First and foremost, it needs to be acknowledged that in the real world of politics, Republicans will never win the African-American vote in national elections. Polls have shown that 47% of the black electorate stated they would never vote for a Republican while 81% stated they would seldom or never vote for a Republican. By any measure, those are very huge odds to overcome. From the same polling data, in a hypothetical vote between a black Republican and a white Democrat, 17% said they would vote Republican and 40% would vote Democratic with the remaining stating they were undecided or unsure. I venture that when push comes to shove, they too would vote Democratic. However, what is very important to understand is that Republicans do not have to win the black vote outright to win a national campaign, but only need to weaken the Democratic monopoly on that vote. And by “weaken,” Republicans need only decrease the Democratic black vote a few percentage points and not necessarily in every state.
Some articles have noted that the Democrats intend to focus on the “trending blue” states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada to win in 2012. Strategists like David Axelrod have noted that Michael Bennet’s winning strategy in Colorado is the winning formula where he put together a coalition of minorities, young voters, and socially liberal educated women to overcome the Republican victories there elsewhere. The problem with that formulation is the definition of “minority” coalition in states like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada which is primarily composed of Hispanics.
Instead, the point of this is about the black vote and how and where Republicans can and should make inroads to lessen the vote for Obama in 2012 and, more importantly, to gain traction with the black community into the future. One major point is that moving forward, minority populations are increasing in traditionally reliable Republican states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Laying the foundations in this election cycle- in effect, developing a new “southern strategy”- for the future is the ultimate goal. Some may say that, given the available statistics from most polls, trying to make inroads with the black community is like banging one’s head against the wall. It is quite true that Republicans will never win the black vote outright.
But, it was Alan West and Tim Scott, two recently elected black Republican representatives who recently pointed out that between general disenchantment with the economy in the black community- a community, some may argue is especially hard hit in these economic times- and their generally socially conservative views, Republican policies should appeal to blacks. Tim Scott hit upon the basic strategy to win over black voters when he noted that as long as black voters continue to vote en masse at rates exceeding 90% for the Democratic candidate, it actually weakens their position because their support now becomes taken for granted by the Democrats. From the Republican standpoint, the question is not a lack of ideas that should align with black interests and concerns; it is a Republican surrender of the vote. In many ways, Republicans play into the “we cannot win” the vote mentality that they, too, end up ignoring the black community. This, in turn, only reinforces and perpetuates the perception that Republicans have nothing in common with the black community within that community. Given the historical tendencies to vote Democratic, that party then has to do nothing, and so it goes. It ends up a vicious cycle that benefits neither the black community nor the Republican Party, but only the Democratic Party.
In an article from the Charlotte Post, comes an interesting quote and conundrum for the 2012 election: “Yet, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) observed that because of the recession the current GOP strategy is heavily based on fiscal conservatism and predicted his party’s focus will ‘be on jobs and not the social issues in the coming election.’ Scott agreed, saying that the right outreach strategy to attract low-income voters is to pursue the government spending cuts as part of that platform without alienating that voting bloc.” With de-emphasis on the social issues, Republicans lose a salient talking point within the black community. To illustrate how the social issues can be used to garner black votes, one need look no further than California. There, most analysts note that Republicans received a boost among black voters with the Proposition 8 ballot initiative to overturn a judicial decision in favor of gay marriage in 2008. Likewise, black voters helped defeat Proposition 19’s efforts to legalize marijuana. Without making the social issues an over-riding theme of the 2012 campaign, Republican candidates need to stress their pro-life credentials within the black community and further emphasize and illustrate Obama’s pro-choice tendencies and policies.
Second, Republicans need to marginalize the alleged self-appointed “voices” of the black community- people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who see racial bogeymen behind every political tree. Sometimes, ignorance is the best policy. Of course, these self-appointed spokespeople will frame the race in racial terms and a simple “they’re entitled to their opinion” refrain may suffice. In other words, Republicans should not get into a pissing match with these people.
