In Mississippi, decrepit perpetual incumbent Senator Thad Cochran narrowly won a primary run-off against a Tea Party challenger by appealing to black voters who normally back the Democrats. Without these votes, he probably would have lost by a good margin.
This has been denounced as a dirty trick, an attempt to tip the scales of a Republican primary by drawing in Democratic voters. But hey, dirty tricks are a part of politics, and people who get upset about it are usually angry because they didn’t think of it first.
What’s actually disturbing about Cochran’s reliance on black voters is the nature of his appeal—and what it says about the degeneration of racial politics.
Cochran appealed to black voters by pointing to the federal pork-barrel spending and welfare benefits he brings to the state. This kind of political pitch is as old as the hills. What is new is using it openly and specifically as a racial pitch. As a local observer tells The Guardian, Cochran’s campaign was “sending mailers to people in black Jackson neighborhoods touting Cochran’s supposed support of public schools, HBCU [historically black colleges and universities] funding, and ‘blight protection for minority communities,’ even as people in richer, whiter neighborhoods were getting Cochran mailers featuring all white men and Cochran touting his pro-NRA, anti-abortion cred, and his ‘more than 100’ votes against Obamacare.”
Meanwhile, Cochran did not exactly have a history of appealing to black voters in the state, as you might expect from a politician of his generation in Mississippi. This report writes off Cochran as a product of the “Southern Strategy” who is accustomed to employing “coded, ‘wink-wink’ racism.” That’s the spin of a left-leaning observer, of course, but it is fair to assume that this view would have widespread currency among the black Democrats who turned out to vote for Cochran. So they “voted almost exclusively for the federal money Cochran brings home—not for the party that abandoned African-Americans back in the 1960s.”
Is this what racial politics all boils down to—that it’s not about who is racist or who isn’t, but merely about who can deliver the federal dollars? This is more evidence, in case it was needed, that racial politics in America is no longer actually about race or racism. It has been co-opted as a bludgeon for supporters of the welfare state.
Yet this is an established part of the political landscape, and Republicans have to face up to their own failure of confront this weakness. The Cochran campaign’s attempt to appeal to black voters wasn’t exactly a secret; it was widely reported throughout the campaign. So the question is why Cochran’s small-government challenger, Chris McDaniel, couldn’t launch his own appeal to Mississippi’s black voters. As a state senator, McDaniel is no stranger to Mississippi politics, and if he had been successful in the primary, he would have had to be ready for a statewide general election campaign. Why didn’t he have the contacts, the arguments, and the credibility to make his own appeal to black voters?
Thad Cochran’s campaign was just cashing in on the fact that the left has managed to racialize free-market politics—and what’s really disturbing is that we let them do it.
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