Posted on July 17, 2022

The Failure of “Rainbow Republicanism”

Samuel T. Francis, American Renaissance, Summer 2003

Recent Republican strategy reflects a deliberate decision on the part of party leaders to abandon both the issues and the older strategy — and presumably the constituencies that the older strategy won — that brought landslide victories to such Republican leaders as Nixon and Reagan in the past. Recent Republican strategy also reflects the growing belief that winning non-white votes is essential to the Republican future. Whereas strong Republican candidates like Nixon and Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s relied on what came to be known as the “Southern strategy” to win high levels of support among white voters, the new Republicans of the 1990s explicitly rejected and abandoned that strategy.

In August 2000, the Washington Post cited Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s top political strategist, as dismissing the Southern strategy as an “old paradigm” that “past GOP candidates had employed in a calculated bid to polarize the electorate and put together a predominantly white majority.” “People are more attracted today by a positive agenda than by wedge issues,” Rove told the Post. Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now a Republican political consultant, also told the Post, “This is a very different party from the party that sits down on Labor Day and cedes the black vote and cedes the Hispanic vote, and tries to drive its percentage of the white vote over 70 percent to win an election.”1 George W. Bush himself reflected this new strategy in his own campaign rhetoric and positions on immigration.

But the actual result of this new strategy is evident from the exit polls of the 2000 election. The strategy failed to attract significant numbers of non-white voters; it failed miserably to win black votes and won only enough Hispanic votes to raise support to not-quite the traditional level of that group’s support for the Republican ticket. More significantly, however, it also failed to attract the large numbers of white voters, who are the natural base of the party and who remain essential for the kind of clearcut, landslide electoral victories won by Nixon and Reagan. Bush was able to win a small majority of white voters, but without the kind of explicit appeals to them that Nixon and Reagan made, he and his party are unable to win larger majorities. Experts like Reed and Rove are entirely correct that today’s GOP is a different party from the old one of Nixon and Reagan. The old party could win landslide victories through the Southern strategy and appeals to white voters. The new party built by Reed, Rove, and Bush can barely win elections at all and managed to lose the popular vote to its opponent. (It should be recalled that Bush lost the popular vote to Gore and would certainly have lost the electoral vote as well had Ralph Nader not run as a third-party candidate of the left and taken votes from Gore.)

The Democrats under Al Gore, by contrast, made every effort to cut into the Republicans’ white political base. They did so by deploying what during the campaign was called the “class war” strategy, denouncing Big Business (Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Drug companies), vowing free prescription drugs and health care for the elderly, and appealing to white union members. Washington Post political reporter Thomas Edsall noted this strategy during the campaign: “Gore’s success in making inroads with working-class voters, especially white men, has been crucial to his improved standing in the battleground state of Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri that hold the balance of power in the 2000 election,” Edsall wrote in September 2000. “Among all voters in each of these states, Democrat Gore is either fully competitive with, or slightly ahead of Texas Gov. Bush, the Republican nominee.”2 Although Gore lost in two of these states, the strength of his challenge to Bush in them forced his rival to divert resources and attention he might have deployed elsewhere.

One reason Gore did not in the end do better among white voters, according to Edsall, is that Gore’s support for gun control weakened his appeal to blue-collar white male voters and that intensive anti-Gore efforts by the National Rifle Association prevented him from winning more of their support. “The problem for Democrats,” Edsall reported in October 2000, “is that gun control is unpopular among many of the swing voters both campaigns are targeting in the final weeks of the campaign, particularly in battleground states — such as Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — with a sizable bloc of hunters and other gun enthusiasts.” As a result, Gore began to moderate his anti-gun rhetoric and back away from his support for gun control. The Post reported pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, as noting that “Gore’s decision to deemphasize gun control may be based on poll trends that show a reduction in the overall support for gun control, especially among men.”3

Nevertheless, Gore’s populist strategy did seek to appeal to white working class voters and thereby cut into the political base of his opponent. Coupled with his success in winning non-white voting blocs through appeals to their racial fears and animosities, his strategy did win the popular vote for president and lost the electoral vote only because of the Nader challenge and after a series of agonizing recounts and court battles in Florida.

