the Republican fold; Republicans like Jindal warn that such a move both is, and more importantly appears to be, shameless pandering that also communicates an unwillingness to actually understand the diversity of the American electorate.
Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, said the GOP “must reject identity politics” and “treat folks as individuals, as Americans, not as members of special interest groups.”
Raising Romney’s damaging comments about voters who don’t pay income taxes, Jindal urged the GOP to make clear they want the support of every American.
“The Republican Party is going to fight for every single vote,” he said. “That means the 47 percent and the 53 percent, that means any other combination of numbers going up to 100 percent.”
This message of inclusiveness is the necessary future of the GOP, and one that is much more in-keeping with the Republican party’s traditional position on small government and freedom for economic pursuit. Because, in truth, Right-wing ideology in its purest form is one that fails to see the distinctions of race, gender, and class; in its purest form, Right-wing ideology assumes that any interference by the federal government is the source of — rather than a solution for — imbalances in the citizenry’s access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, Republicanism also assumes (wrongly in the mind of Democrats) that in the absence of large government, everyone has equal access to opportunity.
(Democrats, of course, would assert that the role of government is to create and ensure equal access.)
In short, Republicans must find a way to return to its roots because this message of equality and inclusion is one that is (understandably) far more appealing to minority voters than the GOP’s current message of “blame all the voters who aren’t rich for not siding with us rich White folks”.
In terms of optics, Bobby Jindal may be the right man to help the Republican party find its way. The son of South Asian immigrants, Jindal is governor in a state where Asian Americans make up less than 2% of the population. His very presence on the Republican main-stage could serve as a visual suggestion that the new Republican party is one that is (at least to some extent) tolerant of non-White members in its ranks; a message that the GOP sorely needs to send to the American electorate.
But in practice, one wonders if Jindal is truly the right man to try and shift the ideology of the Republican party. In his positions, Jindal has been as vocally supportive of the GOP’s recent spate of hate rhetoric as other politicians. He has supported the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and rejects efforts to grant current illegal immigrants legal status as “amnesty”. Jindal has opposed embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage, and has gone so far as to support legislation instituting a formal ban of both. Jindal is fervently pro-life (which he credits to his Catholic faith), although he does support exceptions in situations of rape or when they mother’s life is at risk. He supports the teaching of intelligent design in public education.
In short, if Bobby Jindal is the new face of the Republican party, will it be because the Republican party itself will shift away from its divisive, exclusive rhetoric of the last twenty years? Or will it indicate the new direction of the Republican party is only cosmetic, with the same old hatespeech now spouted from the mouths of the party’s token brown faces?
If the former, it remains unclear to me how Jindal, who is clearly angling to become the new de facto leader of the Republican party and a 2016 contender for the White House, can reconcile his current record (which falls too often on the anti-scientific and anti-intellectual side of many issues) with his recent urging that the GOP reject “dumbed-down conservatism. Perhaps he will perform an about-face on the politics of his past and shift both himself and his party towards the center? Or, perhaps he can find some (as yet unknown) way to defend his positions in a rational and inclusive way to voters of diverse viewpoints, including those who would disagree with him.
Either way, what is clear is that if things continue along this track, we could very possibly see the first mainstream (and therefore viable) Asian American candidate for the presidency in the next decade. And, he could very well come from the Republican party.
Bobby Jindal, you’ve got four years to make it happen.