The 2012 election marks a decision point for the modern Republican Party. Early reports of last night’s voting statistics indicate that Mitt Romney won white voters overwhelmingly, while losing the African American and Hispanic votes almost completely.
If there is anything that will cause the death of the GOP, it’s our failure to base our campaign strategy on the demographics that reflect what America really is. Let’s be starkly, brutally honest with ourselves: the image of America that one could easily take from any of Romney’s rallies is not what greets us each morning when we walk outside our homes. To her credit, our nation is a largely diverse society; this diversity is what contributes to our strength and example to the world. We on the right ignore that fact, and despite our best efforts to wish it away, the fact remains.
Republicans lost last night because our strategy did not reflect the demographics of America. In our disdain for things based in race, we failed to acknowledge one of the base principles of political campaigns and what they require. Modern campaigning is about coalition building; actively seeking supporters among certain groups, properly preparing them, and working with them to find additional supporters within their circles.
Not only did we fail to do that in 2012-we barely tried. Romney’s “Black Leadership Council” was announced to the world in a press release buried on his website on September 5-two months before an election that he had been campaigning for since June 2011. George Allen, Scott Rigell, and Dean Longo’s efforts were admirable-especially Longo’s. But when the leadership-extending from the top of the Romney campaign all the way to the Republican Party of Virginia-fails to actively engage the black community and support those of us in it who count ourselves Republican, we have a serious problem that threatens the future viability of our party.
And when I consider that for years-going back to my experiences as a volunteer with the McCain campaign in 2008 and my work on the McDonnell campaign in 2009-that we are willing to break our backs on heavy lifting in Asian American, Hispanic, and European communities, I come to one of two possible conclusions: either we don’t know where to begin with the black community, or we simply do not care. After my experiences this year, I’m inclined to believe the latter.
The time for excusing our behavior is over. We hide behind petty “explanations,” such as saying that black Christians don’t vote their principles, that blacks are unlikely to support anything but the welfare state. If the old saying about excuses is true, then our incompetence is showing. These “explanations” are little more than attempts by the narrow-minded to justify something they have no desire to do in the first place. How can I say that? Because if we actually went out and talked to-which is different from talking at-the black community, we’d find that, on social issues, they are largely on our side in their personal lives; that they want the opportunity to succeed in their hard work as much as we do. Our strategy doesn’t reflect that; it reflects a professorial approach-that I’m supposed to deliver-that fails to even consider the realities of the black communities I live and work in. That strategy has been consistent in nothing but its failure.
As I write this, a friend of mine asked, in not so many words, how we fix what’s broken.
The first step in fixing a problem is identifying its existence. Until we acknowledge our issues with the black community, and-perhaps more importantly-where they stem from, we labor in vain. That requires an honest look at ourselves, our actions, our message-and our leadership. We get our house in order before we tell anyone else what to do with theirs.
Second, we go to the black communities and listen to their concerns. We ask-as I often have-what they see of us; what the Republican Party represents to them. We take their charges against us-which are many; some rightly deserved and some not-in a desire to truly learn where we stand, and to challenge our own assumptions.
Next, we build a clear, consistent message that focuses on the realities we see in our discussions. Not a focus on a single issue, but a messages that encompasses what we know our principles to be and connects those principles to the day to day goings-on in the black community. The unemployed black man doesn’t carry about gay marriage, and the single mother clearly does not care about abortion; they are focused on what they need to achieve success in their personal lives. We connect our principles to that reality. We build a strategy that allows us to communicate, and we back that strategy with the monies to match the seriousness of our effort.
Finally, we deliver the message. I’ll say that again: we deliver the message. We stop being afraid of going to the black community, and relying on black Republicans to carry a message to them. We-our candidates, our leadership, our grassroots organizations-go into the community, as we do any other, and deliver our message. We frequent their events. We support their organizations. Not in the traditional, transparent visit to the largest-or most favorable-black church after Labor Day; we create and maintain a strong, consistent presence year round.
It will take a decade or more to regain the trust and support of the black community, just like it took decades for us to completely lose it. But this is the reality of the coalition building that MUST occur if we are to remain a viable party. Anyone-unit chair, district chair, party executive director, party chairman, campaign manager, candidate, etc.-who thinks that we can continue to win elections without targeted appeals to the African American community needs a line of work or volunteerism outside of politics. And for those who think that we still can, you have my word-I will actively work to remove you.
Do this work, and our Republican Party emerges stronger. Do it not, and we will die.