The conclusion is inescapable: George W. Bush won the election not because of his “compassionate conservatism,” “Big Tent,” or “Rainbow Republicanism” mobilized a majority of voters or attracted non-whites, but because the political left was split between the Democrats and the Naderites. The Democrats won the popular vote and, despite the Naderite rebellion, nearly won the election because they explicitly appealed to and made use of the racial solidarity and racial consciousness that drives the majority of non-white voters, while at the same time using white working class economic anxieties to attract white voters and cut into their opponents’ neglected political-demographic base.

It may be possible for the Republicans to win many Hispanic voters through appeals to social issues (“family values,” pro-life, and law and order themes, for example) and even to immigration restriction, since polls consistently show that many Hispanics favor reduced immigration. But the continuing flood of immigrants from the Third World economies of Latin America carries an ever-increasing number of low-income, low-skill Hispanics into the United States and eventually into the American electorate, and the rising level of Hispanic identity and racial consciousness combines with this economic status to create a formidable voting bloc that is likely to favor both left-wing policies and ethnic identity politics. Thus, the Center for Immigration Studies, in an analysis of Census Bureau data about immigrants in the United States in 2000,  found that 30 percent of immigrants lack a high school diploma, more than tripled the rate for natives; that the poverty rate among immigrants is 50 percent higher than for native Americans, with immigrants and their U.S.-born children under 21 accounting for 22 percent of all persons living in poverty; that the proportion of immigrant households using welfare programs is 30 percent to 50 percent higher than that of native households; and that one-third of immigrants lack health insurance.4 Moreover, for immigrants arriving in the 1990s, more than 71 percent were from the non-Western and non-white countries of “Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and East Asia.”5

These figures describe the social, economic, and racial profile of the kind of voter who has traditionally voted for the Democrats and has supported the most liberal policies of the Democratic Party — more welfare, more government-sponsored health care and education, more affirmative action, and more federal legislation against racial discrimination. It is, therefore, inherently improbable that such voters can be won over permanently to the Republican Party unless the party itself changes far more than its campaign strategy and tactics. To win such voters, the Republicans would have to become largely a replica of the Democratic Party itself, and even were it to do so, such a dramatic change would alienate the white middle class and socially conservative working class voters, without whom the Republicans cannot expect to win elections at all. Moreover, the Republicans would find that, no matter how far to the left they were willing to move in order to attract lower-class Hispanics and non-whites, the Democrats would be willing to move even further left to outbid them. That is exactly what has already happened with the politics of amnesty of illegal aliens in 2001 and 2002.

Yet, despite this profile of recent immigrants and the clear evidence of Hispanic voting preferences in two presidential elections and almost every significant state election since 1994, the Republicans continue to seek the Hispanic vote, to abandon immigration reform for fear of alienating the Hispanic bloc, and to neglect their most important and most loyal core of voters, white males. Despite some sympathy for granting amnesty to illegal aliens in the United States from both Sen. John McCain and Jack Kemp during the 2000 election, GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush distanced himself from amnesty proposals embodied in congressional legislation in 2000, with a campaign spokesman saying Bush “does not support ‘blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants.'”6 Nevertheless, almost immediately after taking office, Bush began talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox on the issue of amnesty for Mexican illegals. Democrats, not to be outflanked by the Republicans on an issue important to a significant constituency, at once proposed amnesty for all illegal aliens, not merely those from Mexico. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 forced the administration to postpone further discussions of amnesty with Fox and the Congress, but there are signs that a year afterward the Bush White House’s interest in amnesty is reviving. In the course of 2001 and 2002, Bush also made radio addresses in Spanish on the occasion of “Cinco de Mayo,” a Mexican holiday virtually unknown in the United States until recently, and the Republican National Committee in May, 2002, announced a series of television programs in Spanish designed to appeal to Hispanic voters. “Our commitment to reach out to all constituency groups is serious, and the Hispanic community is no exception,” RNC Chairman Marc Racicot announced to a press conference.7 Bush also supported the restoration of eligibility for the food stamps welfare program for legal immigrants, the repeal of a legal requirement that illegal aliens applying for U.S. citizenship return to their home countries before gaining permanent residency in the United States, and redrawing electoral districts to allow for more Hispanic representation in Congress and state legislatures.8

