Earlier this month Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) reminded us all of the “threat” of Muslims bringing Sharia law into the United States. She said it was troubling to see “some United States justices bringing in Sharia law,” and that Muslims want to “usurp” the Constitution. Earlier this summer, Herman Cain declared that he would not appoint a Muslim to his administration, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich echoed concerns about Muslims in government. Reasonable scrutiny is one thing, but this type of manufactured fear scares people and alienates Muslims from the Republican Party.
The truth is, though, that the Muslim community in America is actually a natural fit for the GOP. As a matter of political strategy, the GOP could pick up a substantial portion of the Muslim vote without having to make any substantial policy shifts.
Many American Muslims are new immigrants or first and second generation Americans, hailing from South Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. They are people who came to the U.S. largely empty-handed, in search of a better life. Self-reliance and personal responsibility make up the core of these individuals and their families. The notion of a government safety net is as foreign to them as the Kardashians are.
Now consider that one in every four American Muslim households earns over $100,000 per year. Another plus for Republicans, as you’d expect that lower taxes, the cornerstone of conservative fiscal policy, would resonate well with them.
Remnants of their own cultures also play to Republican strengths. Many Muslims in America come from regions where there is a strong emphasis on the value of family. They want a certain degree of autonomy when it comes to how they raise their children, with 84% supporting school choice. They’re unlikely to be compelled to extend marriage rights and are overwhelmingly pro-life.
In fact, in 2000, President George W. Bush won 70% of the American Muslim vote.
Of course, the usual explanation for Muslims no longer voting Republican has to do with foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Middle East. But if you look closely, neither the GOP nor the Democratic Party is really a winner for most Muslims on these issues. If Muslims didn’t like Bush’s foreign policy, surely they are frustrated by the Obama administration’s foreign policy strategies, especially drone strikes and our involvement in Libya. Muslims that had issues with these foreign policy decisions may see both parties as equally hawkish. And as far as the Middle East goes, Israel is an American ally. Both parties generally support Israel, so it’s a wash for Muslims set on supporting Palestine.
Despite the instinctive alignment of a substantial number of Muslims with conservative ideals, in 2008 about 90% of American Muslim voters chose to vote for President Barack Obama.
So what is it that has alienated Muslims from the GOP?
Rhetoric that perpetuates a fear of Islam and average Muslims.
It’s the comments like those from Bachmann, Cain, and Gingrich. To regain the American Muslim vote, Republicans need not make any policy concessions whatsoever; all they have to do is stop spewing hateful rhetoric.
And other Republicans, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are already realizing that this rhetoric is political poison. See, there’s a growing perception among independents and left-leaning Americans that conservatives today are too extreme. This type of nonsense about Muslims in America wanting to take over the government plays right into that narrative. But confronting this rhetoric retorts that perception and may make Republicans more competitive in a general election.
Of course, there are people within the GOP who believe Islam and Muslims are the enemy and don’t belong here. And if Republican politicians start defecting from their cause, there is a chance these people may drop their support.
But it won’t hurt much. They’re a small group. And their cause is a dying one. They are going to be left behind. Like all other causes that stem from hate, their efforts will be washed away over time and into the history books.
Besides, what are they going to do… vote for Obama?
Photo Credit: david_shankbone