At a time when the Republican Party is struggling to gain the support of minority voters, their first debate featured a chorus of dog whistles on issues of race.
In response to a question about rising urban crime rates, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy whistled the loudest. He would put more cops on the streets who did not have to “look over their shoulder for getting sued,” a jab at Black Lives Matter and the broader push for police accountability.
Ramaswamy vowed to “end the teachers’ unions” and impose a civics test on 18- to 24-year-olds in order for them to vote, echoing Jim Crow literacy tests that were imposed on Black voters. “Reverse racism is racism,” he added in closing.
Not to be out-dog-whistled on crime, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused liberal philanthropist George Soros of “funding radical left-wing district attorneys,” who, in this view, turn a blind eye to street crime at the urging of the 93-year-old Jewish billionaire.
DeSantis has partially built his brand on clamping down on school curricula around race and racism. On the stage he claimed to have “eliminated critical race theory” and “eliminated gender ideology” from Florida schools, declaring that, “We need education in this country, not indoctrination in this country.”
Not to be outdone, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said, “There’s a lot of crazy woke things happening in schools.”
Haley, Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina stood shoulder to shoulder with the five white men on stage, each claiming to have boot-strapped their way up. Yet, in this historically diverse field of Republican candidates, there was not a diversity of views regarding race.
Scott mentioned repeatedly that he was raised in a single-parent home and touted the Trump-Pence administration’s low unemployment rate for Black and Hispanic workers.
Yet Scott didn’t deviate from the conservative script that government aid hurts families and vowed to “break the backs of the teachers’ unions.”
Prof. Calvin Schermerhorn is a historian of slavery, capitalism and African-American inequality at Arizona State University.