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Terminating the Black Republican Taboo

Generally, politics as a horse race bores us, though we are bored by neither horses nor races.

Yet Sen. Tim Scott’s entry to the presidential race is interesting, mostly for what everyone knows but so far no one is saying out loud. Republicans should support Tim Scott for President because he is black.

If Sen. Scott were black and liberal, or black and a Democrat, or black and stupid, or black and inarticulate, then they shouldn’t support him. But since Sen. Scott is Republican, conservative, articulate, smart, and all those things in a very traditional, optimistic, Reagan Republican way, and also black, Republicans should support him.

The Republican Party nominating a black American for President would cure, overnight and permanently, the most destructive inefficiency in American politics.

Political markets, like economic markets, work reasonably well because both have strong but imperfect tendencies to efficiency. Victorious candidates, like victorious products or victorious companies, broadly reflect the preferences of their respective markets.

None of these markets, however, are perfectly efficient. In a metaphor favored by the late Jude Wanniski, in any given year voters may long for chicken. Because political markets are only imperfectly efficient, chicken may not make it to the menu. If instead, the partly efficient market offers turkey and tofu, voters will likely elect the turkey if somewhat grudgingly.

It is popular today to blame the extremism of American politics on the inefficiencies of the primary system, which tends to narrow our choices on divisive issues to the opposing preferences of a minority of vocal voters.  On abortion for instance, Democrats who want to split open babies’ skulls as they try to sneak from the womb and Republicans who, even to save those babies, will make no concessions on rape or incest, write the menu.

The most destructive inefficiency in American politics, however, long predates the current primary system: the unwillingness of nearly 80% of black Americans to even consider voting Republican.

Notwithstanding a bit of slippage thanks to Trump, this remains true despite the large number of black voters whose issue preferences run closer to the Republicans than Democrats.

The result is a profound market inefficiency.

It is, in fact, a taboo.

A taboo is not a rational choice because it is not a choice at all. It is the removal of choice. We don’t say, “Oh I don’t think I will eat human flesh today, there are so many better options.” We don’t consider it at all. It doesn’t make it to the menu. (We know; please forgive us!)

For nearly 80% of black Americans, voting Republican does not make it to the menu.

Tim Scott would at least put it on the menu for a majority of black voters. He might even win a majority of black voters—with implications for decades to come.

Decades, precisely because taboos are not experienced as rational choices. They disappear almost the moment they are first violated. If that South American rugby team ever has the misfortune to crash land in the Andes again, they will not likely postpone the inevitable.

For most black Americans, the first time they vote Republican the taboo will disappear forever, profoundly disrupting American politics.

White church-going Americans already overwhelmingly vote Republican. They are increasingly joined by church-going Hispanics. Churchgoers will find themselves all but unanimously voting for the Republican party once they are joined by church-going blacks. (Observant Jews already are mostly there.)

Realignment would take place not only around the obvious social issues but economic issues with profound social implications.

Essentially all white American politicians have given up on fixing welfare, which means essentially all of them have given up on black Americans in poverty.

The last prominent white politician to attempt welfare reform was also the one dubbed “the first black president,” Bill Clinton, not coincidently the most conservative Democrat president of the 20th century.

Tim Scott speaks on this issue more forcefully than any politician in our lifetimes, not excluding Reagan. Reagan ran on “morning in America.” Scott, far more explicit, is basing his bid on the choices between “victory and victimhood,” “grievance or greatness.” Offering an entrepreneurial upside surprise to all Americans, a GOP nomination for Scott could transform American politics for a century to come.


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