Sweaty White Laborer = That’s Me!
“You Wouldn’t Have to Work” = Blacks Wouldn’t Have to Work
“They Just Send Your Welfare Check …” = They Just Give Your Pay Away to Lazy Blacks
“Plain Old Welfare” = Remember Those Welfare Queens? They’re Back.
Before explaining why these tactics work (and why Romney’s team knows, or should know, they are playing the race card), let’s quickly deal with this fact: The ad is wrong. As countless impartial fact-checkers have noted, the Obama administration memo cited by the Romney team actually gives states flexibility to find better ways of getting welfare recipients into jobs.
Why ignore fact-checkers? First, internal GOP polling and focus groups offer convincing evidence that the welfare ad is hurting Obama. Second, the welfare issue, generally speaking, triggers anger in white blue-collar voters that is easily directed toward Democrats. This information comes from senior GOP strategists who have worked both for President Bush and Romney. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.
Furthermore, a senior GOP pollster said he has shared with the Romney camp surveys showing that white working-class voters who backed Obama in 2008 have moved to Romney in recent weeks “almost certainly because of the welfare ad. We’re talking a (percentage) point or two, but that could be significant.”
More broadly, racial prejudices and tensions are a factor in many voters’ decisions.
In the final months of Obama’s history-making 2008 campaign, The Associated Press conducted a series of polls and surveys that uncovered deep-seated racial misgivings costing Obama significant votes. The study, conducted with Stanford University, suggested that the percentage of voters who might reject Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the difference between the margin of President Bush’s 2004 victory – about 2.5 percentage points.
Also in 2008, an AP-Yahoo News poll found one-third of white Democrats harbored negative views toward blacks—many calling them "lazy," "violent," or responsible for their own troubles. (Disclosure: I was AP’s Washington bureau chief and helped coordinate the polls.)
A remarkable piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in my sister publication, The Atlantic, cites several studies linking negative racial attitudes to voting behavior. Coates writes: “The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled him) – and yet indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches.”
Knowing all this, and with deep personal roots in Detroit’s racial maw, I felt on firm ground Tuesday asking Ron Kaufman, a Romney adviser, why the campaign was playing the race card in places like Macomb County.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” Kaufman replied.
“You know an ad like that touches a racial button,” I said.
“No it doesn’t,” Kaufman replied. “I don’t agree with you at all.”
Kaufman who I’ve known and respected for years, accused me of playing the race card – a fair point, strictly speaking, because I raised the question in a public setting: a joint interview with CBS’ John Dickerson before a large audience and live-streamed.
Still, Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.
That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.