Not too long ago, the Republican Party was successful in appealing to Asian Americans - a cohort that seems to embody the conservative identity better than any other non-white group in America. As the highest earning ethnic group with the highest number of degree-holders, Asian Americans are also the most likely to embark on conservative-leaning professions. On paper, Asian Americans fit the GOP bill. So then why did 73% of them vote for Obama?
As freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) prepares to deliver his CPAC keynote address, he and the Growth and Opportunity Project should be asking themselves this very question. As the fastest-growing racial group (outpacing Hispanics since 2010) — and one with a record of voting Republican just a decade ago — this exodus isn't just a byproduct of Asian American millennials reaching voting age. The Asian American exit can be largely attributed to the Republican Party’s incremental and steadfast lean to the far right, and a potential problem for 2016 that begs deeper GOP introspection.
As the 2000s set in, Asian Americans began voting blue. In the 1992 elections, 55% of Asian American vote went to George H.W. Bush, and in 1996, 48% went to Dole. But in 2000, exit polls showed 62% in favor of Gore, and in 2004, 56% voted for John Kerry. This shift coincides with the post-September 11 geopolitical climate that propelled the Republican Party further to the right. Al-Qaeda and the threat of terrorism fueled the GOP’s pro-(white) American rhetoric and fixation on national security, and emerging socio-demographic exigencies fell to the wayside.
The GOP’s staunch focus on American security — increasing military spending, tightening border control, and proposing a tough path to citizenship — not only perpetuates the image of the nativist Conservative hawk, but it also translates into a perceived (and often, practiced) hostility towards “the Other.” Whether it be Muslims who were noticeably absent from the 2012 RNC, blacks, like Obama, whom Santorum and Gingrich coined the “food stamp president” during the 2012 primaries, or the decision of Lauro Garza, head of the largest organization for Latino conservatives in Texas to quit, the GOP isn't sending positive messages to many minority groups.
The GOP’s stance on climate change and evolution also doesn't emit good vibes. Especially to Asian Americans who go into STEM professions more than any other ethnic group, Rick Perry’s claim of scientists manipulating climate data “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” leaves a sour mark. The Republican Party’s ambivalence and cagey reactions against those who inquire about their view of evolution also don’t agree with Asian Americans.
Finally, it’s difficult to connect with a political party in which there is so little representation. Professor Menzie Chinn’s Business Insider article about why Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for Obama, is accompanied by a mural of the Republican House Committee Chairmen that says it all. While Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley hold a torch in the South as Indian Americans, one must delve deeper in senatorial or congressional seats to find other Asian Americans.
As Republicans continue to devise their CPAC 2013 invite list, they should think carefully about representation and the messages they send. CPAC’s founding year speaker, Ronald Reagan, once told his adviser Lionel Sosa, “Remind Latinos that they are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet.” This time, the GOP needs to be reminded that Asian Americans were once Republicans — Conservatives just don’t know yet that they are slowly losing them.