Third, there are, besides the social issues, other Republican ideals that appeal to blacks. For example, among their list of concerns, they largely mirror those of the population at large- the economy, health care, and education. The latter concern is one where Republicans can especially resonate with black voters. In one poll, 56% of blacks give their schools a “C” or lower. And, 48% of blacks have expressed approval of school choice programs if offered a chance or opportunity to send their children to private or charter schools. At the end of the day, like others, the black community has seen that increasing per-pupil expenditures at their schools have not necessarily increased the performance of predominantly black schools.
With regards to an overall economic plan for the country, Republicans need to stress the importance of their proposals and how they would directly affect the black community. Democrats will pull out and have already pulled out their scare tactics that, for example, the Ryan Plan or budget cuts proposed by Republicans will directly deleteriously affect the black community and minorities in general. Republicans need to stress that our policies benefit everyone and provide more viable opportunities for success than the old tried-and- truly-failed Democratic policies of hand outs. I venture there is a small segment of the community who demand government hand-outs for whatever reason. But I also venture that the overwhelming majority of the black community merely wants what everyone else wants- the opportunity to succeed free of government interference. That is what smaller government is all about and it served this country quite well for many years. However, downsizing the Federal government and cutting spending for the eventual fiscal health of this country does not mean that blacks, or any other minority group needs to be left in the dust. The message needs to be that the Republican Party wants blacks to pursue happiness while the Democratic Party wants to provide that happiness. In today’s fiscal reality- a reality that knows no racial lines- providing happiness is not part of that reality. Likewise, that is the underlying premise of Republican health care overhauls- to provide the consumer, despite the color of their skin, choice through competition that has the added effect of lowering costs for all, despite the color of their skin.
In a way, the modern Republican Party, especially since the days of Reagan and perhaps Buckley, is not designed to reach out to groups on the basis of identity, but on the basis of ideals and values. Overcoming slowly and surely that belief that a political party is supposed to provide to some special group in return for votes is a tough belief to overcome. In short, the black community needs to realize that the alleged “protections” they receive from the Democratic Party is political slavery.
By campaigning either personally in black communities or through mass media, the prospective Republican nominee can start the process of weakening the shackles of that political slavery. It needs to be noted that 40% of blacks believe the Democratic Party takes them for granted. Likewise, 55% of blacks believe the Republican Party ignores them. It would be a sea change in American politics if we can increase that negative for Democrats from 40% to 50% and decrease that negative for the Republican Party from 55% to just 49%. Part of that is outreach. Ignoring invitations to NAACP conventions will not further that cause. Also, there are intelligent black conservative voices out there- people like Alan West, Tim Scott and even Herman Cain- who can get the message out directly to the black community.
There is one final thought that needs to be addressed- that of affirmative action. Agreeing with the concept in the abstract is one thing, but we have often seen that practical implementation of such programs actually benefits no one. That is not to say that affirmative action in the abstract needs to be scrapped. And that could be the answer to any potential attempts by the media to distract from the more important issues of the day. In reality, civil rights law as concerns blacks is largely settled with most saying the advancements thus far and the pace of those advancements has been adequate. They must be; we elected a black President.
At the end, the black community, through relentless campaigning and attention, needs to realize that the betterment of their future is more realistically achieved through Republican fiscal and social policies. We could ask ourselves what was asked in previous elections: “Are you any better off than four years ago?” The answer- despite the color of one’s skin- has to be “no.” It is a tough task especially considering that 90% of blacks approved of Obama’s performance after his dismal first year in office. But, it is a task worth undertaking if it can tangentially weaken the black vote for Obama in 2012 and for the Democratic Party in the future, especially in states with increasing minority populations. The beauty of the whole thing is that, if successful, a chipping away of a few percentage points in certain areas can overcome Democratic gains elsewhere. It does not have to be done with the intention of flipping an entire subset of the population to your side.