The Plank

It's The Swing Voters, Stupid

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Republican eminences like Newt Gingrich and Ken Mehlman are in The Washington Post this morning, bemoaning their presidential field's refusal to show up for a variety of forums sponsored by and/or targeting minority voters.

Most campaigns are peddling the excuse that their candidates' schedules, regrettably, are simply too jam packed to attend such events. But at least one anonymous adviser opted for honesty: "What's the win? Why would [the candidates] go into a crowd where they're probably going to be booed?"

Oh, how quickly we forget the lessons of George W. Bush in his happier, more compassionate days. In 2000, the then-governor was a skilled practitioner of "the ricochet pander." As I noted at the time:

Friendliness toward historically oppressed groups that are unlikely to vote for you--blacks, Hispanics--is a good way to appeal to historically oppressed groups that just might--white women, Jews, Catholics, gays. Which helps explain why, even though W.'s approval rating among African Americans is only marginally higher than John Rocker's, the Texas governor showed up last week to speak to the naacp's annual convention in Baltimore--and executed a particularly fine ricochet pander. The trick is to make the minority audience think you're a nice guy--which whites like to see--without actually engaging its agenda, which whites probably oppose. It's a delicate balance, and it requires adherence to several key principles.

Let's face it, especially after the immigration madness of the past year, today's GOP arguably needs to shore up its non-winger credentials even more than it did in 2000.

Then again, I guess there's plenty of time post-primaries to worry about appearing inclusive. For now, considering the mood of the base, it probably pays to look crazy.

--Michelle Cottle

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