Monday, November 07, 2022

Why the GOP Can't Quite Quit Kanye and Co.

It's been a month and this tweet is still up:


Why? Why, after spending countless hours railing against "Black antisemitism", is the GOP not interested in repudiating Kanye West?

At one level, the answer is obvious: As I talk about in my latest Haaretz column, the GOP has gone full Jeremy Corbyn this cycle, up to and including the antisemitism. The GOP won't condemn Kanye because the GOP is antisemitic.

At another level, the answer is still obvious: fair weather opposition to antisemitism is hardly a rare phenomenon, and the GOP has hardly shown much in the way of moral fortitude when it comes to denouncing hatred from their "side". The aforementioned "countless" hours attacking "Black antisemitism" were, as any half-awake political observer could tell you, not about genuine solidarity with Jews but a cynical way of living out the GOP's favorite hobby (trashing Black people).

But at still another level, there is something at least a little less obvious, and perhaps more provocative, that can be said. Namely: antisemitism may be a quick and easy way for the GOP to make inroads among Black voters. More than any other issue, antisemitism is a growth opportunity for the Republican Party.

Now I want to be absolutely clear: antisemitism is not a way to actually win a majority of Black voters, or anything close to it. Most Black voters are not antisemitic, most are not interested in antisemitism and are actively turned off by it.

However, the Republican Party doesn't need to win Black voters. It just needs to increase its margins from the currently abysmal levels to the merely horrible. Going from a 10% share to, say, a 25% share still objectively means they're getting absolutely crushed among Black voters -- but it also would make a huge difference in swing-y states like Georgia or Virginia.

So the operative question is not whether antisemitism is popular amongst Black voters, generally. The question is whether it is appealing to the particular tranche of Black voters who are most amenable to being picked off by GOP appeals. And there's good reason to believe the answer is yes. Or put differently: If you're a political strategist trying to flip even a few Black voters to the GOP, the small but not utterly trivial Black antisemites represent the lowest hanging fruit.

Kanye himself is evidence of this, of course, as is Candace Owens, recently spotted boosting far-left antisemite extraordinaire Max Blumenthal on their shared hatred of the ADL allegedly inventing contemporary antisemitism. Indeed, the dirty secret of contemporary data on antisemitism in the US is that there is a spike in minority communities -- but that spike is clustered along the most conservative tranche of the community. So it is entirely plausible that this subclass of Black voters -- likely the most natural target of conservative political appeals generally -- could be particularly attuned to emergent GOP rhetoric relying on antisemitic dogwhistles about Soros, about "globalists", about the ADL, and so on.

When one thinks about it, this isn't really anything unique to African-Americans. Similar dynamics are also playing out in Latino communities, for similar reasons. And if it weren't for the fact that White antisemites already vote overwhelmingly GOP, this strategy would work on them too (indeed, such appeals probably are part of what makes the antisemitic alt-left -- including folks like Max Blumenthal or Jimmy Dore -- at least MAGA curious). Antisemitism appeals to conservatives, and that includes conservatives who -- for either idiosyncratic personal or communal historical reasons -- haven't voted Republican in the past. It so happens that in the Black community that there are more conservative individuals who haven't voted Republican, but the underlying dynamic is little more complex than "conservatives are attracted to antisemitism."

So this perhaps completes the answer of why the GOP can't quite quit Kanye and company. It's not just or exactly that they agree with him, or even pure partisan tribalism. Kanye is symbolic of a particular political opportunity conservatives have to win over, not the majority of Black voters or even a sizeable minority, but a large enough cohort of the most conservative group members.  Kanye represents an incredibly tempting future where the GOP again does not "win the Black vote" or come anywhere close to doing so, but does grab an additional 10% or so that might make all the difference in some crucial races. But the point is that, in terms of that opportunity's content, antisemitism is not just an unfortunate hanger-on. It is central to the appeal.

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