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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With or without Donald J. Trump atop the party, the Republican strategy for the 2022 elections and beyond virtually assures race — and racism — will be central to political debate for years to come. 

Why it matters: In an era when every topic seems to turn quickly to race, Republicans see this most divisive issue as either political necessity or an election-winner — including as it relates to voting laws, critical race theory, big-city crime, immigration and political correctness. 

The big picture: These topics pit the mostly white GOP against the very diverse Democratic Party. It's unfolding in local school boards, national politics and on social media.

An Axios-Ipsos poll on race relations last month shows this starkly, Axios managing editor Margaret Talev writes:

  • There's a massive gulf between how Republicans and Democrats view race — a 66-point gap on whether the U.S. must continue making changes to give Black Americans equal rights to white Americans. 
  • There's a 48-point gap on whether the events of the past year led to a realization there's still a lot of racism in the U.S. — and a 49-point gap on whether the protests were good for society.

Of all demographic groups, white people were the most resistant to structural reforms to address institutional racism — a gap driven by Republican sentiment.

  • Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs says the GOP focus on race looks counterproductive at first, since a majority of Americans favor continued efforts to equalize the playing field for Black Americans.
  • But the pollster said a closer look reveals that the GOP's focus is more strategic — around specific ideas that drive culture wars and could potentially move swing voters.

Here's where the GOP sees an opening: In our poll, just one in five white independents supports the "defund the police" movement.

  • Half of white independents say the media exaggerates stories of police brutality and racism.
  • Two in five white independents say social policies, including affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against white people.
  • Those issues prime this slice of the electorate for messaging that paints Democrats as extreme on issues around race.

Between the lines: Republicans have at times played on racial fears for decades. It became more explicit in the Trump era.

Go deeper

Biden proclaims day of remembrance on 100th anniversary of Tulsa massacre

President Biden speaks during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden issued a proclamation to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and declared Monday to be a "Day of Remembrance."

Driving the news: Biden said he wanted Americans to reflect on "this solemn centennial" the "deep roots of racial terror in our nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country."

Biden unveils plans to combat racial wealth gap on anniversary of Tulsa massacre

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce new actions on Tuesday aimed at closing the racial wealth gap as he commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Driving the news: Biden will unveil the policies during a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a white mob destroyed America's wealthiest Black neighborhood in 1921 in what is considered to be the single worst episode of racial violence in U.S. history.

Dems' dark-money bid aimed to paint Josh Hawley as an anti-gun lefty

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R). Photos: Getty Images

A dark-money group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer helped pay for deceptive ads aimed at depressing Republican general election turnout in 2018, newly released records show.

Why it matters: These contests were decided more than two years ago, but the details show how partisan operatives exploited gaps in campaign finance laws to attack their rivals while obscuring their true motives — tactics both sides may adopt in next year's pivotal midterms.