Yet, as with earlier efforts before the 2000 election to win Hispanic votes, these efforts appeared to be failures as well. Bush himself appeared to gain in popularity among Hispanics (as well as among most other voter groups) in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and his response to it, but it appeared doubtful that any personal popularity he enjoyed would translate into support for Republican candidates.9 Thus, in California, House Republicans in the southern part of the state launched a drive to attract Hispanic voters to their party in July, 2002, with Rep. David Dreir saying, “We offer the best hope fo Hispanics. We are building on President George W. Bush’s message of inclusion. Our message of liberty, freedom and economic opportunity is tailor-made for the Hispanic community.” Nevertheless, a poll conducted by the polling firm Latino Opinions found that while 82 percent of those Hispanics surveyed held favorable views of Bush (as opposed to 47 percent in a 2001 poll), it also showed that Hispanic voters were supporting Democratic House candidates over Republican candidates by 53 percent to 23 percent.10 In the California gubernatorial election, incumbent Democrat Gray Davis faced a challenge from Republican Bill Simon, son of the late Treasury Secretary William E. Simon in the Ford administration. Simon early in his campaign showed signs of abandoning the Hispanic strategy and adopting tactics closer to those of Pete Wilson by suggesting he might support another Proposition 187 and declared that he would “absolutely” support putting the National Guard on the state’s borders with Mexico to protect against illegal immigration.11

But he later renounced support for another anti-immigration measure and courted Hispanics throughout the campaign. Yes, as the Washington Times reported in August, 2002:

Mr. Simon has been attempting to ingratiate himself with Hispanics in personal appearances and TV ads from the beginning of his campaign.

A poll released this week, however, shows Mr. Simon trailing Mr. Davis by a large margin, 55 percent to 21 percent, among Hispanics in the state.12

Simon’s adoption of the Hispanic strategy appeared to be working no better for him than it had for Dan Lungren and Matt Fong.

The other main test in 2002 for the Republicans’ Hispanic strategy was in Bush’s own state of Texas, where a Hispanic business executive, Tony Sanchez, challenged incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Sanchez defeated another Hispanic, state Attorney General Dan Morales, for the Democratic nomination in March and became the first Hispanic ever to be nominated for the governor’s office. Perry, the former lieutenant governor of the state, was unopposed in the Republican primary and became governor after Bush was elected to the White House. Bush’s own popularity with Hispanics in Texas did not seem to apply to Perry and his party, however. As the Houston Chronicle reported, 75 percent of the state’s Hispanics and 90 percent of its blacks voted in the Democratic primary, while the “Anglo” (i.e. white) voter participation in the primary fell by 125,000 votes.13 As columnist John O’Sullivan, former editor at National Review, commented soon afterward, “The Texas primary strengthened the evidence that the Hispanic vote is drifting firmly into the Democratic camp — irrespective of the GOP’s immigration policies.14

In almost all cases, then, since 1994, the results of every real political test of the Hispanic strategy have been the same. Pete Wilson and other Republicans ran on a program of restricting immigration and public benefits to immigrants, and they won. Robert Dole and Jack Kemp, Dan Lungren and Matt Fong in California, Alphonse D’Amato and Rick Lazio in New York, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ran on pro-immigration, anti-restriction platforms and lost both the Hispanic vote and (except Bush-Cheney, who did lose the popular vote) the election. By any reasonable test, then, the Hispanic strategy has been a failure as have been the efforts to “reach out” to or “lure” the black vote into the Republican Party. What then should the Republican Party do?

