The year began with Republicans talking minority outreach.
But seven months have passed and now a new poll shows Republicans generally view President Barack Obama less favorably than George Zimmerman, the man who shot an unarmed black teen from Miami Gardens in a case that African-Americans nationally view as racial.
“The African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away,” Obama said the Friday before last, disclosing that he had felt the sting of racial prejudice and profiling.
“Those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”
Hispanics, too, have a different historical experience from non-Hispanic whites when it comes to another issue: immigration.
Just after the powder keg of the July 13 Zimmerman verdict exploded, U.S. Rep Steve King inflamed many Hispanics when the Iowa Republican said 99 percent of illegal immigrant kids brought to this country by their parents are likely drug mules.
This is not the minority outreach national Republican leaders wanted.
They’ve condemned King’s comments and kept quiet about Obama’s comments on race and the Zimmerman case.
But the reaction from the far right — not so much the grassroots as the crazyroots — is another story. The crazyroots quickly decried Obama’s “race hustling,” even as some engaged in prejudicial stereotyping.
Less vehement and hostile, the far left race-baits as well, branding as “racist” those who talk about black-on-black crime or Trayvon’s troubles with school suspensions and marijuana.
These are the extremes of right and left, white and black, the ones who rant in disturbing emails, Tweets, and blogs. They probably don’t represent the vast majority.
But the racial and ethnic polarization is bound to affect the 2014 mid-term elections by pulling the political center left or right.
Which way? That’s anyone’s guess.
Will blacks and Hispanics show up in droves at the polls for Democrats? They haven’t in prior mid-term elections in Florida, allowing Republicans to control a state where they’re outnumbered by nearly 525,000 active registered Democratic voters.
Or will even more whites come to the Republican Party? Whites seemed to stay home more than expected in 2012.
The relative shrinking of white electoral dominance makes long-term minority outreach a must for the GOP. In swing-state Florida, the party is becoming whiter; the opposite is true for the Democratic Party.
But for months, as the right wing nationally pushed back against immigration reform, some conservative thinkers and strategists have said Republican minority outreach can wait — especially if it’s at the expense of majority outreach.
Then came the Zimmerman verdict.
African-Americans erupted in protest. The demonstrations (mostly nonviolent, a couple violent) have dominated news media coverage, but a recent batch of Florida and national polling shows the minorities are in the minority.
Overall, a majority or plurality of voters accept or approve of the Zimmerman verdict, or want to keep the Stand Your Ground self-defense law, tied to the case. They also oppose the idea of bringing federal civil-rights charges against the shooter.