It’s ridiculous to argue that Herman Cain’s popularity, such as it is, proves there’s no racism in the Republican Party

When Herman Cain won the Republican presidential straw poll in Florida last weekend, countless conservative bloggers and pundits saw it as proof that there’s no racism in the GOP, no matter what some people have said.

It was argued that this victory by a black candidate, especially  in a  Southern state, should lay to rest forever any notions of racial bigotry even among Southern Republicans.

But that’s illogical on several counts.

For starters, the straw poll did not represent a cross-section of Florida Republicans. Participants in the balloting paid $175 each for the privilege. These were died-in-the-wool party activists, not just ordinary Republican voters.

For another thing, Florida is not your typical Southern state, and its Republicans are not your typical Southern Republicans. Florida voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008. Can that be said of any other Southern state?

And then there’s the matter of Herman Cain’s share of the straw poll votes. He got 37 percent, while the remaining 63 percent were unevenly divided among seven other candidates. Granted, Cain’s share was twice as much as that for any of his rivals, but it was a far sight from a majority — and a far sight from a ringing rejection of racism. In fact, it said nothing at all about racism, one way or the other.

Imagine, if you will, a Republican straw poll in which 37 percent of participants cast their ballots for the lone gay candidate in the race, while the other 63 percent of the vote was divided among seven non-gay candidates. Would that prove that the GOP had rejected homophobia? Of course not.

There are, in fact, polls showing that a majority of rank-and-file Republicans support the right of gays to serve openly in the U.S. military. But there’s still a virulent streak of homophobia in the GOP. Some Republicans, including some who hold public office,  argue that homosexuality is a moral evil that poses a grave threat to the social fabric of America.

With regard to Cain’s victory in Florida, it was anecdotally reported that some of the votes for him were intended to send a message to the pre-poll favorite, Rick Perry, who had riled the right wing a few days earlier with his comments in defense of state aid to the children of illegal immigrants. People who disagree with him on that matter, Perry said, “don’t have a heart.”

In any event, Cain’s 37 percent total means that 63 percent of the straw-poll votes were not in his favor. That doesn’t mean those votes for other candidates were cast by racists. It doesn’t necessarily have anything at all to do with race. The votes in favor of Cain no more disprove racism in the GOP than the votes for other candidates verify racism in the GOP.

But let’s take a look at a more reliable measure of racial attitudes among Republicans in another Southern state.

A recent scientific survey conducted by Public Policy Polling showed that 46 percent of likely Republican primary voters in Mississippi think that interracial marriage should be illegal. Another 14 percent said they weren’t sure, while only 40 percent of GOP voters said interracial marriage should remain legal, as it has been in that state since 1966. Putting it another way, only a minority of Mississippi Republicans are OK with the idea of whites marrying blacks. If that’s not racism, I don’t what is.

Mississippi is, of course, one of the most reliably conservative and Republican states in the Union — and it has been since the GOP launched its so-called Southern Strategy, the genesis of which dates way back.

The South was a Democratic bastion for more than 125 years — except for a period of 10 or 15 years after the Civil War, when Reconstruction measures gave Republicans a foothold in the old Confederacy. Eventually, however, Democratically-controlled Southern state legislatures enacted constitutions and statutes that disenfranchised blacks and established strict racial segregation in public accommodations. In that part of the country, the Democrats were the party of state’s rights, while the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, embraced relatively enlightened attitudes on matters of race. But then, gradually, the two parties began to change places.

Toward the middle of the 20th century, Northern Democrats became increasingly liberal with regard to the rights of African-Americans. President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces, and the Democrats approved a civil rights plank in their party platform at the 1948 national convention. In response, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond led a Southern walkout from the convention and ran for president himself on the so-called Dixiecrat ticket.

The rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, with increasing support from white Northern Democrats, further alienated Southerners from the party they had embraced for generations. The Democrats’ “Solid South,” as it was known, was solid no more.

When Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, the stage was set for a massive Southern swing away from the Democratic Party. As Johnson himself put it at the time: “We have lost the South for a generation.”

Johnson’s Republican rival in the 1964 presidential election, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, laid the groundwork for GOP inroads in the South by opposing the new civil rights law and arguing for states’ rights. Not surprisingly, then, he carried Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. However, he lost almost everywhere else and was buried in a landslide.

Johnson’s immediate successor in the White House, Richard Nixon, eventually embraced what came to be known as the Southern Strategy. Nixon aide Kevin Philips outlined it thusly:

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

Shamelessly stated, right?

But that was more than 40 years ago, and American politics have changed a lot since then. Still, much of  the South remains solidly Republican, and some of it remains more than a little racist, as that Mississippi poll on interracial marriage will attest.

Again, none of this is to say that anyone who is against Herman Cain — or against Barack Obama, for that matter — is necessarily a racist. But neither does Cain’s tally of 37 percent of the vote in an unrepresentative Republican straw poll in an unrepresentative Southern state absolve the GOP in particular or the South in general of all accusations of racism.

By the same token, Barack Obama’s electoral landslide in the 2008 election did not represent the end of racism in America. It was a hopeful sign that progress had been made in race relations, but much remains to be done on that score.







  1. Ah yes, desperately spinning to try and save the race card from falling into the fire.

    The more I listen to Herman Cain, the more I like him. But that can’t be, Pat (or those he links to) have accused those who disagree with the President of being racist. How can any black man possibly merit my attention much less avoid my scorn?

  2. Right, it proves that all Republicans are racist in their support of Herman Cain.

  3. doc: As the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.

