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.
A key reason for the results: whites. Blacks say the polar opposite.
Hispanics, in between, lean more toward non-Hispanic whites in these polls. Same with independents (who are in the majority white as well).
But polling also shows Republicans have broader troubles.
A July national poll from Quinnipiac University found congressional Republicans had an approval rating of -52 percentage points. Democrats: -33. And 51 percent said Republicans were to blame for Washington gridlock, compared to 35 percent who said Obama didn’t have the skills to accomplish enough.
But it’s not like Obama is well-liked, either, with 49 percent having an unfavorable opinion of him and 47 percent expressing a favorable view — a net shift of 7 points against the president since winning the election. The economy remains horrible for many, and Obamacare remains unpopular.
There is solid bipartisan and multi-racial agreement in one area: Voters think race relations have gotten worse under the first black president.
A Florida poll last week from Republican-run Viewpoint Florida showed 10 percent of respondents believe race relations have gotten better under Obama, 53 percent worse, and 35 percent that they have stayed the same.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll last week jibed with Viewpoint Florida by showing race relations haven’t been perceived so poorly since the fall of 1995, when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his white ex-wife and her friend.
At the time, many whites were aghast. Many blacks celebrated. Now the roles have been somewhat reversed.
The Journal/NBC poll also found voters are more likely to blame Republicans if immigration reform fails. And 59 percent say the border-security-first GOP talking point is “an excuse to block reform.”
Hispanics — the fastest-growing segment of the overall electorate — and registered Florida independents have taken note of the far-right anger directed at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for breaking his word on illegal immigrant “amnesty” to get a bipartisan reform passed in the U.S. Senate.
Rubio, a 2016 presidential hopeful, has now slipped in early caucus polls for first-in-the-nation Iowa, home of the DREAMers-are-drug-mules congressman.
The new early Iowa GOP frontrunner: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. He just parted ways with a former aide who had once posed as an Old South-sympathizing shock jock called the “Southern Avenger,” a persona replete with a Dixie-flagged wrestling mask.
Intentional or not, to many blacks the name echoes the Ku Klux Klan, vigilantism, Jim Crow laws, and police brutality.
Against this historical backdrop and living history, Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012 in a Sanford apartment complex.
Zimmerman wasn’t a cop. He was just a wannabe. But the result was the same. He was legally allowed to do it (in his case in self defense).
After the acquittal, a FOX News national poll last week showed Republicans are two-and-a-half times more likely to have a favorable opinion (45 percent) of Zimmerman than Obama (18 percent). And they’re almost three times more likely to have an unfavorable opinion of Obama (79 percent) than Zimmerman (27 percent).
Independents are almost in line with Republicans, although they still narrowly favor Obama more than Zimmerman.
The Republican numbers stand out the most.
But whether it means Republicans reach out more to their own base or more to minorities, and what effect it has on 2014 and beyond, isn’t as clear as black and white right now.