Republicans worried about charges of racism and sexism?

A report from the Politico says the GOP is doing polls and focus groups to ensure its messages aren't taken out of context, but is it really that simple?

By Alex Koppelman
Published February 25, 2008 10:25PM (EST)

As we've seen today, attacks -- even perceived attacks -- against Barack Obama that seem to touch on his ethnicity can backfire against the attacker. So, too, can attacks on Hillary Clinton's gender. This, the Republican Party seems to be realizing, might pose a problem for the GOP this year: It's almost certain that the Republican candidate will be a white man, while the Democrats will run either a woman or an African-American. And, of course, the Republican Party doesn't exactly have a reputation as the party of tolerance or diversity to begin with.

So the Republicans are already beginning to turn to voters to test what they can and can't say during the general election campaign, the Politico's David Paul Kuhn reports.

The Republican National Committee has commissioned polling and focus groups to determine the boundaries of attacking a minority or female candidate, according to people involved. ... Republicans will be told to "be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion" and that "the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts," [a Republican strategist] explained ...

GOP officials are certain their words will be scrutinized ever more aggressively. They anticipate a regular media barrage of accusations of intolerance -- or much worse ...

GOP operatives have already coined a term for clumsy rhetoric: "undisciplined messaging." It appears as a bullet point in a PowerPoint presentation making the rounds among major donors, party leaders and surrogates. The presentation outlines five main strategic attacks against an Obama candidacy, with one of them stating how "undisciplined messaging carries great risk."

The strategists quoted were largely successful in portraying their efforts at testing and informing candidates about messaging as an earnest effort to avoid being taken out of context. But perhaps it's not so simple, so much a case of innocents trying to ensure no one misunderstands their totally color- and gender-blind appeals. Maybe they're more interested in seeing how far they can go. It's not as though the Republican Party or its candidates have been saints who've totally avoided racial attacks in recent years; just look back at 2006, and the Republican National Committee's "call me" ad, run against former Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., who is African-American.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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