The Republican Party exists primarily to enable rich people to get richer. Its most powerful tool for drawing public support to this niche cause is racism. Indeed, research shows it.
In the American system, money can directly purchase political power. Wealthy people and business interests have used money to purchase an entire political party. (And much of the other party, too, but at least that’s a mixed bag.) The entities who fund the Republican Party do so as an investment. And that investment pays off in the form of tax cuts and deregulation. You’ll notice that tax cuts are the only thing this inept Republican Congress actually managed to achieve so far.
Because “cut taxes on multimillionaires” is not a strong “populist” message, the Republican Party uses religion and patriotic flag-waving and culture wars to attract votes, out of necessity. But what works better than anything for this purpose? Racism. It is well understood and widely accepted that the shift among Southern voters from the Democratic to Republican Party occurred largely as a result of direct racist appeals by the Republicans, spurred by the civil rights movement. For the Republicans, civil rights were simply an opportunity to capture racist voters. And it worked.
Everyone honest on both sides already knows that this is the case—you can ask Lee Atwater. Now, a forthcoming new study in the American Economic Review finds the effect of racism to be as stark as it is possible to be:
Using newly available data, we reexamine one of the largest partisan shifts in a modern democracy: Southern whites’ exodus from the Democratic Party. We show that defection among racially conservative whites explains the entire decline from 1958 to 1980. Racial attitudes also predict whites’ earlier partisan shifts. Relative to recent work, we find a much larger role for racial views and essentially no role for income growth or (non-race-related) policy preferences in explaining why Democrats “lost” the South.
When you consider the fact that the people wealthy enough to substantially benefit from Republican economic policies make up only, say, two percent of the electorate, this makes perfect sense. The Republican Party only exists in a viable form today because it is the party of racism. Without racism, the Republican agenda could never attract sufficient numbers of voters to maintain power. The nicest possible interpretation of this is that the leadership of the Republican Party, feverishly dedicated to tax cuts, just doesn’t care that its supporters are racist—which is the same thing as being racist themselves.
Anyone who rejects racism cannot in good conscience be a member of the Republican Party. It’s that simple. If you are a Republican who believes racism is evil, either vote Democratic, vote for a third party, or don’t vote. Every vote for the United States Republican Party supports and furthers a structure built upon and maintained by the persistent power of racism in our society.
I have not even mentioned our current president in this post.