Identity Politics

Mother Jones published a small piece on the New Hampshire Republican primary poll done by Monmouth on Monday. It was pretty standard, and the prediction made by the author was a safe one; the spike in the polls will make Marco Rubio a target within his own party. Nothing controversial there, however, the headline caused immediate ripples in the conservative chatterings of social media. It read:

Marco Rubio Wins Coveted Role of Republican Piñata

It is understandable that some would want to chide Mother Jones for what seems to be a culturally offensive headline given the blatant display of media bias in this election cycle, but this tactic has downsides, as all identity politics do.

Imagine you are a Democratic strategist and you see this all unfolding. The finger wagging about Rubio being Cuban, not Mexican; or, the cries of hypocrisy, the accusations of racist dog whistles, and the general displeasure of your opponents. None of which would force a Democrat to stop and reevaluate the optics of the headline. Because you’re a Democrat, you are thinking of how you can hurt Republicans. It’s your job.

As a Democratic strategist, you see hypocrisy in the Republicans outrage. Why? Because the Republicans are selling outreach to all Latinos, with a Cuban-American candidate.

How do you make this work for your party, the Democrats? You tell the American Latino community, which is not exclusively Mexican, that Republicans think Latinos will be fooled into voting for Rubio because he’s Latino too. You tell voters over and over that; it is not authentic outreach to Latinos, it’s merely pandering and Republicans think Latinos are too stupid to notice. Your Democratic strategy is to flip the identity politics back in your favor.

Most complaining today are not Democratic strategists. They are conservative commentators, journalists, and activists. It is a dangerous game to try and play identity politics with Democrats. They are much better at it and have conditioned the American public to think that only they, the party of progress, truly understand identity politics. Which is somewhat true, seeing as how they have won the White House twice using identity politics.

It would probably serve conservatives well to let this one float on by and stick to the party plan of authentically reaching Latino voters. The Democrats may have used it to some success, but identity politics is a fickle beast, the biggest hole in their defensive line, and the most divisive point for their inner-party dynamics. Something the GOP does not need at this stage of the primary process.

**Editorial Credit to Andrea N Ruth

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