Tea party champion Chris McDaniel and his supporters are not amused by the irony of seeing their opponent in the Mississippi GOP Senate primary, incumbent Thad Cochran, win by mobilizing black Democrats to turn out for him.
I don't blame them for being upset. But they ought to ask themselves: What is it about the tea party that spurs hordes of African-Americans who have never voted Republican in their lives to go to the polls purely to keep a candidate like McDaniel from winning?
The simple answer is that black voters perceive the tea party to be motivated at least in part by racial prejudice. A 2010 study found that of whites who identified with the tea party, only 35 think blacks are "hard-working" -- compared to 55 percent of those whites who reject the tea party. Tea partiers were also more likely to favor racial profiling.
In his angry non-concession speech last night, McDaniel didn't shy away from racial dog whistles. "We are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians," he exclaimed, evoking memories of the Confederate rebellion and the century-long resistance to racial equality that followed the Civil War. As a friend of mine said, "He's Ross Barnett with a better haircut," referring to the governor who blocked the admission of blacks to the University of Mississippi in 1962.
As a radio talk-show host, he made coarse wisecracks about Latinos and on the subject of paying compensation to the descendants of slaves, said, "If they pass reparations, and my taxes are going up, I ain't paying taxes."
On his show this morning, McDaniel admirer Rush Limbaugh was even more blatant in his race-mongering. Cochrane owed his victory, jeered the radio host, to "black Uncle Tom voters."
Black Mississippians voted in a Republican primary yesterday not because they like Cochrane -- whose voting record earned him a 4 percent rating from the NAACP -- but because they found McDaniel and his tea party followers far worse. They had good cause.
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