Commentary: The Romney Campaign’s Two-Sided Race Message

How will voters react to Mitt Romney’s racial politics?

Posted: 08/27/2012 02:35 PM EDT
Keith Boykin: The Romney Campaign's Two-Sided Race Message

Viewers watching MSNBC's "Morning Joe" caught an unusually heated debate today as MSNBC host Chris Matthews lit into Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on the issue of race.

"That cheap shot about 'I don't have a problem with my birth certificate' was awful," said Matthews, criticizing Mitt Romney for joking about Obama's birth certificate on Friday. "It is an embarrassment to your party to play that card," he added.

But Matthews didn't stop there. "This stuff about getting rid of the work requirement for welfare is dishonest," he said. "Everyone's pointed out that it's dishonest. And you are playing that little ethnic card there. You can play your games and giggle about it, but the fact is your side is playing that card."

The audience in Tampa applauded.

Just days after a new poll showed Mitt Romney would get zero percent of the black vote against President Obama, the Romney campaign continues to send dual racial messages heading into this week's Republican National Convention.

On the one hand, they've got seven birthers speaking at the convention and they're appealing to base voters with a racially coded message. As Tom Edsall observes in today's New York Times, the Romney campaign's new attacks on Obama for Medicare cuts and welfare reform are both closely tied to racial wedge politics. Romney is essentially arguing that Obama is taking money from deserving whites on Medicare to give to undeserving blacks through Obamacare and welfare.

On the other hand, the Romney camp is deploying visual optics to convince moderate swing voters and Independents it's still OK to vote against the black guy, so they've lined up a transparent display of diversity on stage. Five of the eight convention speakers who will appear during the three hours of network television coverage this week are women or minorities (Lucé Vela Fortuño, Ann Romney, Condoleezza Rice, Susana Martinez and Marco Rubio), although there's no indication we'll see any more black delegates in the crowd than the 36 who attended the 2008 convention.

Which racial image will voters believe? Well, as Hurricane Isaac threatens to barrel down on New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Americans will be reminded of the way George W. Bush failed to save that city in its time of need. How the Obama White House responds may well be the real story of the Republican National Convention.  

 Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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