Until Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stepped into the prime-time spotlight Tuesday night, the stage at the Republican National Convention was dominated by a parade of racial and ethnic minorities. The same could not be said about the delegates in the hall. As the United States has become an increasingly more diverse country, the Republican Party has maintained a distinctly pale hue.
Still, the party can boast a number of black and Latino elected officials -- and a bunch of them were put in front of the TV cameras on the opening night of the Tampa confab. Among the featured speakers were Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval; Sher Valenzuela, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor of Delaware; Ted Cruz, candidate for the U.S. Senate in Texas, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; and the first lady of Puerto Rico, Lucé Vela Fortuño.
The top prize in the how-many-minorities-can-we-pack-behind-a-microphone sweepstakes goes to whoever booked Artur Davis, the black ex-Democratic congressman who seconded Barack Obama's nomination four years ago. Having switched sides, Davis delivered a stinging rebuke to the president he helped elect.
Earlier in the day, during the roll call of the states, it was notable that several black delegates were given the honor of casting their state's ballots while surrounded by crowds of white faces. It would be easy to dismiss this as tokenism and window dressing -- which, of course, it is -- but there is something bigger behind it.
Republicans truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that the best thing a poor Latino or an underemployed African American can do to better his or her condition is to vote for a party that intends to let rich people keep more of their money. Showing off all those non-Caucasian officeholders is a way of saying to skeptical minority voters, "These guys have chosen the Republican path and just look where it has gotten them!"
It is a way for a party dominated by affluent white people to not feel embarrassed by their lack of diversity and, in fact, to assert a kind of superiority: "Democrats pander to you and keep you in thrall to the welfare state; we Republicans offer you a better way -- the free-market, pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps way."
In a year when Republicans are brazenly trying to suppress the minority vote in Ohio and Florida and are taking the hardest of hard lines on immigration, voting Republican may be a tough sell in minority communities. Still, the party has found some forceful salesmen who have risen from those communities, and they are filling the stage in Tampa with them.