By Cristina Marcos - 08/05/14 05:50 PM EDT
Republicans say a GOP lawmaker’s comments that Democrats are waging a “war on whites” is just what the party doesn’t need to deal with ahead of the midterm elections.
With a Senate majority in sight, party strategists say their office holders need to avoid a distracting battle on the polarizing issue of race, which could gin up Democratic voters and turn off independents.
“There's no part of what he said that was helpful,” one GOP strategist groused of Rep. Mo Brooks's (R-Ala.) comments.
Brooks made the “war on whites” comments during an interview on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's show, which focused on immigration and the border crisis.
A day later, he doubled down on his accusation in an interviews with USA Today and Newsmax.
“It is repugnant for Democrats time after time after time to resort to cries of racism to divide Americans and drive up voter turn out,” Brooks told USA Today.
“That is exactly what they are doing in order to drive up their vote, and they are doing it when there is no racial discrimination involved.”
In a separate interview with Newsmax, Brooks asked, “What is the one race that can be discriminated against? … All whites.”
He said that under federal law, minority groups have protected status, while whites “are treated differently.”
GOP strategists said the comments aren’t helpful in the fight to win the Senate. Republicans need to gain six seats to take over the majority, a high bar, but one that appears in reach.
GOP strategist Bettina Inclán said Republican leaders should push back more aggressively against comments from individual lawmakers that don't necessarily represent the whole party.
“I think it's important for us to say, ‘Look, that is not representative of who we are as a party or as a country,’ ” Inclán said.
More broadly, strategists say the comments could hurt a party that wants to win back the White House in 2016.
The electorate for the midterms is expected to include a higher proportion of white voters than in a presidential year, which could help Republican candidates. That will be reversed in 2016.
GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said Democrats are likely to use comments like Brooks’s to paint Republicans as intolerant of minorities.
“It may not catch up with Republicans in 2014, but I can bet you that Democrats will use it against them in 2016,” O'Connell said. “It's what I would do.”
Inclán argued that it is Democrats who, at times, have injected race into the midterm elections on issues like immigration.
“I'm not defending what [Brooks] said, but I think what he was trying to say that is that Democrats do use race as a way to scare voters for vote for them,” Inclán said. “Democrats aren't bending over backwards to get something done because it's easier to make Republicans the boogeymen.”
Democrats have rejected charges that they are intentionally using the issue of race to gin up their own voters.
Nonetheless, Democrats have warned Republicans that inflammatory rhetoric and votes, such as rolling back the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, would hurt their appeal to Hispanic voters.
“If you tell people you think they're criminals, you think they're simply bringing diseases; they're bringing drugs; if you treat them as invaders … they're going to think you don't like them,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.).