    Your claim that I “have accused those who disagree with the President of being racist” is a flat-out lie. I have repeatedly stated that not all, or even most, of Barack Obama’s critics are racists.

    Why don’t you try to specifically refute any of the points I’ve made in the post above? The answer, of course, is that you can’t.

  4. Pat was in denial in early 2008: It’s ridiculous to argue that (Barack Obama’s) popularity, such as it is, proves there’s no racism in the (Democrat) Party

    Also, repeatedly attacking the south wins you no electoral votes. In case you haven’t noticed, the south is interested in lower taxes, less regulation, and less involvement in people’s everyday lives. People that believe in those policies continue to relocate to the south and will continue to reinforce the politics of the south. That is a position that, according to the progressives, is inherently antiprogressive. Before the Civil War, most Democrats were not stuck on the issues of slavery, unlike the evolving Republicans, but the Democrat Party did oppose unconstitutional interference of the states by a centralized federal government. They were right. The Democrat Party also opposed the creation of a state run “blob”, i.e. the public school system and public university system. Again, they were right. The Democrat Party also opposed prohibition and other social exploits that were, ironically, driven by (liberal?) protestant ministers within the newly formed Republican Party. Finally, the anti-immigrant “Know Nothings” were not Democrats. You be the judge of prohibition and other exploits. I prefer the south.

  5. wilson: Where did you get the idea that “all Republicans” support Herman Cain?

    And who said “all Republicans are racist”? I didn’t. And neither did Janeane Garofalo.

  6. Liberty: A plurality of Mississippi Republicans want interracial marriage outlawed, and yet you say Southerners want “less [government] involvement in people’s everyday lives.”

    Oh, and by the way, it’s called the “Democratic” Party, not the “Democrat” Party.

  7. Garofalo claimed that if you support Cain you are a racist. Or you are supporting Cain only to cover up your racism. She’s a nutball. Always has been.

    On another note, Cain has made a variety of peculiar remarks during the campaign, but those are petty compared to actual policy he wants to implement.

    Cain wants to reform the tax code to something he calls a 9-9-9 proposal — a 9 percent personal-income tax, a 9 percent corporate-income tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax, to replace all current federal taxes.

    Details here: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/278668/nein-nein-nein-kevin-d-williamson

    Its an interesting concept, but I’m hesitant on the idea of a national sales tax. If we eliminated property taxes I might buy into it, but its a scarey subject. Once a European Value-added Tax system is put in place, its all to easy to continually raise it to feed the big government beast.

    So that said, I think Cain is a bit too risky. Plus he has absolutely no experience in big government as either a Governor, Senator, or even Congressman. He has few Washington insiders as allies, and he’s not privy to quirks of lobbying and other political ins and outs.

  8. Neftali: I don’t want to get sidetracked from the point of this post by arguing over what Garofalo said or didn’t say. But you’re simply wrong in saying she “claimed that if you support Cain you are a racist.”

    Rather, she said: “Herman Cain is probably well-liked by some of the Republicans because it hides the racist elements of the Republican Party, conservative movement and tea party movement.”

    That’s not the same as your characterization of what she said. Nor do I necessarily agree with her.

    The central point of this post is that Herman Cain’s showing in the Florida straw poll does not disprove racism in the Republican Party. As I said in the post, the straw poll results don’t “necessarily have anything at all to do with race” and say “nothing at all about racism, one way or the other.”

  9. I say it was more a vote against Perry and Romney than anything else.

  10. That plurality is as small as the plurality of New Yorkers or Washingtonians who believe the same thing, but just won’t say it to your face. The 20 or so percent of Mississippi Republicans who say that are just honest about it. The believers of that in other states have a lot of influence in the lives of their children. I’ll look at the primary election results between Obama and Clinton any day. But there were many other differences between the 19th century Rs and Ds. Those differences persisted throughout much of the 20th century. On issues other than race, many Democrats were antiprogressive. Grover Cleveland was one of the best defenders of constitutionally limited government. Wm. J. Bryan was one of the best defenders of traditional agrarian Christian society. Herbert Hoover was a progressive. Honest historians attribute the tax increases on the wealthy, increased government involvement in the economy, and raising of the tariffs with causing the depression. Ironically, FDR ran against each of those policies, but cemented those policies once elected. That’s too bad. America could have had a great recovery without watching two of the greatest industrial powers in the world, and countless other countries, be wiped off of the map.

  11. Liberty: What in the hell does that pile of non sequiturs have to do with the subject at hand?

  12. A second survey of Mississippi voters (not just Republican voters) was conducted by the PPP at the same time (in April – not exactly “recent”). In that survey, 41% of Mississippi Republicans thought interracial marriage should be illegal (lower than 46%, but still nothing of which to be proud). 19% weren’t sure. 18% of Mississippi Democrats also thought interracial marriage should be illegal, while 14% were not sure. That means 60% of Mississippi Republicans and 32% of Mississippi Democrats were not able to say that they think interracial marriage should be legal. Mississippi Republicans clearly have a long way to go, but I don’t think a lot of Mississippi Democrats will exactly be spinning that as “well, at least we’re only half as racist as the Republicans”.


  13. What’s even more ridiculous is people like you who think that Republicans are racists. Funny, Mike Papantonio is on the same unsubstantiated topic.

    But I have some proof? that you could be right.


  14. donna wayt

    You underestimate the growing ground swell of the tea party support for Mr. Cain. Do so at you own peril.

  15. If the USA is such a hateful place filled with racist white people and out of control racist cops, why do so many people of color want to come here? And how did we elect a half Black man to be President of the USA, twice?


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