Commentary: Sununu's Words Were an Appeal to Archie Bunker

Romney’s surrogate offered a tone-deaf critique of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama.

Posted: 10/30/2012 01:00 PM EDT
John Sununu and Colin Powell

John Sununu's rant about Colin Powell 's endorsement shows Republicans will do anything to regain the White House. (Photos from left:  Mark Wilson/Getty Images, Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

When John Sununu pronounced that fellow Republican Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama was based on the fact that both men are Black, it was widely seen as the inappropriate musings of a politician who often veers toward the controversial.

"Frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or whether he's got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama,” Sununu, a surrogate for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, said in an interview on CNN. When pressed on what those reasons might be, he stated, "Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

But there is more to this inane statement. Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire, is a top adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign. His willingness to invoke race into the political dialogue, on a national television news program, is something far more sinister than just impolitic language.

In confronting an election that is considered tight by nearly all measures, Sununu made the calculated decision to do what desperate Republican officials have resorted to for decades: Stoke racial fears. Sununu’s comments were targeted to conservative-leaning, white, working class Americans in battleground states, in essence the Archie Bunker vote.

This kind of talk is nothing new for the Republican former governor. He has spent much of the campaign lambasting the president, casting him as a lazy unprepared man who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be an American. 

For example, the day after the first presidential debate between the president and Romney, Sununu spoke on MSNBC. “He didn’t want to prepare for this debate,” Sununu said of the president. “He’s lazy and disengaged.”

And in July, during a conference call in which he criticized Obama’s handling of the economy, Sununu said: "I wish this president would learn how to be an American." 

It is part of a continued effort by the conservative right wing of the Republican Party to portray the nation’s first African-American president as somehow being foreign, something unpalatable to American sensibilities. One would expect more sensitivity from someone like Sununu, who was born In Cuba, the son of a father of Palestinian descent and a mother who was born in El Salvador.

Nonetheless, desperate political times apparently call for desperate Republican measures. And Sununu’s rantings give voice to a party whose desperate desire to regain the White House has led to all manner of unseemly shenanigans, from Sarah Palin accusing Obama of "shucking and jiving" in Libya to the heinous efforts to curb the voting rights of millions of Americans.

Romney and his fellow Republican leaders should recognize that these tactics will only alienate more Americans from their party. Over time, fewer Americans will feel at home with a party characterized by intolerance and political misdeeds.

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

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