Wooing African Americans to the GOP Will Be Difficult
African American Republicans are gathered in New York this week for the Republican National Convention. They have with high hopes for an improved relationship between the race and the party that will result in more blacks voting for the Grand Old Party in years to come. To be successful, the party will have to overcome a history that is far too substantial and negative toward African Americans to offer slogans and a few significant appointments of Blacks to high governmental positions to satiate a community that takes a dim view of the GOP.
These optimistic African Americans comprise 167 of the 2,509 delegates to the 2004 GOP convention (6.7 percent). This compares favorably with 85 and 52 African American delegates to the 2000 and 1996 GOP conventions, respectively. These delegates are unanimous in their support for President George W. Bush and the GOPs agenda, and speak of faith and personal responsibility when identifying some of the factors that draw them to the GOP.
One question that black Republicans will have to answer when considering how successful it can be in wooing more African Americans to the party is: Why should blacks get into bed with a party that has the likes of Tom DeLay and Trent Lott at its forefront, aggressively opposed policies that are popular in the African American community, has engaged in racist political symbolism (e.g. Willie Horton) and has unpopular figures such as Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, and Ronald Reagan in its not-too-distant past?
Indeed, the party’s past will make it very difficult to move forward in a positive way with African Americans; it has a high hill to climb in overcoming the its racial history. Beginning in the 1960s, the GOP made a political calculation that appealing to southern racial conservatives would lead to national success. Moving in this direction, however, required the party to disavow its traditional racial moderation and embrace a brand of conservatism that repelled African Americans. Since 1964, no Republican presidential nominee has received more than 15 percent of the African American vote; President Bush received nine percent of the Black vote in 2000 and is unlikely to do much better in November.
The party’s policy history is problematic. Consistent Republican opposition to increasing the minimum wage and affirmative action, along with support for discriminatory criminal sentencing policies (including the death penalty and "three strikes") that are unpopular stances in the Black community. However, these policies are popular with the party’s racial conservative base and are unlikely to be moderated. Also, it was the GOP that led opposition to enacting the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill and sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Those actions, along with its 1980s dismantling of the federal civil rights enforcement apparatus, just to name a few, have created wounds in the African American community that have yet to be healed.
Given the 1964 ideological right turn, its subsequent policy positions, and the current closeness in national elections, one has to wonder just how serious the party is about wooing Black voters. After all, the party rarely produces more than a handful of Black nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and, understandably, doesn’t want to upset its base. Also, it was the ideological right turn that made the party more attractive to conservative southern Democrats and turned the GOP into a national force. That turn was largely based on racial conservatism and retreating on that win black support would alienate the very voters who have served as the base of the GOP for four decades. Given that reality, it’s unlikely that the GOP will be as aggressive in deed as it is in word with regard to African Americans. The result of which is more rhetoric and more failure in wooing black voters to the GOP.
© Michael K. Fauntroy
August 30, 2004