Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Sanford, Florida one day before the election.
Parallels with Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 speech at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi to tout “states’ rights” should be obvious. But Romney’s signaling Monday seemed even more brazen. Of all the places across America to visit on Election Eve, why would Romney choose the site of America’s most racially-acrimonious episode in years? Sanford, if it needs to be said, is where George Zimmerman shot dead an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, in February. This was subsequently swept under the rug by local police. When word finally percolated up the media food-chain, a national controversy ensued, prompting incredible vitriol from certain unsavory elements of the populace.
Whatever one feels about the Zimmerman-Martin encounter, gun policy, or 21st century race relations, the fact remains that many Americans were extremely upset by this incident. It rekindled bad feelings still harbored by countless black citizens that government agents, especially in (but not by any means limited to) the South, systematically subject them to disparate treatment. Even if Romney sincerely did not intend to signal anything crass with his appearance there — a notion which seems preposterous — his obliviousness would, perhaps, be more damning. However, I refuse to give Romney the benefit of the doubt any longer. He and his team knew exactly what they were doing.
Conservatives will spend the next weeks and months deliberating the causes of Romney’s outsized defeat. Already being cited is inadequate outreach to minorities. Romney’s decision to rally the troops in Sanford suggests that genuine “outreach” was never a real priority for him; in fact, he sought to exploit latent racial resentment for political gain. If the Republican nominee felt compelled to behave this way in 2012, the party has a long, long way to go.