For all the rhetoric of the “new Republicans” about winning non-whites, the lesson of the 2000 election and every other recent election for the GOP ought to be clear: Trying to win non-whites, especially by abandoning issues important to white voters, while neglecting, abandoning, or alienating whites is the road to political suicide; the natural and logical strategy of the Republican Party in the future is to seek to maximize its white vote as much as possible.

The ethnic and racial analysis of the 2000 presidential election and other elections carries special implications for advocates of immigration reform and control. Either the Republicans or any other party able and willing to do so could attract the white voters that are the backbone of the GOP by embracing issues like immigration control and supporting a long-term moratorium on legal immigration, terminating welfare and other public benefits for immigrants, seeking the abolition of affirmative action, and working for the repeal of “hate crime” laws, the end of multiculturalism, and similar policies. Not only would such issues mobilize white voters legitimately concerned about the impact of mass immigration on themselves and their communities and nation but also, terminating mass immigration would slow down or halt the formation of new ethnically and racially driven bloc constituencies that mass immigration imports into American politics. The Republicans or any other party making use of this strategy could thus become and remain a majority party by appealing to and seeking to raise white racial consciousness. They do not have to do so and should not do so by appealing to irrational racial fears and animosities, but they can and legitimately should encourage white voters to (1) perceive that they as a group are under such threat from the racial and demographic trends in this country and the racial politics those trends indicate — as the Census Bureau has repeatedly projected, whites will cease to constitute a majority of the U.S. National population for the first time in the nation’s history around the year 2050, less than fifty years from the present — and (2) believe that the Republican Party (or an alternative political vehicle) will consistently support them and their interests against this threat.

Advocates of Rainbow Republicanism will argue that this strategy is not possible or desirable, that it will only promote racial divisions, and that attracting more white voters than the Republicans now are able to win is not a practical goal. This line of argument is invalid. Racial animosity is already being inflamed — by the Democrats’ willingness to exploit anti-white sentiments and by racial demagogues like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the NAACP, and analogous Hispanic racial extremists, with whom the Democrats do not hesitate to ally and whose anti-white agendas they routinely embrace. The only force that can quell or check this kind of anti-white racism is the solidarity of whites against it and against those who try to use it for political gain.

As for the feasibility of winning more white votes, it is entirely feasible — as the 67 percent and 64 percent white majorities won by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in 1972 and 1984 show. It is quite true that neither Nixon nor Reagan ever did much to address white concerns once they had won their votes, but a political leader who actually did seek to address such concerns could surely win that level of white support again. Some 82 percent of the 102 million Americans who voted in the election of 2000 were white: George W. Bush won 54 percent of them, or about 45 million. Had he won 65 percent of white voters, he would have won more than 54 million white voters, or 9 million more votes than he did win. There is no reason why that or even higher levels of white support are not possible.15

Indeed, even that level of white support is not essential for decisive Republican victory. As Steve Sailer showed in an analysis for Peter Brimelow’s website,, soon after the 2000 election, if Bush had cultivated his natural base and increased his share of the white vote by only a few percentage points, he would have won the election overwhelmingly.16 If, instead of 54 percent, he had won 57 percent (his father won 59 percent in 1988), he would have won an electoral college landslide of 367 to 171. What if winning another 3 percent of the white vote had required appeals that scared away so many non-whites that their support dropped by more than a third, from 21 percent to 12 percent? Bush still would have won comfortably, with 310 electoral votes to 228. Even if by increasing his percentage of the white vote by 3 percentage points, Bush would have reduced his the number of his non-white supporters to zero, he still would have wound up with a tie in the electoral college. Mr. Sailer points out that 92 percent of Bush’s votes came from whites; it is suicidal folly for Republicans to abandon the issues and strategies that attract these voters in pursuit of non-white Republicans who never materialize.

Peter Brimelow and Edwin S. Rubenstein have noted that, for all the Republican foreboding about the growing Hispanic and non-white presence in the electorates of California and other states, Southern whites now and historically have had to confront even larger racial disparities in the electorates of their own states.

