The GOP’s Minority Problem

Image:  The GOP’s Minority Problem Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush believes that minority voters are simply unwilling to choose GOP candidates. (Getty Images)

Monday, 25 Mar 2013 04:14 PM

By Clarence V. McKee

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Hats off to the Republican National Committee for the candid assessment of the party’s relationship — or lack thereof — with minorities in its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report released last week.

As to minority voters, the report echoes Senator Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., observations on the GOP: “old, stale and moss covered.”

Why the sudden GOP interest in minorities?

The report says it all:

“Unless the RNC gets serious about attacking this problem, we will lose future elections,” according to the document. “The minority groups that President Obama carried with 80 percent of the vote in 2012 are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050 .  .  . The Republican Party must compete on every playing field . . .”

Project co-chair Sally Bradshaw said:

“. . . many minorities think Republicans don't like them or don't want them in our country. When someone rolls their eyes at us they aren't likely to open their ears to us . . ."

Many black Republicans believe that, but for the defection of so many Hispanics and Asians to Obama, the party would still be content to write blacks off in presidential elections.

They find it ironic that some in the GOP establishment who are now calling for outreach to blacks were silent on the subject during last year’s presidential and Senate campaigns — not to mention much of the period since 2008.

The RNC will spend an unprecedented (for a minority venture that is) $10 million to conduct outreach, which will include:

• Sending hundreds of paid party workers into Asian, black, and Hispanic, communities.
• Naming national political directors for each group.
• Developing surrogates.
• Recruiting candidates.
• Hiring political and communications directors for “key states and communities.”

Great!

But, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the GOP should realize that the party still has a major credibility problem with blacks, particularly black Republicans. Many are skeptical: “Here we go again — its déjà vu all over again," one told me. “I’ll believe it when I see it," said another.

Why such skepticism?

Two reasons:

First, for almost 40 years, nearly a dozen RNC chairmen have talked about reaching out to and attracting blacks and other minorities. Interested black Republicans — and concerned whites — have made similar recommendations to the party for decades.

They fell on deaf and uncaring ears.

“Why waste the money?” the argument goes. “Or, do just enough so we can’t be called bigots?”

Second, there have been few if any blacks in key visible positions in state parties and political campaigns; virtually no meaningful business or personal relationships with blacks, minority media, black organizations, and institutions by today’s GOP leaders; rarely any black or minority spokespersons; and, loyal black Republicans were rarely consulted. All of this sends a message to black voters: “we do not care about you, your issues and do not need you.”

As former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) just days before the GOP report was released:

“Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates because (they) feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.”

The result, the GOP has not been able to repeat the 18 percent and 17 percent support it drew from black voters in 1972 and 1976!

Hopefully, the RNC will establish goals and benchmarks for Asian, black, and Hispanic support in 2016 and after.

I applaud the chairman’s “listening tour” to get black input. He should do it on a regular basis — and have minorities in his own inner circle of advisers. He could get some good advice from black and minority candidates, office holders and activists who have labored in the vineyards for decades — often the object of criticism and vile attacks.

Given the reality of gerrymandered federal, state, and local districts, few Republican leaders have meaningful relationships with black voters, professionals or organizations. So, I am hopeful that the chairman will set an example and have an RNC and project staff reflective of the demographics of the voter groups the project is targeting who are involved in budgetary and implementation strategies.

As Newt Gingrich observed: “outreach is when five white guys have a meeting and call you; inclusion is when you’re in the meeting.”

A key recommendation is the use of black, Hispanic, and Asian “surrogates.”

They are essential in communicating — to both minority and general media audiences — Republican positions on crucial issues such as accountability and parental choice in education. We rarely see minorities on television tagged as Republican strategists taking on Democratic spokespersons, politicians or Democratic Party supporters such as Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Regarding Rev. Jackson, politics sometimes makes for strange bed fellows. Speaking to the Republican National Committee in 1978 he said:

"Black people need the Republican party to compete for our votes, so that we can have real alternatives. The Republican Party needs black people if it is ever to compete for national office or, in fact, to keep it from becoming an extinct national party.”

That message is still valid. If the recommendations regarding blacks are implemented, perhaps black political bondage to the Democratic Party may begin to unravel — but only if blacks are willing to listen. If they aren’t, Hispanics and Asians will be the focus of the GOP and Democratic Party minority agendas for the balance of the century.

Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as the Reagan presidential campaigns and has appeared on many national and local media outlets. Read more reports from Clarence V. McKee — Click Here Now.

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