The Party of Lincoln has officially become The Whitebread and Cracker Party. According to Politico, there are no African American Republican candidates given a serious chance of winning in the House, the Senate, or a governorship:
At the start of the Bush years, the Republican National Committee — in tandem with the White House — vowed to usher in a new era of GOP minority outreach. As George W. Bush winds down his presidency, Republicans are now on the verge of going six — and probably more — years without an African-American governor, senator or House member.
That’s the longest such streak since the 1980s.
Republicans will have only one minority governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, an Indian-American, when the dust settles on the ’08 elections. Democrats have three minority governors and 43 African-American members of Congress, including one — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — who is their likely presidential nominee. Democrats also have several challengers in winnable House races who are either black or Hispanic.
Despite having a Spanish-speaking “compassionate conservative” in the White House, Republicans’ diversity deficit seems to have only widened.
“In 1994, when I first ran, we had 14 African-American Republicans running for Congress. ... I was the only one that won that year, but we had 14, and we had some good candidates,” said former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, one of the party’s most recognized African-American voices. “I am grateful for what Ken Mehlman did when he was RNC chairman, but I knew that wouldn’t last — that was one person. I’ve never gotten the impression that it was institutionalized.”
Mehlman worked tirelessly in his outreach programs to try and build bridges to the African American, Hispanic, and Asian communities. But J.C. Watts – a man much to good for the Republican party and for politics in general – hits the nail on the head when he talks about institutionalizing that kind of outreach. The GOP never followed up or tried very hard to maintain those bridges so it’s perhaps no surprise that they would have totally collapsed due to a combination of factors but mostly just a lack of effort.
There were high hopes when the Mehlman project began:
Bush’s share of the black vote went from 8 percent to 11 percent between 2000 and 2004, according to exit polls. Despite the small increase, Bush doubled his share of the black vote in Ohio and Florida.
“There are some obvious signs that we are on the verge of a breakthrough when you look at what we have to do to be successful,” said Michael Williams, a black Republican elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, a statewide energy board. “If we can just move to 20 or 25 percent of the African American vote, that is a cataclysmic change in vote count.”
Seeking to build on successes in Ohio and Florida, Mehlman has intensified the recruitment of black candidates for statewide and national offices. The Rev. Keith Butler announced his candidacy against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Michael S. Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor, is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes (D), and former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann® is considering running for governor of Pennsylvania.
That was three years ago. In the interim, Karl Rove decided that white evangelicals were the key to GOP victory and worked on getting anti-gay marriage referendums on state ballots in 2006 believing, as was the case in 2004, that such measures would energize the religious right and send them to the polls in droves.
Unfortunately for Rove and the GOP, things didn’t quite work out the way they hoped. The anti-gay marriage referendums passed handily but rather than voting for Republicans, those opposed to gay marriage were just as likely to vote for the Democrat, leading to the loss of 30 seats in the House. Mehlman’s hard work went for naught as the Democrats picked up 90% of the black vote and 70% of the Hispanic vote.
No serious effort has been made by any nationally organized Republican group to reach out to African Americans since then. Indeed, the GOP candidates for president hurled an insult to the NAACP when they refused to show up at a debate sponsored by the organization. True, the candidates would have been entering hostile territory and the questions were liable to have been pretty testy. But at the time, it smacked of cowardice to me as it does today.
The GOP has much to answer for as far as African Americans since the 1960’s. Long gone are the days when a coalition of northern Democrats and Republicans passed landmark civil rights legislation. Since then, Republicans have sought to use race as a wedge issue in the south, effectively polarizing the electorate so as to maximize the white vote. And there have been some disgraceful attempts over the years to try and tamp down the African American turnout in some parts of the country.
But beyond that, it is my opinion that the GOP’s candidate recruitment efforts suck and their efforts with regard to recruiting minorities to run for office is, if possible, worse. Indeed, we are seeing a repeat of 2006 as far as the relative abilities of the two parties to recruit candidates of all races. In most competitive races, the Democrats have been able to field strong House candidates with district-wide name recognition who are well funded and well organized. The GOP, not so much. Admittedly, it is a tough sell trying to get a popular state senator or state official to run on the GOP label in what promises to be a Democratic year. It must be even harder to convince a black candidate to run when the likely Democratic nominee is himself an African American.
There’s another reason why blacks aren’t running as Republicans and you won’t find it mentioned on any lefty blog. The hostility shown by Democrats toward black GOP candidates is nauseating and certainly plays a role in their refusal to stick their necks out. Michael Steele had Oreos thrown at him. Black GOP candidates are openly called “Uncle Toms” and race traitors. Even if they win, they face the same fate that befell J.C. Watts; being kept out of the Congressional Black Caucus and ostracized by those of your own race.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that there are no serious candidates of color running for any GOP House, Senate, or Governor’s seat. But if the party ever wants to achieve majority status anytime soon, it is not going to be done by appealing solely to male white, middle aged, church loving gun owners. A way must be found to broaden the GOP coalition to include more women, more blacks, more Hispanics, and turn a rather monochromatic party into something more like a rainbow.
Otherwise, get comfortable on those back benches boys. Might want to buy a pillow and set a spell because it will be a long time in the political wilderness for the GOP otherwise.