The demographic balance of many southern states that the GOP now wins handily is in fact far more lopsided than that of California today — or of the United States tomorrow. African Americans, solid Democratic voters, constitute 35 to 40 percent of the electorate in those states, but the GOP wins handily because it mobilizes its white base. In 2000, it achieved 81 percent of the white vote in Mississippi, 73 percent in Texas, and 72 percent in Alabama. Overall, some 66 percent of white Southerners voted for George W. Bush last November. We calculate that if the Republicans could achieve 66 percent of the white vote nationwide, they would remain the majority party regardless of immigration, until 2080.17

The largely white Republican Party in the South routinely manages to win majorities in these states for many congressional and gubernatorial candidates as well as for presidential candidates. It is able to do so because white Southerners — far more than whites elsewhere — vote as a bloc. While exit polls show that whites in the South voted for Bush by 66 percent in 2000, in the three other regions (East, West, and Midwest), white voters supported Bush by an average of only 49 percent. Obviously, white racial consciousness in political form remains highest in the South, though the election of 2000 shows that there is, among a small majority of whites and especially white men, at least a kind of racial subconscious in much of the rest of the country as well. Only if whites of both genders throughout the nation bring that subconscious to the surface and make it a real force in national politics by translating it into political action at the polls can they expect to resist the ethnopolitics that that threatens them. If white Americans and their political leadership fail to do so, they and the country they have historically led face an uncertain and alarming future with whites facing the possibility of becoming a politically inert and powerless racial minority in the new, majority non-white America of the coming century.

  1. Thomas B. Edsall, “Bush abandons ‘Southern Strategy’,” Washington Post, August 6, 2000.
  2. Thomas B. Edsall, “Wooing Working Men,” Washington Post, September 11, 2000.
  3. Juliet Eilperin and Thomas B. Edsall, “For Democrats, gun issue is losing its fire,” Washington Post, October 20, 2000.
  4. Steven A. Camarota, “Immigrants in the United States – 2000,” Backgrounder, Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, D.C., January, 2001, p. 1.
  5. Ibid., p. 6.
  6. Nick Anderson, “Latinos are watching GOP vote on immigration law,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2000.
  7. Ralph Z. Hallow, “GOP to seek votes in Spanish,” Washington Times, May 7, 2002; Mike Allen, “Bush: Respect Mexican immigrants,” Washington Post, May 6, 2001.
  8. Amy Goldstein, “Return of food stamps for immigrants sought,” Washington Post, January 10, 2002; Bill Straub, “Bush immigration proposal could help Democrats,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, May 3, 2001; Eduardo Porter, “Hispanics seek increased representation and Republicans are very eager to help,” Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2001.
  9. Stephen Dinan, “Latinos’ esteem for Bush is rising,” Washington Times, May 22, 2002; John Harwood, “Bush outreach to Hispanics pays dividends,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2002.
  10. Greg Pierce, “Inside Politics: Wooing Hispanics,” Washington Times, July 18, 2002.
  11. Carla Martinucci, “Simon’s harsh words on immigration may haunt campaign,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2002.
  12. Ralph Z. Hallow, “Bush declines to share stage with Simon at Hispanic event,” Washington Times, August 23, 2002..
  13. Dan Balz, “Hispanic executive wins Tex. Democratic gubernatorial bid,” Washington Post, March 13, 2002; R.G. Ratcliffe, “Democrats draw fewer Anglo votes,” Houston Chronicle, March 18, 2002.
  14. John O’Sullivan, “Hasta la vista, Baby,” National Review, April 8, 2002, p. 17.
  15. In America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 145, authors Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers argue that the Republicans could achieve a higher level of white support by increasing their share of the white female vote. Bush in 2000 did not do as well among whites in general mainly because he lost support among white women.
  16. Steve Sailer, “GOP Future Depends on Winning Larger Share of the White Vote,” November 28, 2000.
  17. Peter Brimelow and Edwin Rubenstein, “Swept Away,” October 20, 2001.